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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cinderella (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Magnificent Soundtrack by Patrick Doyle, spectacular production design,  well paced narrative, expands on the original's backstory, flawless acting, conveys themes of perseverance and forgiveness. 

The Bad: Retains juvenile simplicity of the original, one dimensional supporting characters, missed potential for more complex character and story development .

3D Readiness: Post filming 3D conversion.
IMax-ability: Fast paced shots of combat and intense action may not lend well to imax viewing

The only way to describe Kenneth Brannagh’s CINDERELLA is “The disney fairy tale come to life”. I for one am thankful that it is no longer a surreal musical but a straight forward fantasy story. No talking mice in clothing and not too much singing for starters. Live action adaptations of such cartoons allow creators to take the tale in a more mature direction. To provide depth of character where they were once shallow “hero” or “villain” archetypes. To provide believable development in the characters’ journey and growth. To go beyond juvenile wish fulfilment. CINDERELLA does that to a certain extent but seems to hold back on fully exploring its potential. 

At first glance, CINDERELLA is beautiful. The movie I mean. It sounds wonderful too with an uplifting score composed by THOR’s Patrick Doyle. The production design and costumes are magnificent. Those along with the music effectively capture the royal glamour of fairy tale palaces, the down-to-earth simplicity of a idealistic medieval countryside and the warm feel of a simpler time. With a resume in movies on Shakespeare and Shakespearean in scope, director Brannagh brings his keen eye for visual detail and love for romanticised victorian age elements to this movie. Indeed, CINDERELLA hews close to its roots, adapting the disney classic into live action while expanding on elements that were never fleshed out before. 

One such element was Cinderella’s backstory. How does a simple unassuming good girl end up in the company of an evil stepmother and horrid step sisters? Where does she draw her inner strength from to carry on as no more of a household servant? This movie answers those questions. In making the transition from 2D animation to three dimensional live actors, the characters too gain some depth. Cinderella herself, played wonderfully by Lily James, is portrayed as a thoroughly human protagonist given inhumanly cruel treatment in an unfortunate world. She is an ideal, no doubt, of strength of character with a solid foundation of good values, never giving up even in the face of persecution. Still, we see her human side when she falters emotionally; her smile hiding a loneliness and inner sadness. A far cry from the pure and perfect damsel from the cartoon. Most intriguing is Cate Blanchett’s evil Stepmother character. You get a sense that she represents cruel reality. An idealist girl who was slowly turned by the unfortunate ways of the world; the money minded, dog-eat-dog world where only survival of the shrewdest matters. She is the perfect foil to Cinderella’s pure hearted personality and the perfect breeding ground for a complex conflict of character. 

Yet this movie hovers. That complexity never came. Instead when the story started to delve into the complex, it reined itself back into simplistic fairy tale goodness. This is where CINDERELLA suffered. Expanding just enough but never quite making its characters fully rounded. Take the relationship between Cinderella and the Prince for example. It still comes across as love at first sight with both parties enraptured in each other’s beauty. You get a hint that their romance went deeper than that but the movie never elaborates. You get a sense that there is more to the Prince than a pretty face, hinting at his insecurities over marriage, his inexperience in leadership, but the movie never elaborates. It is a missed opportunity that could have taken a story, reviled by many for its simplistic notions of love, into a modern fable with morals that children can learn from. 

It does maintain good moral fibre that perseverance and steadfast belief in one’s good values will eventually lead to good things and good people. An additional point for that. Where CINDERELLA loses points is in its unwillingness to explore deeper themes. It plays safe with the whole kid friendly fairy tale angle, keeping complex conflict to a minimum or at least to a simple black and white, good and evil. Our characters are more developed but maintain their “perfection”. Cinderella, having had near zero contact with men other than her late father, waltzes into a crowded ball seemingly with a surprising air of confidence. Would it have been too complex to show her insecurities or a little shyness? The prince had lied to her about being an apprentice. Would it have been too much trouble to show that him feeling bad and apologising rather than making up some smug excuse? Their humanity is hampered by wanting to keep it kid friendly and simple. Similarly, magnificent designs are sometimes hampered by disappointing CGI special effects.

The young and the young at heart would have no trouble following and loving this live action fairy tale. For those of us looking for a clever deconstruction or at least a more complex reconstruction of this classic, CINDERELLA is not that movie. 

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B+
Story: C-
Acting: A
Characters: C+
Music: A
Replay value: B+
"Brains": B-

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