Here’s another example of a movie I wasn’t at all inclined to see, that I got sucked into after it debuted. I didn’t realize that it was a Kenneth Branagh film. I’ve been a huge fan of Branagh since I first saw “Henry IV,” back in the early 90s. My brother and SIL got me hooked with that and “Dead Again.” He lost me as a fan, in large part, when he and Emma Thompson divorced, but his work had an unfortunate amount to do with that— he’s been a little strange and experimental in middle-age. Not that experimental is bad. But I was surprised to hear that he was behind this live-action remake of “Cinderella,” for Disney.
I could stand it no longer, yesterday, and finally used my free time (no class + renegotiated grocery shopping= movie time!) to go see it, after having heard great things through social media, about it. Having seen a trend of fairy tales retold in more female-empowering ways (a few years ago, it was Snow White, through “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Mirror Mirror,” last year was “Maleficent,” and you can loop in “Tangled” and even “Frozen,” if you’re so inclined), I was interested to see how he reimagined “Cinderella.” I’m not sure that I saw as empowered a protagonist as I had heard about, but I like that they made her refusal to fight back a values thing, not a weakness thing. I’d watch Cate Blanchett read a phone book, and she was predictably amazing in this. That’s one thing these (live action) movies have in common, anyway, is more established Oscar-winning actresses playing meaty roles as villainous stepmothers/evil fairies. It’s nice to see an actress dig into an unlikable character and find the humanity.
A few things:
- I’ve had a crush on Ben Chaplin since “The Truth About Cats and Dogs.” There was nothing— not one thing— wrong with his performance here, but my gosh he’s looking old. And that probably says something about me that I’m not so crazy about. His accent doesn’t even make my knees wobbly anymore.
- I loved the scenery in this. Instead of the visually arresting but hugely over-the-top CGI of “Maleficent,” there was a charming concreteness about the cottages and even the over-the-top palace. The level of detail on the over-the-top palace was insane. I don’t know if it’s an artistic style or a leap in terms of the technology, but I’d watch it again just because of how nice the “cinematography” (what do you call cinematography when it’s all digitally created?) was. They didn’t feel compelled to show us all the cool stuff their computers could do, they just used them to support the story.
- I was very distracted with Cinderella on a swing, at a critical moment, because the ballgown was dragging in the dirt (not that it was any the worse for wear afterward). Also, they did a big scene with the stepsisters in hoops, while they were getting dressed, and I don’t know that I believe Cinderella could have sat so easily on that swing, given how much exponentially larger her skirts were. Sounds stupid, but the point of a well-told tale is I shouldn’t have spent that scene thinking about her costume.
- I found HBC’s teeth distracting, and kept wondering why she spoke through them, after she revealed herself as fairy-godmother-in-disguise.
- I’m very glad (spoiler alert) that the mice don’t talk in this version. I was excited to see GusGus, but don’t think too hard about mouse lifespans.
- I liked that Branagh didn’t try to reverse-engineer a subplot. He built out the existing story to make it more credible, to better articulate character and motivation, but there was not “the untold story” flavor. He explained that in the interview I read about it, and said that people have an existing connection to this story, and they were begging him just not to screw it up. I appreciate his restraint. Although I haven’t been as much of a fan of his, more recently, I think he has plenty of skills and ability as a filmmaker and storyteller, and it takes a lot of humility and restraint not to need to “sign” your work with your own flourishes. I think he displayed that, here.
Summing it up, I liked it. I thought it was beautiful, and there are some great performances here (see also Derek Jacobi as the dying king). It’s not particularly revelatory, but it is quality entertainment for the whole family.