You’d never think it, but despite a mediocre and disappointed reception Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland completely reinvented Disney’s movie output after making a billion dollars (being the first post-Avatar 3D blockbuster helped). Once the house that Mickey built sensed monetary blood in the water every animated classic is receiving a fresh coat of reboot, beginning with the bizarre Sleeping Beauty/I Spit on Your Grave crossover Maleficent and soon to continue with live-action versions of Mulan, Beauty and the Beast and Anastasia (yes, really). So Cinderella is something of a vision of the future.
Unlike Maleficent however, Kenneth Branaugh (or his Disney handlers) has elected to simply reiterate Cinderella’s story for a new audience instead of putting a fresh spin on the material, leading many speculators to wonder what purpose its existence serves (besides padding Disney’s coffers). This is something the film seems to struggle with as well, it clearly expects audiences to know the story it’s telling, so it rushes some parts and feels like it’s going through the motions for others. There are also many jokes at the original story’s expense, but they feel out of place as it’s not offering any new take on the tale.
This film also serves as a great example of why Disney’s original ran a mere 74 minutes. While the protagonist’s childhood is glossed over in montage her adult years are stretched out beyond reason, with pointless subplots only highlighting how thin the central story is. The characters aren’t given much to flesh them out either, Ella (the film spends five minutes explaining her titular nickname as if it’s embarrassed by it) is little more than a kind and gentle Mary Sue, though Lily James acts well enough to prevent her being irritatingly so, and while Cate Blanchett’s evil stepmother gets a token motivation for her villainy it’s rather nonsensical (her husbands died so she’s evil and never remarried for some reason).
Richard Madden makes a decent Prince Charming, and the two have enough chemistry it took me until the ninety minute mark to question what they have in common besides physical attraction. The remaining cast are alright if rather unmemorable, given how little the story gives them to work with, and that sums Cinderella up really; it’s exactly what you’d expect and nothing more, two hours of pretty dresses, smiles and cinematic candyfloss. The most interesting thing about it is probably the weird contrast of preceding it with a Frozen short, given how that movie summed Cinderella’s entire premise up in ninety seconds of For the First Time In Forever, and then deconstructed the hell out of it. As a result I spent Cinderella’s entire runtime expecting someone to tell the Prince “you can’t marry a girl you just met”.
As a film, Cinderella is moderately entertaining if completely forgettable, but as a vision of the future it’s a little bleak. If this is the standard for what’s to come, and with over $400m worldwide it certainly is, then we can expect little more from Disney than pretty but pointless stories identical to what came before.