Just because it's what's done doesn't mean it's what should be done.

Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.

One could be forgiven if they wondered aloud whether fairy tales still have a place in this world. Knowing what we know, and also knowing that children are learning about life’s trappings earlier and earlier, should we really waste any breath on “happily ever after”?

Believe it or not, it seems like we should…and we don’t always need to re-invent them to do it either.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Ella whose parents loved her dearly. They raised her to work hard, treat other people well, and showered her with unconditional love. Unfortunately, when she was still a girl, Ella’s mother fell ill and died.

Years went by, and Ella’s father (Ben Chaplin) soon found himself enamoured with another woman named Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). With Ella’s blessing, he pursued his chance at one more moment of happiness, marrying her and bringing Tremaine and her daughters into the house he and a now-grown Ella (Lily James) had made such a warm and happy place.

However, not long after this, Ella’s father would fall ill and die while on one of his business trips, leaving Ella an orphan in the care of her stepmother, and stepsisters Anastasia and Drisella.

I’m sure you know how well that turns out.

However, one afternoon, Ella is out riding when she comes across a handsome hunter named Kit (Richard Madden). Though she does not give him her name, she knows he lives in the royal palace and longs to meet him again. So when word comes down that The Prince of the kingdom is holding a ball, and that all eligible maidens are invited, Ella sees her chance.

Getting there, of course, will require a little bit of magic…

 

Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

 

In a way it’s surprising how much CINDERELLA sticks to the script. We’re in an age where so many projects are born to “re-invent” a classic fairy tale…to make them darker, edgier, or give them a gravity that wasn’t there before. However, none of those paths are taken with CINDERELLA, and in a way I feel as though that’s the best decision.

Besides designing itself for a new generation of viewers – a generation who might be bored by classical animation – I feel as though this is the sort of story that needs to keep its candy coloured veneer. Cinderella’s strength comes from her heart, and the way she was raised to be an example to others. She’s supposed to be the sort of soul that attracts others, and inspires them. To muddy that up – or bloody that up – wouldn’t serve the story, and would instead fail the fairy tale’s origins.

Those origins well-embodied with what Lily James and Richard Madden bring to their roles of Ella and Kit. each seems born to play a prince and princess, and their affections for each-other in the several scenes they get together will make you believe in fairy tales again for a few moments. More than these however, one of the greatest draws is Cate Blanchett as The Wicked Stepmother. Blanchett has clearly done her homework, and knows how to vamp in ways that would make Cruella DeVille proud. What’s more, she actually finds a way to evoke a morsel of pathos for The Wicked Stepmother…pathos that is soon revoked when we see how she and her daughters betray the story’s core value.

At first blush, CINDERELLA’s core conceit of “Have courage and be kind” seems like a throwaway, cheery mantra that we outgrow around the time we graduate from sippy-cups. But  when we consider it a little closer, we realize that it’s actually a plea for us all to be better people. We live in selfish times; the selfishness embodied by the stepsisters, but also more passive aggressive selfishness. We routinely wonder “What about me?” and decide to do what we do based on what’s in it for us.

That’s no way to live, and CINDERELLA knows it.

What the film wants us to learn – and what Ella herself embodies – is a greater sense of empathy, and a harder work ethic. It wants us to try being role models, more upright citizens. It wants us to feel less entitled and instead be more giving of our patience. This might all seem like the most basic of lessons, but if you’ve waited in an airport check-in line recently, I’m sure you can see how few people believe in having courage or being kind. It’s a lesson that takes a bit more guts to actually embody…elementary as it seems.

It’s that warm centre that carries a film that might otherwise feel like a relic. We’re long past the age where we should be teaching little girls that handsome princes will come and rescue them, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we might still be in the age to teach little children to feel less entitled. While the stepsisters are clearly cartoons that stem from an age-old tale, if you squint just so you could envision them on “My Super Sweet Sixteen” or tweeting about how their parents bought them the wrong lavish gift.

Perhaps that’s the irony: that it takes an age-old fable about a would-be princess to make wannabe princesses learn how to live.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on CINDERELLA.