The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Cinderella (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
How the hell do you screw up Cinderella? It’s a classic. The heavy lifting has already been done. You’ve got the sympathetic and slightly pathetic hero and the easy to hate villain with her two equally heinous daughters. We have the romantic interest and some kind of magic. It’s a no brainer. But Kenneth Branagh pulled it off. He screwed up Cinderella. Is it drama? Is it silly? Is it magic? Is it tragic? He made a bad Cinderella movie. And I’m left scratching my head about how the fuck he pulled that off. I can’t really spoil the movie. I mean, everybody knows the Cinderella story. But then again I didn’t think anyone could mess up Cinderella. So I guess I’ll give it a go.
Casting! Casting! Casting! I love almost all the casting decisions but without a good script most of the cast is wasted. I love the step sisters and Cate Blanchett as the stepmother. All three are brilliant if under-utilized. But I didn’t like Lily James at all and frankly I wasn’t that excited about Richard Madden as the prince. Although both of her parents are great casting… (I loves me some Hayley Atwell) before they die of course. I did say spoiler alert didn’t I? Yeah. Cinderella’s mom dies. Her father re-marries and then he dies. So it just leaves her with her step mom and step sisters. It’s very somber and dramatic and I actually liked it. I was ready for a completely serious Cinderella.
But even during all the drama there are these CGI mice that do not belong. The mice don’t fit the feel of the film. The beginning is played so tragic and so real but these magical mice are running around looking cute and it looks out-of-place. I was waiting for the cat to eat one of them. Honestly, it would have been better had the step monster’s evil cat eaten one of her magical mice. It would have been so tragic but so cruel. Not both of your parents die tragic but still very cruel. (I mean Cinderella is basically Job right?)
Then our hero meets the prince blah blah blah. Wants to go to the ball but she can’t. Makes her own dress but her three steps rip it off her. So tragic… and then comes the magic. And it all seems so silly. It’s overly animated, almost a cartoon. And again it doesn’t fit the feel of the film. I’m not saying magic itself doesn’t fit. I know the story. It’s just the way they choose to show it. They make the magic so bubbly. And it does not fit in the movie. It’s like watching The Deer Hunter and then Big Bird (from Sesame Street) shows up during the Russian Roulette scene. Because then it starts to feel like the mice are setting the tone. The thing I didn’t like about the first act is now the whole movie.
So she gets to the ball. You know, magically. And then there’s the best scene in the movie. The best thing in the film is a dance sequence between our girl and the prince. A fantastically choreographed and filmed romantic dance that would have been an amazing respite from all the tragedy in the beginning but the magical bits ruin that. Also by this point her dress is starting to become annoying because it’s also CGI and cartoonishly blue.
She runs away at midnight. There’s a cartoon chase. There is no sense of jeopardy or danger whatsoever. And the shoes… and the shoes. And the shoe fits. And they all live boringly ever after. (but the day before… Nothing but shoes. Everybody tries on shoes)
So how do you screw up Cinderella? What have we learned? Well… you either go for realism or you go for the silliness. You can’t do both. But if you get these great dramatic actors then you need to bring the drama (or get comic actors to play the parts silly). But if your lead girl can’t carry the tragedy then you must make it light and silly or she’ll stick out like a sore thumb. However, doing both is the same as doing neither. And as for that magic, those magic effects belong in a Disney cartoon.
So you start with tragedy, add silly animals that seem out-of-place and then add magic effects that belong in a cartoon. Hire a bunch of quality dramatic actors but give them no script and top it off with a lead actor that can barely make us feel sorry for her. And that… that’s how you screw up Cinderella.