Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pass the Popcorn: Cinderella

Long before or or ... 

Long before Carrie Bradshaw or even Imelda Marcos ... 

Once upon a time, there was a girl whose shoes changed her life ...

Her name was Cinderella. 

This afternoon, three generations of my family's womenfolk went to see the new live-action Disney Cinderella. For my eight-year-old niece, it was a pretty straightforward sell: beautiful heroine, dashing prince, fairy godmother, talking mice, a ball. It wasn't such a stretch for my teenage daughter either. Then again, I can't say there was much — all right, any — hesitation on the part of the older attendees. 

Who can resist a happily ever after? Not us, apparently.

Cinderella really has something for everyone. The movie starred not one, but two Downton Abbey cast members. It wasn't much of a stretch to imagine Lady Rose MacClare, a.k.a. lovely young actress Lily James, as Ella. But, what fun to find Daisy Mason, former kitchen maid now assistant cook, endearingly portrayed by Sophie McShera, as one of the hideous stepsisters, Drusilla.

Helena Bonham Carter, who's had a bit of a run playing hags lately, between Les Mis, Sweeney Todd and Great Expectations, was given a chance to look pretty in a great, cotton candy gown and wig. Her fairy godmother was funny and frothy, and I was glad for her.

Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett gave the wicked stepmother an icy edge. With red hair and even redder lipstick, she's perpetually dressed in acid greens, in case we need a reminder of how sour her soul is.

And as for Richard Madden as Prince Charming. Well ... he was certainly that. Charming.

The problem with any Cinderella, of course, remains the same. How do we, as 21st Century feminists, reconcile ourselves to the story? Beautiful victim, rescued by a handsome prince. And a shoe.

With this new version, director Kenneth Branagh helps, by giving us a heroine with a little more depth than some. "Have courage and be kind," her dying mother urges her, "Where there is kindness, there is goodness and where there is goodness, there is magic." This new Cinderella takes these words to heart, but she doesn't take her situation lying down. She has moral strength, as well as courage, kindness and goodness. And, we've already covered the magic.

'Wish I had a fairy godmother.

Cinderella insists that her prince understands that she's a commoner, not a princess. He insists that he's merely "an apprentice," still learning his father's trade. They see each other — and love each other — for who they really are. (And, btw, Cinderella speaks French too; so, we know she's wicked smart.)

And, whether or not you buy a more feminist take on the fairy tale, it doesn't hurt that the entire movie is a glorious feast for the eyes. From Cinderella's eclectic, bohemian home to the stunning palace halls. The costumes are sumptuous, the dancing is divine. The friendly mice (a nod to Walt Disney's 1950 animated classic) transition magically into horses with a humorous stutter step. For a brief moment, each of the magnificent white steeds has a set of floppy round mouse ears. I wasn't surprised to learn later that it was my own teen equestrienne's favorite part.

There was a large party of small people sitting behind us. Through their non-stop, not-quite-soft-enough whispers, it was pretty clear that they enjoyed every minute.

We kept our thoughts to ourselves.

But, we did too.

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