Cinderella Parent Review: A Traditional Live-Action Retelling Enlivened by a New Frozen Short
I admit, as the mom of a tweenage daughter, I usually like my princesses to have a bit of feminist pluck. But you won't find that quality anywhere in Disney's new live-action Cinderella. This traditional adaptation of the oft-told fairy tale is as old-school as it gets, with a lovely, kind and passive heroine (played by Lily James of Downton Abbey fame) who saintly suffers the abuse of her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett, stunning in haute-couture outfits) and her ridiculous stepsisters until her goofy fairy godmother comes along (a blonde Helena Bonham Carter, playing against type) and helps hook her up with a cute prince (Richard Madden). Directed by Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, it's got a fine pedigree and is completely ravishing, from the lush production design to the divine costumes to the gorgeous cast, but it's never surprising.
And perhaps that's the point. Fractured or modernized fairy tales have been all the rage for a while now—Cinderella in particular has been reinvented multiple times to reflect a more contemporary outlook (see Into the Woods, the movie Ever After and the recent Cinderella musical on Broadway). So Disney makes quite a statement going back to the basics with no major twists, tweaks or politics. Whether or not you think that's the right message, the fact is, young kids are going to be clamoring to see Cinderella, especially since it's paired with a wonderful new Frozen short, which screens before the feature. So here's what to know before you go.
Although Cinderella is rated PG, there's nothing that scary here. True, it begins with a Bambi-style bombshell as Cinderella suddenly loses her young mother to some unspecified illness. It's not graphic (she dies in bed, looking as beautiful as ever), though it is traumatic. Later, her father dies off-camera shortly after her awful stepmother and stepsisters move in, and soon Cinderella is relegated to the attic, where she lives as a servant and hangs out with her beloved CGI mice.
While Cinderella is treated terribly, the movie is very black and white about good and evil. Blanchett is the kind of icy villainess kids may want to boo and hiss, but they probably won't be scared of her. Meanwhile the stepsisters are played for comic relief, so they're rightfully laughable. (Thankfully, they don't cut off their toes in an effort to fit into the slipper like in the gruesome Brothers Grimm version.) Throughout the film, kids know whom to root for and whom to jeer.
My daughter and her three friends, all between ages 7 and 9, were engaged throughout, if not enthralled. It's pure fantasy, and they got that. Though we didn't notice any preschoolers cry, we heard a lot of them chattering. At an hour and 45 minutes, it's a bit long and slow for tots, but should be fine for ages 7 and up. There were also a bunch of teens in front of us who snickered at some of the cheesier romantic bits, so if your children are old enough to be jaded, they might do better with Into the Woods.
The Frozen short before Cinderella was the highlight of the night for me and my daughter. The seven-minute Frozen Fever features a flu-stricken Elsa trying to throw the perfect birthday party for her sister, Anna, with help from Olaf the snowman and Kristoff. Of course, things do not go as planned. No spoilers here! It's really adorable and there's a sweet new song, though it probably won't catch on like "Let It Go," which is probably a good thing. As for Cinderella, enjoy the visuals and then remind your daughter like I did that in real life she shouldn't wait for a prince to rescue her—she's perfectly capable of saving herself.
Cinderella opens nationally on Friday, March 13.
Read more of our parent film reviews.
Photos courtesy of Disney