For those who feared Cinderella is just another Disney princess movie (albeit a live one) and weak girlie-girl story, it thankfully is not. The classic fairy tale has some old-fashioned Disney and new-fashioned CGI magic, but director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz have managed to craft an old-school Cinderella story that features modern sensibilities and positive messages.
A key theme repeated throughout the underdog story is the deathbed advice Cinderella received from her mom: “Have courage and be kind.” It keeps coming up in the movie, from Cinderella’s relationship with the animals (and her mice friends) to her ultimately forgiving her stepmother.
Branagh has said he wanted to create a 21st century Cinderella with womanpower. He succeeded in developing a heroine who is strong and inspirational to little Princess wanna-bes and even adolescents.
This plucky young lady may have suffered the major losses of her parents and been stuck with the miserable stepfamily. She is not a victim, however, or passively accepting of her lot in life. “Our Cinderella is a really strong woman dealing with life on her own terms,” star Lily James said in People.
One of those modern terms is when she meets the incognito prince in the woods when he is part of a hunting party. The pre-PETA Cinderella entreats him to save the stag. When he responds that killing the animal is part of being in a hunting party. She tells him, “Just because it’s done, doesn’t mean it is what should be done.” He later uses the same line to tell his father he wants a ball with all the local maidens not just foreign royal women being presented to him for political reasons.
Another change from tradition is the modern “politically correct” casting. The prince’s Captain of the Guards is black (played by Nonso Anozie of Game of Thrones). He is at his side at the hunt, a fencing partner and a confidant.
There are also ethnic guests at the ball and diversity displayed in town crowds. As Vanity Fair put it, the “faces of the crowd represent a wide range of ethnicities and cultures, as if the United Nations had arrived in this fairy-tale kingdom.” This reflects current movie audience worldwide sensibilities, and current Europe, far more than correct casting for the time period in Europe the fiction tale is presumably set in.
While great in the role, the casting of James and the other women are a pleasant change, taking Cinderella and her step-family out of fantasy and into reality. James is not breathtakingly beautiful (her smile is more Cheshire cat than raving beauty). Likewise, the stepmother and stepsisters are not ugly; their behavior is.
The new Cinderella movie continues the still-evolving modern Disney tradition of live-action features with their sensibilities and plots based on the studio’s classic old-school cartoon flicks. There was Tim Burton’s live-action Alice in Wonderland, then last year’s Maleficent with the magnificent Angelina Jolie, this film and the soon to be filmed Beauty and the Beast that will star Emma Watson. It is not being courageous or kind to admit this Cinderella was enjoyable and a welcome modernization of the timeless tale.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss
Photos by Dyanne Weiss