Disney's Cinderella: Live Action (1950) vs Cartoon (2015)
Disney's really got into the swing of these live-action re-makes now hasn't it? The Jungle Book was really well-received (see 'What I'm Watching' for more cartoon re-make comparisons) Beauty and the Beast is set to be the cinematic event of the year (I still can't decide whether I'm excited or worried!) and there are loads more lined up for the future. If they mess up Mulan, I will rage. Still, there have been no huge disasters so far, and it was the success of 2015's Cinderella that really started the ball rolling. Personally, I still prefer the original, and I do worry that all these live-action versions will stop kids of this new generation from bothering with the cartoons, which would be a very sad thing. Saying that, the new film was lavish, sweet, old-fashioned entertainment and I enjoyed it very much.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the new film stuck to the pattern of the original Cinderella story, adding nothing you could call a new twist, but there were some small divergences from the plot of the cartoon. In the 2015 version we meet 'Ella's' mother briefly (before she drops dead of whatever mysterious disease usually kills the mothers of Disney princesses) but Cinderella's father does not re-marry until she's grown up. This, I thought was a bit of a problem. I get that Cinderella had to 'have courage and be kind' but that doesn't mean she has to be a complete pushover does it? In the cartoon, and the original Perrault story, the subservience makes more sense - she's a child when the Stepmother gains control and she's brought up as an inferior. But this Ella is a grown woman. I can see that she would have nowhere to go if she left the house, but letting herself become a servant in her home without a word of resistance felt a bit extreme. She doesn't even try to fight it. It's not unkind to say 'no I will not go and sleep in the attic and wait on you hand and foot' in her own house. Lily James's Ella was a nice girl - but when I compared her, as I couldn't help but do, to Danielle from Ever After, Sam from A Cinderella Story or even Cinderella from the cartoon (who, in my opinion, has a fair amount of sass even if she doesn't actively try to get herself out) I couldn't help but think she could have done more to stand up for herself. Those other Cinderellas were kind and courageous too. But they fought. This one just waited. That's not to say I didn't like her. I also thought she had great chemistry with Richard Madden, particularly in that scene where they meet in the woods. They were flirty and fun together, and I liked the way Ella told him off for hunting the stag. I just wish she had stuck up for herself as much.
The other main difference in this one was that they gave the Prince more of a personality. Richard Madden is charming in everything he's in (although he wasn't enough to save The Medicis, which I misguidedly attempted to watch the other day) and Kit - he even had a proper name! - was a likeable character. The relationship with his dad, played by Derek Jacobi, was really quite sweet. I love the bluff, eccentric King in the old film, but despite being a very different sort of character, Jacobi was brilliant and touching in his scenes, making this frothy film feel more substantial whenever he was on screen. I like that he played it very seriously, as he could have gone over-the-top-panto and no-one would have judged him.
One thing that disappointed me a bit, was the lack of songs. Those in the original might not be Alan Menken/Howard Ashman standard, but they're still good. The new film did include one, but not from Cinderella - instead they added 'Lavender blue', a familiar tune from a forgotten Disney oldie. Lily James sang it nicely, but I'd have rather heard her do 'Sing Sweet Nightingale.' And I'm sure Helena Bonham-Carter - who played a rather more glamorous but still funny Fairy Godmother - could have made a good stab at 'Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.' They did include the mice, which didn't talk, although Cinderella did talk to them. She did come across as a bit odd, but I get it, she was lonely (and I can't talk, I'm always chatting to my pets.) I still think the bits with Lucifer and the mice are some of the highlights of the original film, but this one was more focused on the romance so I can see why they were side-lined. I think that was sensible, but it did mean this film had less humour, and more sickly-sweetness.
One of the big selling points of Cinderella 2015 was the costumes. And they were lovely. I loved Ella's pale blue day dress and her ball gown was fabulous - I loved the colour and the huge skirt. Those tacky butterflies on the shoulders though? Just why. The dress in the cartoon was much classier. I think they went a bit overboard with the gaudy dresses on the stepsisters (Daisy from Downton Abbey and Holliday Grainger, obviously having a lot of fun in their roles) but Cate Blanchett's outfits alone were worth the Oscar. She looked great in everything.
Overall, I liked this Cinderella, although it felt less like a re-make of the 1950 classic than simply a new traditional re-telling. For me, it was most reminiscent of The Slipper and the Rose in tone, and Rodger and Hammerstein's Cinderella (the 90's one, with Whitney Huston) in appearance. I liked it, it was gorgeous and non-taxing to the brain, but honestly, it's no Ever After (can you tell that's my favourite? Maybe I'm just biased.) There's a great cast and the costumes and chemistry between the leads make this worth watching. But you should watch the cartoon too. It's still the real classic.