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IN SHORT: Very enjoyable. Parents, bring your little princesses along. They will love it.[Rated PG for mild thematic elements. 105 minutes]
It has always been the Prime Rule of this Site that "you shouldn't have to know the original to understand the film." We've been writing that for twenty years now so, if you aren't familiar with said original version of Cinderella, welcome to planet Earth. Expect a visit from Men in Black suits at any time. That said, here's an interesting exercise that adults can play while watching director Kenneth Branagh's version of Cinderella, based on the 1950 Disney animated feature based on an even older version of the story written by Charles Perrault: Watch the production closely and see if you can figure out in which century his original is set. We'll reveal that at the end of this review. Here's a hint: By putting pen to paper, Perrault created the "modern" fairy tale, way before the Brothers Grimm, though about 60 years after the posthumous publication of Giambattista Basile's "Pentamerone," which has its own version of Cinderella. (You can get a free copy for Amazon's Kindle device or computer app.)
What that 'graph means is that there have been stories passed down from generation to generation, until the invention of the printing press made it possible to circulate copies of said stories to those persons able to read. That is why there are many authors that have their name attached to versions of Cinderella -- including the one published in "Grimm's Fairy Tales," which is where we thought the story originated. Dumb Cranky. Apparently there are written versions of the story dating as far back as 7 B.C., in which a raven steals the shoe of a Greek maiden named Rhodopis and drops it into the lap of an Egyptian Pharaoh; Herodotus makes a reference to the story in his Histories, written 420 B.C., proving that Wikipedia can make any writer who wants to make proper reference, nuts.
So . . . where were we? Ah, yes, Branagh. whose reputation for bringing "class" to a classic story inspired mothers at our screening to dress their four year olds up in their finest princess gowns, tiaras and all.
When we first meet Ella (Eloise Webb), she is ten years old, loves her mommy (Hayley Atwell) and wishes her merchant daddy (Ben Chaplin) were not away on business trips for months at a time. Mom keels over early on and Ella grows up with a loving dad, who eventually decides that a feminine presence is necessary in her life. We guess. Why he believes that new stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), and her daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) would be a good influence is beyond us. The story has its needs and this story needs a stepmother more concerned with her station in life and the placement of her biological, though idiot, daughters in to good marriages; the heck with the other, grown kid (Ella is now played by Lily James) stuck in the house after daddy dies out on the road. So poor Ella becomes a poster child, if you will, a template of how to transform a family member into an emotionally and verbally abused servant, then slave slave. Exiled to the Attic, to stay warm Ella sleeps in front of the dying embers of the hearth, because it is the only source of warmth.
Ella's Stepmom has no second thoughts about her actions; since there is no man to provide for the family the need to marry off her kidlets to men of "better stations" is economically necessary. Then there is her own situation so who cares about the hold-over? As for the two dimwitted "superior" sisters, discovering the cinders on her face (from dozing by the hearth) earns the wretch a new name, "Cinder" Ella. The Girl takes it, for she has taken the final advice given to her by her beloved, late mother to heart: "Take Courage. Be Kind."
And, yes, her only friends are the mice and lizards and otther creatures of the estate. Branagh carefully hides trademark-type bits from the old animated edition -- like "bippity boppity boo" -- into his film as "Easter Eggs" Feel free to surf the rest of the net to find some other person with no life to track them all down for you.
To escape the emotional abuse of the home, Ella takes a horse and goes riding in the fields. There she interrupts a stag hunt and engages the leader of said hunt, a fine looking young man named Kit (Richard Madden), convincing him not to kill the animal. Ella knows not who she is giving the verbal beat down to. She learns that "Kit" is an apprentice at court and "Kit," in return, is smitten. When the girl rides off, without even offering her name, the boy is . . . . . lost. When no one in Royal Court can identify the stranger, "Prince Kit" decrees that a Ball shall be held, open to all royalty and commoner alike. There, he will choose a bride, or else succumb to political orders given by his dying father (Derek Jacobi) to marry a Spanish princess.. Father's wishes be damned, the Prince will find his woman, whatever it takes..
Knowing that all are invited to the ball, and that stepmom has only paid for three ball gowns, Ella takes a needle to one of her mother's old gowns. When she presents herself as ready to go to the ball, stepmom rips the gown to shreds, verbally beats down the child and leaves her behind, sobbing. While the Evil Ones go to party, a homeless person (Helena Bonham Carter) hiding in the shadows of Ella's house asks for the mere kindness of a crust of bred or a ladle of milk. Ella, her gown torn to shreds by her malevolent stepmother, puts aside her overwhelming emotional crunch to aid the old lady. Her kindness is rewarded -- Voila! Instant Fairy Godmother, and props to Carter for making the character as nutty as a fruitcake. You know the rest, and we won't spoil much of it. Even as the inevitable comes barreling down, Stepmother connives with the Prince's most trusted, and ethnically correct advisor ... the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård). to keep her dimwits in the running for Princess-hood, or at least get them fixed up with somewhat appropriate royal husbands.
For Yours Cranky, who is of another Generation, studio Disney's need to make this version politically and ethnically correct -- the prince's closest, and most honest advisor is an impressive man of darker complexion ((Nonso Anozie); the women presented at the ball run the gamut of ethnic types, and so on -- is tacky. Our children's generation wouldn't blink twice about it, and that is a very good thing. The young'uns can learn the significance of such things when they get to cultural history classes in high school, and we'll leave it at that.
Disney's Cinderella is a most enjoyable sit. True, the blood and guts of the Grimms Brothers versions have been excised from this version but the basics of the real story -- the desperate attempts of the poor women of the kingdom to get a rise up in station by fitting their foot into a glass slipper
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Cinderella, he would have paid . . .
The answer to our trivia question is: Seventeenth Century. Perrault's original story dates to 1697.
Our screening was preceded by a new short featuring characters from Disney's Frozen. At five minutes it was a lot more fun than the overlong monstrosity that stupified us way back when. Hold off on the email, folks. Yours Cranky gets it wrong every once in a while...
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