Truffles of Delight
Cinderella sashayed her way onto movie screens across America to the tune of 67 million dollars on its opening weekend. This piece of cinematic candy was like stopping off at the Lindt Chocolate counter for a truffle and staying for the full box. Cinderella follows on the heels of the immensely successful Maleficent that soared at the box office last year and paved the way for other animated-to-live-action films in the Disney repertoire.
The story opens by taking the time to paint an in depth picture of Ella’s early days that sets up the audience for the colossal changes to come. Ella begins life in the stable environment of two loving parents played by Ben Chaplin and the almost unrecognizable Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter), who have lavished her with all the love and attention a child could need. She is a beautiful kind and gentle soul who is adored by all the household, human and animal alike. It is an idyllic existence until her young mother grows sick and dies leaving a gaping hole in the life of Ella and her father. They cling to each other in their loss, until the day he returns home from a trip abroad with a new wife – an attractive widow and her two daughters.
Lily James (Downton Abbey) played the fresh faced and kind hearted Ella whose misfortunes have struck her without tainting her. Beneath the lovely face is a determined spirit that she has inherited from her mother, and she faces her losses with strength, courage and hope. James was luminous in the role portraying her character with just enough intelligence to flesh out her other traits which might have been saccharin sweet. She is a young woman on the cusp of life trying to maintain the ideals learned at her mother’s feet, while keeping the hope of a better life to come. Hope eventually does come calling in the form of a ball, a Fairy Godmother and a handsome prince. Enter…one wicked stepmother.
Cate Blanchett is never as glorious as when she’s playing a villain. I call her “Meryl Streep the Younger” for her ability to disappear into diverse roles, nail down accents and…oh yes, she is the quintessential scene stealer. Ms. Kate presides over each scene with a devious relish that barely leaves enough room for her cast mates to squeeze in their talents. As Wicky the Stepmom she thinks her ship has come in when fortune lands her a well-to-do merchant husband. She soon discovers that his real affections lie squarely with his daughter, whose exquisite beauty and charm put her own whining girls to shame. After Ella’s father dies, she quickly descends into the jealous, conniving and somewhat pathetic woman she really is. This Oscar winning actress can do more with her eyes than most actors can do with an entire script. This is reflected in her having the most robust stepmother part I’ve ever seen, and methinks the lady wears it well.
The remaining cast was rounded out by the not-hard-to-look at prince played by Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), the two Stepsisters, Sophia McShera (Downton Abbey), Holliday Grainger (Borgias), and the one and only Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Over the years Carter has played enough whimsical dress-up parts to do them in her sleep. She eases into the role with matter-of-fact humor and the type of nonchalance one would expect from one’s Fairy Godmother.
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh took the director’s chair on this picture and surprisingly painted outside his usual heavy handed box with a light fantastical brush. The story flowed with silky smoothness, the supporting characters were believably multi-racial and engaging, and the candy coated storyline didn’t make me gag once. The film sets blazed with Disney brand fabulosity and the costumes were a sumptuous feast. There was even a quickie reference to one of the 1950 version’s songs “Bibbidi, Bobbidi Boo.”
I could not wrap this review without giving a shout out for the spectacular dress and coach transformation scene. This was CGI at its finest, as the metamorphosis of the pumpkin, mice and lizards transform into a resplendent coach. This scene was so good that I wanted to back up and catch it again frame by frame.
Adults often roll their eyes at the thought of fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. But, these are stories that continue to resonate with every generation, and are enjoying unprecedented popularity on the big and small screen these days. Their endurance over time says something about our culture. Somewhere deep down – somewhere between fiction and reality there is a small part of us that enjoys an underdog who overcomes, believes that dreams really do come true, and that it is possible for happy endings.
Woe…tallyho, I think I see my prince approaching.