The Hippo


May 28, 2020









Cinderella (PG)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Cinderella (PG)

A girl with a good heart and a way with small animals finds true love and nice shoes in Cinderella, an extremely pretty and pretty faithful live-action retelling of the classic Disney animated movie.
And it does seem to be the 1950 Disney movie that this Disney movie is using as its reference point; no    eye-pecking birds or toe slicing here.
Once upon a time, a little girl named Ella (Eloise Webb) had a very happy childhood at a country estate  with her loving father (Ben Chaplin) and mother (Hayley Atwell). And even though Ella’s mother died — leaving her the advice to have courage and be kind — Ella continued to be happy. When she grew into a young woman (Lily James) she even encouraged her father to marry again so he could find happiness. His new wife (Cate Blanchett) was herself a widow with two daughters — Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (the having-a-blast Sophie McShera, probably best known as Downton Abbey’s Daisy). Not terribly kind to Ella in the beginning, her stepmother and stepsisters become downright cruel after Ella’s father dies while on a business trip. Because they have to economize, the house staff is let go and soon Ella — whose tendency to sleep by the fire in the kitchen and wake up sooty earns her the taunt “Cinderella” — is the family’s sole servant, not even allowed to eat at what was her father’s dining room table. 
Meanwhile, the Prince (Richard Madden), nicknamed Kit, is having family difficulties of his own. His father, the king (Derek Jacobi), is dying and, for the sake of the kingdom and his son, he wants Kit to pick a wife and get married already. While on a stag hunt, Kit runs in to Ella, who just happens to be shooing the stag away when he chases her on his horse. She doesn’t tell him her name and he refers to himself only as Kit, who is an apprentice at the castle. They have a short but sweet meeting — she leaves him with “just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done” — after which Kit is completely enchanted. He convinces his father that the big wife-picking ball should be open to all the single ladies of the land, not just foreign princesses, because it will be good public relations. But the captain (Nonso Anozie) and the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) guess that it’s more about seeing if he can find the girl from the forest again.
Ella hears about the ball and wants to attend — not to meet the eligible prince her stepmother is so eager to fling her stepsisters at but to see if she can find her apprentice friend. But her stepmother won’t let the shabby Ella tag along and mess up the chances for her daughters. After Ella is left dejected and crying, the only person who can save the day is the fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). 
The most surprising aspect of this Cinderella is the feminist twist — or rather, the lack of a feminist twist. Somehow — with the help of bluebirds and friendly mice? —  the movie shoots right down the center and avoids either having to come up with a clever new take or feeling hopelessly antiquated. This princess might not be fighting snow monsters or besting archers but she manages to be a formidable, backbone-having character by being steadfastly good. And not “goody goody” good but, as she’s told to be by her mother, kind and forgiving and loyal and smart. She cares for her terrible step-family not because she’s a wuss but because she doesn’t want to give up on her family’s home. She puts up with their meanness while still acknowledging that it is mean and not losing her own sense of herself. And her romance with the prince manages to be both quite traditional and pretty equal. She seems to enchant him more with her wit as her beauty and she appreciates his kindness and general open-mindedness as much as his handsomeness. He might be the one who makes her a queen by marrying her but she actually gives up the possibility of happiness to protect him and ultimately  requires him to take her as she is. Or, put more simply, I don’t have a problem with my daughter one day watching this movie. Nothing here would prevent her from being a Supreme Court justice or a Fortune 500 CEO.
The girliest thing about this movie is its costumes, which are beautiful and whimsical and which I could look at all day. The blue ballgown James wears to the ball manages to capture the idea of fairy tale magic while still staying on the sane side of the line that separates fantastic and ridiculous. The stepsisters’ ballgowns, on the other hand, cartwheel over that line deep into ridiculous territory and the result is tacky and magnificent. Carter’s fairy godmother getup is exactly what you would expect when you see the words “Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother” but with a nice lightness that keeps the character from being a wink at the audience.
And then there’s Blanchett, who looks marvelous in every one of her scenes. The best way I can describe her look: Scarlett O’Hara (I’m pretty sure every dress was, in whole or in part, green) + Marlene Dietrich at her most sultry + Christian Dior + Evil. Somewhere, from that stew, comes Blanchett’s wardrobe, which will be inspiring Project Runway contestants for decades to come. Her perfectly coiffed stepmother is just the right amount of believable villainy and the movie even manages to explain her motives without excusing her behavior. 
Hitting just the right notes is no easy feat in a movie like this. There are so many places where it could have tipped into camp or goofiness or messagey-ness and somehow the movie avoids all these pitfalls. Cinderella is a sweet movie that, thanks to a lightness and a streamlined approach to its story, is an arrow that stays true and hits its mark. A-
Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Directed by Kenneth Branagh with a screenplay by Chris Weitz, Cinderella is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
As seen in the March 19, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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