I liked Disney’s Cinderella a lot when I was very young, and only ever in German. The mice sound a lot less annoying in that version, and since nothing much happens in the movie (there’s a lot more action in the Grimm version – think Into The Woods), you could just veg out in front of the TV. Eventually, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin became my favourites, but I still have a soft spot for the cinder girl. Just not, you know, Disney’s.
Ella Enchanted with Anne Hathaway was an excellent retelling of the story using plenty of humour and adding bits and pieces from other fairytales and legends. Ella also realised that she was master of her own life and did not have to follow the rules. The best version to date though in my book is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. Ultra-feminist, since Danielle takes her fate into her own hands and fights her own battles, Ever After also had the most intriguing stepmother, played by Angelica Huston, and a prince willing to admit his own shortcomings (the gorgeous Dougray Scott).
Kenneth Branagh may have tried to create a punchier character, but compared to the two films I just mentioned, I’m not sure he managed very well.
Ella (Lily James) is an adorable girl growing up in a superb house with two loving parents. Her father (Ben Chaplin) is away for travel very much, but they live happily ever after. Or, not. When her mother (Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell) grows ill, Ella has to learn to fend for herself. Her father stays alone well into her late teens and when he remarries, it is to the cold Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett, channelling her inner Huston to the core of her fingertips). Along come two stepsisters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).
Once more away for work, Ella’s father leaves her alone with the new family. Within minutes, Lady Tremaine has abused Ella’s kindness to take over her room for her two daughters, banishing her to the attic. At first Ella doesn’t mind, finding solace in the friendship with her mice and the house servants. But when her father doesn’t make it home, Ella’s life changes forever. Lady Tremaine fires the staff and uses Ella, soon to be known as Cinderella because she always falls asleep by the fire, as her cook, chambermaid, farmer etc.
On a rare ride out, Ella meets Kit (Richard Madden), an “apprentice” from the castle. He is, of course, the Prince, and after meeting Ella, can’t stop thinking about her. His father (Derek Jacobi) is desperate to see him wed for the good of the kingdom and organises a ball. Kit manages to open the invitation not only to princesses, but to all maiden of the realm. When Ella hears the announcement, she is convinced that her stepmother will let her come too, but she is bitterly disappointed when (mirroring the scene from the original Disney movie), the three women gang up on her and destroy the dress she so painstakingly made with her mice.
Her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) appears out of nowhere and helps Ella get to the ball, meet her prince and yadda yadda yadda. You know the rest.
The movie is visually stunning. The house is gorgeous, the dresses are exquisite (that ball gown!) and the acting is good, though it could have been better. The Prince appears to be advertising a teeth-whitening toothpaste, Ella is sweet and all but just too meek (which, I know, she’s supposed to be) and the sisters are annoying, but actually not annoying enough. Where’s Regina George when you need her?
All in all it’s a good film, but not as outstanding as Maleficent. Disney will have to work extra-hard on redoing Beauty and the Beast (with Emma Watson already cast as Belle, and Dan Stevens as Adam/The Beast). They’re also planning Mulan, which should be cool, and there’s a Jungle Book happening at some point… I think it’s a good idea to tap into your own catalogue to relive your former glories in live-action form, but it’s only worth it if they improve on them: Sleeping Beauty was a lot cooler told from the baddy’s angle. Though the Prince and Cinderella met more than once, with the ball actually a first date, where they talk as well as dance, it’s still only essentially the same thing again.
Pictures from: wikimedia.com, ancientfaith.com, dailymail.co.uk, nocookie.net, google.com, youandyourwedding.co.uk, condenast.co.uk, cloudfront.net