By Brian Hadsell
Everybody knows the story of Cinderella. In the wake of her father’s death, a kind-hearted young girl is turned into a slave in her own home by her mean-spirited stepmother and stepsisters. When cruelly denied the opportunity to go to a ball at the palace, her fairy godmother uses magic to transform her ragged clothes into a spectacular gown and her animal friends into her escorts for the evening.
Forewarned that the magic would only last until midnight, she was forced to hurriedly flee from the ball and the prince, leaving only a single glass slipper as the clue to her identity. This results in a widespread manhunt for the mysterious maiden who stole the heart of the prince. But her stepmother, who steadfastly refuses to see her stepdaughter as royalty, locks her in a tower in order to keep her from presenting herself to court.
As far as movies go, it really doesn’t get much more traditional to this. It’s basically prom in Medieval France. The devil, however, is in the details, and Cinderella is a far more robust version of the familiar story than most movie-goers will likely be used to.
Although the story itself is virtually identical to the animated classic, the new “Cinderella” throws enough wrinkles into the mix to keep from seeming too familiar. There is no singing. There are no talking animals to help with Cinderella’s grueling list of chores every morning. And although there is magic, it takes a back seat to more earthly concerns of royal succession and international politics.
In that regard, “Cinderella” plays out far more like a historical drama than as a fairy tale: relishing in the spectacle of gorgeously realized period sets and costumes more than fantastical characters and witchcraft. Director Kenneth Branagh – who is most widely known for his work in Shakespeare adaptations – may have finally found his mainstream cinematic niche of adding an air of cultured historicism to otherwise outlandish films.
This is especially evident with the characters of the king, archduke and stepmother are fleshed out. While the animated king obsessed over the notion of playing with some royal grandchildren before he died, the new version is far more practical. Here, the dying king is forced to walk the impossibly fine line between being a responsible monarch and an indulgent father: just as concerned over the well-being of the kingdom as he is the well-being of his son.
The archduke, in turn, oversteps his bounds by pre-emptively promising the prince in marriage to an advantageous princess. And the stepmother, far too aware of her role as the “other woman” in her new husband’s home, likewise seeks to advance the social standing of her daughters and her genetic household.
Most surprising of all, however, is that there really is nothing all that bad to say about the film. While its pace might be a touch too slow and its concerns slightly too practical to captivate the very young, those very same aspects are likely to appeal to their parents. Those who loved the animated classic will definitely enjoy this film. Those who were put off by some of the original’s more childish antics, however, will be afforded a second chance to enjoy this classic story.