In a world populated by an endless amount of remakes, re-imaginings and re-tellings, it really comes as no surprise that Cinderella is getting the ultimate Hollywood makeover. It’s a character we all know and love, a tale of universal appeal. The formula for success is already laid out, waiting for the industry to reap economic benefit from the timeless story. On a studio executive’s paper it seems like a bulletproof hit, and it is. No one ever doubted that. The real question is whether or not its existence is purposeful from an artistic point of view. Is it just another cash-grab, or does it actually makes sense to revisit this beloved fairy tale? The answer is sort of twofold. Do we need it? No. Does it work? In more ways than you would expect.
In the story we meet the young and spunky Ella, who lives with her loving parents in their countryside home. But as we all know, things don’t go so terribly well, and within a couple of years the poor girl loses both her mother and father to tragic events. All she is left with is her evil stepmother and her two daughters, Anastasia and Griselda, who treat Ella as a dirty servant instead of a sister. Eventually, she of course meets a handsome prince, is forbidden to see him, and in the end she marries the guy.
“It’s not what you do, but how you do it”, director Kenneth Branagh said in a recent interview. A statement that is very indicative of the nature and spirit of his latest film. “Cinderella” is neither dark or particularly subversive, as one might expect it to be, considering Disney’s similar approach to other properties such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. This is a much more faithful adaptation of a classic fairy tale, and it never shies away from that. It relishes in its own simplicity, not feeling the need to bend its source material in order to evoke an emotional response. It has great confidence in what it does, which is felt from the very first frame to the very last note. The framework is bright and lean, peppered with gorgeous cinematography, breathtaking visuals, and a sweeping score to pull the rug from underneath audiences young as old. On a pure technical level, you won’t find a more adequately crafted cinematic experience this year. From the performances to the costume design, everything just plays like a gracefully composed symphony.
But is isn’t really the presentation that makes “Cinderella” such a delightful success. It is the fact that it dares to be minimalistic in a time when everything has to be big and bulgy to make a point. Early on in the movie, Ella is described as someone who sees the world, not always as it is, but as it could be. The movie opens and closes with these words, underlining the message without ever slamming us over the head with it. I think there is something profound about the notion that purity and innocence can defeat greed and corruption. It’s something that resonates deeply, even in modern day society. We’re just so used to being bombarded with needless exposition and overly complicated plotting, that we sometimes forget what really matters. That your true beauty isn’t defined by your belongings or material wealth, but by kindness and courage. This movie isn’t afraid to say that without picking apart and reassembling itself piece by piece. There’s no need for it, and Branagh knows that. His heroine is not an ass-kicking badass, nor does she have to be. She’s good-hearted and hopeful, just like we all should be. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
There is an optimistic energy flowing through the veins of this feature. It made me happy, it made me excited about life. When the credits started rolling, I felt a sense of urgency to get up and be a better human being. I had been rejuvenated, suddenly looking at the world around me with more positive eyes. And then I thought to myself, why is it that we believe happy endings only exist in fairy tales? Is fantasy really that far from reality, or are we just too blind to see what’s right in front of us? Take away the big castle, the shiny armour, the polished carriages, and the diamond slippers. What do we have? People like you and me. The only thing stopping the world from becoming a fairy tale is our belief that fantasy and reality can’t co-exist. So if you’re a firm believer that magic is only an illusion to keep you from accepting the harsh reality, don’t even think about going to see “Cinderella”. You’ll probably find it to be too naive anyway. However, if you believe that the world could benefit from a little cinematic optimism, you might just fall in love with it.