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This is a live-action reimagining of the animated Disney classic Cinderella. It came out in 2015, but I didn't see it until 2018. I'm including my review under "fantasy," though of course there's only one particular part of the film that involves magic. I could have put it under "romance," but while I think the romantic relationship in this version of the story works much better than in the animated film, it still seems to me like just a minor part of the story. And of course I could have put it under "family," but... whatever. Fantasy is good enough. Also I should say that I'm not really familiar with the original fairy tale, but I suspect this movie hews a bit closer to it, in some ways, than the animated film did. (In other ways, maybe less so.)
The movie is narrated by Helena Bonham Carter (who also plays the Fairy Godmother). It begins with Ella as a baby, before quickly jumping forward to Ella at 10 years old. We get a fair amount of time to see how much she enjoyed her life, and how loving her relationship was with her mother (played by Hayley Atwell) and father. But then her mother gets sick, and on her deathbed, tells Ella to always have courage and be kind. The movie then flashes forward to when Ella is a young woman (played by Lily James), who has obviously always adhered to her mother's words (not that those words were really necessary, considering what a sweet girl she always was, to begin with). And she still very much loves her father. Then one day, her father decides to marry a recently widowed woman named Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who has two daughters around Ella's age, named Drisella and Anastasia. Ella does her best to get along with them, but they don't make it easy. Unlike Ella, the Tremaine girls are very spoiled and mean-spirited, even towards each other. Lady Tremaine seems more polite than her daughters, though only for appearance's sake. Mostly she seems interested in spending her new husband's money. Although he's not rich, his house, which has been in the family for 200 years, is pretty huge. (Though the Tremaines seem to find it very unimpressive.) And they had a small household staff, with whom Ella was friendly.
Anyway, Ella's father is a traveling merchant, which means he must spend months away from home, much to Ella's dismay. And one day, word comes back that he has died. After that, Lady Tremaine fires the staff, since she can no longer afford to keep them on. She also drops any pretense of caring for Ella at all. She and her daughters simply treat Ella as an unpaid servant. And because the attic where she lives is often too cold to sleep in, Ella sometimes goes to sleep by the fireplace. One day, seeing the soot on her face, one of her stepsisters decides to call her "Cinder Ella," and the other two Tremaines quickly go along with it. And they all just constantly treat Cinderella dreadfully, til one day she rides off into the forest, where she meets a stag, and warns it to run away from a nearby hunting party. Then she meets one of the hunters, who is actually a prince, but doesn't want her to know it. So he just tells her his name is Kit, and that he works at the palace as an apprentice. (I must say, I liked having this early meeting of the two characters, where they actually got a chance to talk a little bit, and had reason to like each other. So unlike the animated film, it's not quite as much "love at first sight" as it could have been.)
Ella returns home, and Kit returns to the palace, where he talks with his father, the king (Derek Jacobi), about the girl he met. The king seems like a nice guy, and obviously loves his son, but he wants Kit to marry a princess, not a commoner. Because apparently the kingdom is fairly small, and the king wants the protection that could come from an alliance with a more powerful kingdom. (I thought this was an interesting parallel to Ella's family home being very large by most people's standards, but small by other people's standards.) And giving matters greater urgency, the king is in poor health, and doesn't have long to live. Kit agrees to choose a wife soon, but he insists on hosting a ball, with all the eligible maidens from the kingdom attending... in addition to princess from various other lands. He hopes the girl he met in the woods will attend. (A hope he shares with his friend, the captain of the guard, who would like to see Kit marry for love.)
Well, I'm sure what happens next is familiar to everyone, at least up to a point. Lady Tremaine and her daughters attend the ball, and prevent Cinderella from going. But then Ella's fairy godmother shows up and works her magic. (And she's really pretty funny.) She turns a pumpkin into a carriage, Ella's mice friends into horses, a couple of lizards into footmen, and a goose into a coachman. (Incidentally, throughout the film we occasionally see four mice, the main ones being Gus-Gus and Jacqueline. Yes, in this version, Jaq is female. And I guess the other two mice are supposed to be Gus-Gus and Jaq's children. Anyway, they don't exactly talk or do anything particularly anthropomorphic, though their chittering almost sounds human, and some of their mannerisms are not entirely mouse-like.) And Ella's fairy godmother also changes her dress (I liked that Ella didn't want a new one, but only wanted her own dress mended... although TBH I thought the godmother changed it enough that it looked to me like an entirely new dress, anyway). And of course, she gives Ella glass slippers. (I was a bit confused for a moment, because she had Ella take off her shoes, and I thought she was going to change them into glass slippers, but the slippers just form around Ella's feet. Which, now that I think about it, might explain why they're the only things that don't change back at midnight, since there was nothing for them to change back to.) The godmother also casts a spell over Ella that will prevent her stepmother and stepsisters from recognizing her (while leaving her appearance unchanged to everyone else), which I thought was a nice touch. So, Ella goes to the ball, has a very nice dance with Kit (who now thinks she's a princess, presumably because she's wearing a nice dress, though I didn't notice anyone at the ball not being well-dressed), and then gets to talk with him alone for awhile. And of course, at midnight she has to leave in a hurry, without even telling him her name. And she loses one of her glass slippers, in her haste.
Beyond that, there were some changes to the story that I liked. The Grand Duke is more of a villain, and conspires with Lady Tremaine; well, technically he's blackmailed by her, but he didn't seem to mind. And the whole search for the "mysterious princess" makes somewhat more sense than it did in the animated film. When Kit eventually finds Ella- who still calls herself Cinderella, for some reason- I hoped he would just say the glass slipper didn't matter, because he recognized her. But he didn't do that. I still think having her try it on was mostly a formality, probably because of a deal he had previously made to marry a particular foreign princess if the Grand Duke couldn't find the owner of the slipper. But whatever. And of course, Kit and Ella ultimately get married and live happily ever after.
Well, I definitely quite enjoyed this version of the story. I thought it was better than the animated film, if not as iconic. Though I guess I didn't love it as much as Ella Enchanted. But anyway, it's reasonably romantic, and dramatic, and amusing, with decent special effects. And Ella was a very likable character. And there were times I could almost feel some sympathy for Lady Tremaine, if only she hadn't been so terribly cruel. And I liked all the music that played over the end credits, including covers of songs from the animated film, one sung by Lily James and the other by Helena Bonham Carter. And I'm probably forgetting any number of things I wanted to say, but it's probably not all that important.
The movie was accompanied theatrically (and on the DVD) by the short film Frozen Fever.