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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this non-musical take on Cinderella is true to the classic Disney animated tale, if somewhat more intense given that it's live action instead of a cartoon. As a child, Cinderella (Downton Abbey's Lily James) loses her mother; her father dies when she's older. Both are drawn-out scenes filled with tears and intense sadness, which could upset younger kids. The prince's father also dies, and Cinderella is a beautiful, kind, and dutiful young woman (albeit one with an unreailstically tiny, corset-cinched waist) who's left to suffer at the hands of her evil stepmother (the divine Cate Blanchett). Everything about the film is visually stunning -- from the sets to the costumes to the actors -- and being a courageous, kind person is a constant theme. But the prince is transfixed by Cinderella after meeting her just once, and she has no future until he comes and rescues her. The stepmother's cruelty and neglect toward Cinderella could scare some kids. There's a little mild language ("stupid," "shut up") and some background drinking at a party.
What's the story?
In CINDERELLA, Ella (Eloise Webb) is a happy child with loving parents; but then her mother gets sick and dies. Before she passes, Ella's mother urges her to be kind and courageous -- and she does indeed grow up to be a beautiful and sweet young woman (Lily James). After Ella's father marries Lady Tremaine (played to perfection by Cate Blanchett), he dies, the staff is let go, and Ella becomes maid to her stepmother and stepsisters, who dub her Cinderella. One day she meets a handsome prince (Richard Madden) in the woods; he decides to give a ball for all the ladies in the kingdom in the hopes of meeting her again. Ella plans to go, but right before the ball, her stepmother and stepsisters rip her dress and go without her. Her spirit is almost broken when her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) appears and turns Cinderella's mice friends into horses, some lizards into footmen, and a pumpkin into a carriage. She also gives Ella a fabulous ball gown and a pair of glass slippers. Ella's a hit at the ball, but she has to flee before the stroke of midnight (when the magic ends), leaving an intrigued prince -- and one of her glass slippers -- behind.
Is it any good?
While the music of the animated original is missed, almost everything about this film is well done. The direction (by Kenneth Branagh), the sets, and the casting are all spot on, and the visuals are unequivocally gorgeous. As the evil stepmother, Blanchett is fabulous in every scene she's in, even when she says nothing at all. And James is lovely as Cinderella, but her character hasn't really made any progress from the one in Disney's 1950 animated classic: She's all goodness and light, oozing kindness. She does as she's told, works hard, and is rewarded in the end when she's rescued by a rich, handsome prince.
It's quite the contrast between her and another recent version of Cinderella: Anna Kendrick's far more complex character in Into the Woods. You almost hope that Ella will realize that it's not a good idea to marry someone after meeting him just twice. But Cinderella does marry the prince, and (no surprise) we're told they'll live happily ever after in a world that isn't as it is, but as it should be. But shouldn't Cinderella have some hand in her own fate? For this version to be released on the heels of other notable fairy tale retellings that built out the back stories of some princesses and villains (Frozen, Maleficent, and Into the Woods) seems like a missed opportunity to have young fans embrace Cinderella beyond being the belle of the ball.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how it's possible for Cinderella to see the positive in her situation when she's treated so badly. Do you think you'd be able to do the same in similar circumstances? How does this version of Cinderella compare to the one from the animated movie? Is it equally believable for a real person to always be so happy and good hearted?
Many traditional fairy tales are criticized for having female characters who have to be rescued by a prince/man. Do you think Cinderella could have done anything on her own to better her situation and find happiness? What would have made her a more proactive character? Is it OK for girls to enjoy stories about traditional princesses? How can their tales turn into teaching moments?
Cinderella's mother and father die, but she thinks about them often. Kids: Have you lost anyone close to you? How do you keep their memory alive? If you haven't lost anyone, is it something you're afraid of? (Parents, reassure your kids about any worries they might have on this topic.)
Much has been made of star Lily James' tiny, corset-cinched waist. Do you think it sets unrealistic standards for girls'/women's body image? Why is it important for Cinderella to be so slender?
What does it mean to be a courageous and kind person? Can you think of anyone in your life who's one -- or both? How do the characters in Cinderella demonstrate empathy, gratitude, and compassion? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: March 13, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2015
- Cast: Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett
- Director: Kenneth Branagh
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses and Fairies, Book Characters, Fairy Tales
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Gratitude
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements
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