Oscar Nomination: Sandy Powell - Best Costume Design
I purposely avoided reviewing Cinderella when it came out in theaters and later on home video earlier this year. Not because I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it (frequent readers should realize that predicted quality rarely keeps me away from a film), but because I wasn’t confident that I would have much to say about it. The trailers made this appear to be just another retelling of a classic story, no new twists or gimmicks, just a straightforward live action version of one of Disney’s most famous properties. And that just didn’t seem to provide much in the way of commentary. Having now seen the film, I can’t say that this assessment was too far off, but there are a few things that I think can be touched upon at least in passing.
The story isn’t changed much from what you remember of countless other retellings, though the most obvious change comes in the form of character development for the prince, by which I mean he actually has some. It’s nothing major, but a subplot about an advisor scheming to marry the prince off to an offscreen princess in order to gain political strength for the kingdom does allow the prince to feel like something other than the wish fulfillment plot device that he otherwise functions as within the narrative. Similarly expanded is the evil stepmother role (played by a great-as-ever Cate Blanchett), whose motives and manipulations are expounded upon in minor ways that give her character dimension without ever feeling intrusive or unnecessary. And I would be remiss not to mention Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother, whose Burton-esque whimsy is a welcome absurd high point in the film. These are minor details, but those were the moments that caused me to actually take notice.
But nobody is going to be watching this film for a new or interesting take on Cinderella; they want to see the lavish production design and costuming, the latter of which having now received recognition in an Oscar nomination. And yes, I can attest that this film is gorgeous to look at. The sets are marvelously detailed and appropriately regal, yet colorful enough to convey a fairy tale atmosphere without becoming a full-on cartoon. The costumes are excellently designed and convey as much about the characters who wear them as the performances do, relying on bright colors and stark contrasts to give that feel-good Disney vibe but never with a hint of irony or self-parody.
And… that’s about it. The film doesn’t lend itself well to criticism or analysis because… well, it’s Cinderella. If you want to see yet another version of Cinderella, here you have one. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about it compared to any other version: the performances are good; the script is good; the CGI animals tend to reside a bit in the uncanny valley, but are not too bad overall. This film is just… good. But you’ll also probably forget about it right after, because nothing but its visual flourishes are really that remarkable.