CINDERELLA – A DVD Review by John Strange

John Strange
Cinderella is a live action retelling of the story of the young girl who endures such adversity and finds her prince and lives happily ever after.  In this retelling, director Kenneth Branagh tells us the story of Ella (Lily James), the beloved daughter of two wonderful parents. 
Her family has lived in the home on the estate at the edge of the woods for generations.  Ella spends a lot of time with the animals who live on the estate.  She lives a wonderful life that includes learning about life from her mother (Hayley Atwell); a life that revolves around love… and a little magic.  Her father (Ben Chaplin) makes his money as a traveling salesman going to far away countries.  He brings wonderful gifts to his daughter from each trip. 
Sadly, the wonder and goodness takes a hit when Ella’s mother falls to a sudden illness.  On her deathbed, Ella’s mother tells her, “Ella, my darling!  I want to tell you a secret.  A great secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer.  You must always remember this, ‘have courage and be kind!’  You have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body!  And it has power, more than you know, and magic.”
“Magic?”, asked Ella.
“Truly.”, replied her mother.
Years go by and Ella’s father tells her of the passing of one of his friends.  Her father wants Ella’s blessing to wed the gentleman’s widow and bring her and her two daughters into their home.  Of course Ella agrees.  Her greatest desire is to make her father happy.
Ella’s new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters (Sophie McShera as Drisella and Holliday Grainger as Anastasia) are truly horrid.  They are very egotistic, looking down upon poor Ella and the grand home she lives in.  When Ella offers to trade rooms with the sisters to give them more space, the stepmother grabs the opportunity to move Ella to the drafty attic that will allow the girls to each have their own room.  A telling scene is when Ella calls her stepmother and the woman tells her to call her Madam instead.
Again, tragedy strikes.  Ella’s father dies suddenly on the road leaving the family without someone to provide for them.  Thus we have the stage set for the classic tale. Slowly, the stepmother economizes.  She sells off the belongings of Ella’s father and turns out the help.  Ella is slowly turned from a stepdaughter into a servant.
The three ladies spare no chances to degrade and humiliate Ella.  They force her to sleep in the drafty attic and attend to their every desire.  One morning after Ella has slept beside the kitchen hearth to stay warm as she slept; she attends the ladies without realizing she has soot on her face.  One of the daughters laughs and says that she has a new name for Ells, Cinder-Ella.  The trio gets a good laugh out of this.
Ella’s only escapes are talking to her animals and riding her horse in the woods.  On one of these rides she encounters a huge stag being chased by hunters.  She encourages the stag to run.  Sadly, the stag startles Ella’s horse that bolts.  She is rescued by a young man who gives his name as Kit (Richard Madden), an apprentice at the Palace learning his trade from his father.
Kit is not just any apprentice.  He trade is politics and ruling a kingdom for he is the Prince of the land.  His father, the King (Derek Jacobi) and the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) encourage the Prince to find a bride before the King, his health declining, dies.  Kit wants Ella but does not know her name or how to find her.
The royals decide to throw a ball.  The Prince gets them to open the ball to all eligible women in the Kingdom as well as the royalty coming in from around the world.  Stepmother and the girls are thrilled!  Stepmother tells Ella to run to the village to have three dresses made immediately! Ella is also thrilled.  Until her stepmother looks down her nose and informs her that the dresses are for her and her daughters.  There is no way they could take a servant girl like Ella with them.
Ella takes one of her mother’s dresses and redoes it to fit her.  When the ladies prepare to leave for the Ball, Ella comes down in her dress to go with them.  They ridicule her and rip the dress.  They ladies take their coach to the Ball leaving a heartbroken Ella behind.
Moping in the yard after the ladies have left, Ella encounters an old crone who asks for a crust of bread or a drop of milk.  Ella immediately dips up a bowl of milk for the old lady.  Ella is surprised when the woman knows her name. 
She is even more amazed when the crone magically transforms into a beautiful Fairy Godmother.  Played by Helena Bonham Carter, the Fairy Godmother is a bit odd but in a good way.  She helps Ella to attend the ball by creating a grand coach and footmen.  And then the dress and shoes, wow, are amazing!
Cinderella arrives at the palace just after the Ball begins.  She arrives just in time to have the first dance with the Prince.  The pair dance and then take a stroll through the palace and end up at the Prince’s favorite place.  The garden is gorgeous.  The two talk and forget about everything else until the clock begins to chime midnight.
Behind the scenes we see that the Grand Duke has his own agenda   He has made a deal with a princess from a far away land.  He plans to rule the country from behind the scene after the old King passes away.  His deal is threatened by the Prince’s desire to wed the local girl.
Cinderella races through the palace to her coach and drives away from the palace grounds.  Her timing is bad and the coach returns to it original state as it races through the countryside.  She is pursued by the palace guard who want to bring her back to the Prince (or perhaps do away with her if the Grand Duke has his way).  It doesn’t matter; they fail to catch up with the young girl.
In the end, all they have to go on are their memories of what she looked like and one glass slipper that was dropped during Ella’s race from the palace.  While the Grand Duke pushes for the wedding to the Princess, the Prince is determined to find his mystery girl.
The Prince gets his way and the soldiers check out every female in the kingdom.  Unfortunately for Ella, her stepmother discovers the remaining slipper.  She confronts Ella and destroys the shoe in front of her.
The Grand Duke and the stepmother meet and a deal is truck to ensure that Ella will not be found.  The three women will be rewarded and the Grand Duke will get the marriage he wants.
But this is a fairy tale and evil does not win.  The writers give us an amazing ending with last minute saves and the bad guys getting their just desserts.  They also give us much more back story on the stepmother than I have ever seen.  We are given a story of a woman who loves the love of her life and when she remarries, finds the man she married loves his daughter and dead wife much more than he could ever love her.  The scene where she tells Ella about her feelings is absolutely wonderful.  Cate is certainly one of the few actresses who could have pulled off this performance.
This story is one that the whole family can enjoy.  Adults will see a new depth and richness in the story that previous writers/directors left out.  Kids will see a wonderfully visual tale with a young girl who gets what she deserved when she stays true to her mother’s wishes. 
Buy this film in whatever format works best for you.  Disney sent me the film using their Disney Movies Anywhere option.  It was easy to setup and easy to use.  I know collectors will want to have a disk to put on their shelf but this new format is well worth checking into!  I rate Cinderella as BRAND NEW on our scale!
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Jana Perez, Alex Macqueen, Tom Edden, Gareth Mason, Paul Hunter, Eloise Webb, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Steer, Cate Blanchett
  • Alternate Opening: Ella's Childhood
  • Frozen Fever
  • Staging The Ball
  • Ella's Furry Friends
  • A Fairy Tale Comes to Life
  • Disney Movies Anywhere Exclusive:
  • Deleted Scenes (with introductions by Kenneth Branagh)
  • Costume Test Fun
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: 09/15/2015
Region 1
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)
Selig Rating: BRAND NEW
Selig Rating Scale:
BRAND NEW: Should add to your DVD collection at any cost
SALE ITEM: Worth owning, but try to catch it a sale
SECOND HAND: Plan to get it, but wait to buy it used
RENTAL: Worth taking a look at, but not owning
COASTER: Pick it up at a garage sale and use it for drinks
PULL!: Makes a great Trap Shooting target
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