There has been a push over the last few years to remake classic Disney animations as live action films. The success, as you might expect, has been variable. As a result, attempts to remake these films are often regarded with concern, especially among a certain demographic of the cinema going public. The emotions attached to the original films are such that their re-imaginings begin on the back foot. The task of making such films, should not therefore be undertaken lightly.
For this week’s YesFlix/ NoFlix I want to look at two live-action attempts. Both, of course, feature magic, but only one manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat…
YesFlix – Cinderella (2015)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Cinderella is the re-imagining of the film from 1950 with the same title. It stars up-and-coming actors Lily James (Fast Girls; Downton Abbey; Pride, Prejudice and Zombies) as Cinderella and Richard Maddon (Game of Thrones, Birdsong) as Prince Charming. In supporting roles are a string of actors with a combined experience that lends plenty of clout. They include Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Nonso Anozie and Derek Jacobi.
This movie is set apart from the usual fare of Disney re-imaginings by the fact that it does not take it’s central female character and put a sword in her hand. Both Alice in Wonderland (2010) by Tim Burton and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) have warrior heroines at their cores, modeled on the Joan of Arc mythology. In the retelling helmed by Branagh, Cinderella remains a story of domestic unrest where a young girl is cajoled into scullery by an unpleasant relative. However, she is not a passive character. Granted her agency is frustrated by the presence of her step-mother, but she does have agency to speak of, and so is not an object to be reclaimed. There is no feminist ideology at the heart of the narrative, but nor is a regressive patriarchal one either. The revision is not radical, but it’s no less enjoyable as a result.
Along with the story, the visuals and the production values are incredible. The transformations and the costumes are impressive in themselves and, in context of the film as a whole, convey a sense of wonder and splendour. ‘Handsomely mounted’ is the phrase. For adults looking to revitalise their inner kid this is a movie for you … and actual kids will dig it as well.
Fans of 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and the original Cinderella (1950) will LOVE this!
NoFlix – Maleficent (2014)
In contrast to the Disney retelling of its Cinderella, we have the the retelling of Sleeping Beauty (1959) told from the point of view of the character that was originally the antagonist: Maleficent (2014) with Angelina Jolie in the title role.
To give the film its due, Maleficent looks beautiful. One might say it was in its breeding. The movie was the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg. Before he tried film directing, Stromberg made his living in visual effects for screens large and small. However, the visuals are where the charm of the film ends.
The retelling is a revenge tale. Maleficent curses the daughter of King Stephan. Unlike in the 1959 animation, the motivation is not the she is evil (capital E, Evil, if you prefer). It is a punishment. The twist is simple. In getting to know the Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) she goes off the idea of vengeance across a generation.
The twist is a fruitful idea but it fraught by complications that the movie doesn’t manage to reconcile. In delving into Maleficent the character said character she looses her menace. In theory it is a fair trade: exchange a fearsome character and get a fibrous one in return. The movie however never allows the time for its relationships to develop. The plot seems to be a device to show-off the world in which it is situated. It makes for a frustrating experience. The film wants to invert the source material with a feminist edge without knowing how to go about doing so. In effect, it wants to tread similar ground to The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, whilst lacking the chops and, more important, the teeth of such story-telling.
It’s not without interest, but it is sadly without substance.