Many a fairy tale concludes with, "And they lived happily ever after." Fewer begin from such a place. But for Ella, life was indeed enchanted.
Growing up in a sprawling country mansion, her days consist of communicating with her animal friends (especially four mice living in the house) and basking in the delight of her doting parents. But then Ella's mother falls mortally ill. On her death bed, she beckons Ella close to tell her "a great secret that will see you through all the trials life has to offer: Have courage and be kind."
As the years roll by, Ella and her father, a merchant, make a good effort to enjoy life together. But melancholy fills his heart, a longing for companionship. And so, when he meets a beautiful widow with two daughters about Ella's age, it seems a perfect opportunity for a second chapter of familial bliss.
Except that it isn't.
You already know that Lady Tremaine is as cruel as her daughters are vain. And when Ella's father dies on a journey, the teen girl is left with little more in this world than the concepts of courage and kindness her mother bequeathed to her.
And the previously unhoped-for love of a charming prince, of course!
Ella's girlhood home is as happy as it could possibly be. She enjoys the love of two parents who cherish her completely. It's a beautiful picture of familial affirmation and affection, and it's an environment in which Ella's soul flourishes.
After Ella's father meets Lady Tremaine and admits to his daughter that he's considering marrying her, he asks Ella, "Do you think I might be allowed a second chance at happiness?" Ella bravely encourages her father to pursue that chance.
A servant delivers Ella's father's last tender message to his daughter, saying, "To the end, he spoke only of you, miss. And your mother." Ella then turns her attention to dutifully serving her stepmother, paying little heed to her own wishes and desires as she fervently tries to live up to her mother's dying wish for her.
On that fateful day when Ella meets the prince, he is hunting a massive stag. Ella—who's been "talking" to his target—convinces him that the glorious beast has more living to do. It's not the anti-hunting message that's the big positive here, I should note. Rather, it's Ella's overarching urging that "we must simply have courage and be kind, mustn't we?" And her further insistence that "just because it's done doesn't mean it should be done" gets extrapolated, later, to the subject of forced marriages for the sake of financial and political enrichment.
Indeed, the prince gradually reveals his noble character in part by his unshakeable willingness to marry Ella, a commoner with no dowry or royal influence to offer him. And he shares a strong, loving relationship with his father, too, one that improves as the movie goes on.
In one exchange with Lady Tremaine, Ella asks her, "Why are you so cruel? I tried so hard to be kind to you." Lady Tremaine responds, "Why? Because you are young and innocent and good. And I—" (She stops short, unable to admit that she herself is none of those things.) Much later, Ella graciously tells her stepmother, "I forgive you."
Ella's mother tells her that fairy godmothers look after humans in the same way Ella looks after animals. When Ella asks if she really believes that, her mother says, "I believe in everything." Ella responds, "Then I believe in everything too."
At a crucial moment after long enduring her stepmother's vicious treatment, Ella begins crying and apologizes to her deceased mother, saying, "I'm sorry mother. I'm sorry. I said I'd have courage. But I don't. I don't believe anymore." It's then, right on cue, that her fairy godmother appears. At first she looks like a haggard beggar; then she transforms herself into a more beautiful form. She changes a pumpkin into a carriage and Ella's ragged clothes into finery. She magically shape-shifts Ella's animal friends into either larger creatures or even humans.
Lady Tremaine's mean cat is named Lucifer.
Ella and other women wear low-cut dresses. Stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella are shown in under-gown garments. Cinderella and the prince share a kiss; her parents kiss once as well.
Some slapstick pratfalls involve Ella's stepsisters. One girl threatens to scratch out the other's eyes. Ella's flight from the ball involves a mildly perilous pursuit by the king's men. When the fairy godmother renovates the pumpkin, it's in a small glass greenhouse that is utterly destroyed as the gourd grows.
Illness and/or death overtake Ella's mother and father, as well as the king.
Crude or Profane Language
Singular exclamations of "oh lords," "oh gosh" and "bloomin'" (a euphemism for "bloody"). Lady Tremaine calls Ella a "vulgar young hussy," a "wench" and a "wretch"; she labels her own daughters "stupid."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Lady Tremaine drinks liquor in one scene.
Other Negative Elements
The story mandates that Lady Tremaine and her daughters treat Ella dreadfully from start to finish. A raucous party involves gambling.
I do believe Mr. Walt Disney, were he still around, would be proud of what the caretakers of his fabled legacy have done with the 2015 live-action version of Cinderella. It's largely true to the original 1950 animated movie's mood and story. And where it deviates and expands upon it, it does so in ways that add drips and drabs of nuance and depth.
In other words, this is not a fractured fairy tale as so many are in this new century. The film repeatedly emphasizes kindness and courage, which culminate in Ella graciously forgiving her wicked stepmother. It's something that gives this version of a story that's been around for several centuries an unexpectedly virtuous resonance.
The magical fairy godmother is still a central part of this story, of course. And parents of would-be princesses should carefully calculate the body-image and modesty issues raised by the quite low-cut costumes and painfully corseted torsos. (What does this say about the female form and girls' intrinsic worth, after all?) Certainly Downton Abbey star Lily James is a vision of radiant beauty as Ella. But at least her outward beauty is poignantly augmented by an inner kindness and courage, things she manages to hold on to despite the abuses heaped upon her by her stepmother and stepsisters.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Lily James as Ella/Cinderella; Eloise Webb as Young Ella; Hayley Atwell as Cinderella's Mother; Ben Chaplin as Cinderella's Father; Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine; Richard Madden as The Prince; Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother; Holliday Grainger as Anastasia; Sophie McShera as Drizella; Stellan Skarsgård as The Grand Duke; Nonso Anozie as The Captain; Derek Jacobi as The King
March 13, 2015
September 15, 2015