A live-action remake of “Cinderella” starring “Downton Abbey” actress Lily James and directed by Kenneth Branagh heads to theaters on March 13, and if its box office performance is anything like it’s being predicted, it may further cement the fairy tale remake movie trend.
“Cinderella” stars James as Cinderella, “Game of Thrones” actor Richard Madden as the prince, Cate Blanchett of the “Hobbit” films as Cinderella’s stepmother, and Helena Bonham Carter of “Burton and Taylor” as her fairy godmother. The movie is being released by Disney, which was of course behind the successful 1950 animated adaptation. As we previously reported, Disney also has remakes of their version of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Dumbo” planned. “Noah” actress Emma Watson is on board to star as Belle in “Beauty” (will “Downton Abbey” actor Dan Stevens portray the Beast?) and director Tim Burton may take on the “Dumbo” film.
Will the new version of “Cinderella” succeed critically? The story can be a tougher sell to modern audiences. Some versions like 1998’s “Ever After” expand the relationship between Cinderella and the prince (and make Cinderella a fan of reading, in that movie’s case). As for this one, Branagh said of the movie in an interview with E!, “We've given it a contemporary feel that is human and humane and strangely enough, not built around the idea that Cinderella's life depends on finding a man or things, like clothes or a title, or just hoping this magic will come along. It's much more about who she is, what she feels about herself, and taking that kind of sort of spiritual cue to make it refreshing in a contemporary way.”
However, the verdict among critics so far is mixed on whether the story is refreshing or contemporary enough. So far – since the movie is not yet out, some reviews are still coming in – the film has a score of 64 out of 100 on review aggregator website Metacritic. Hollywood Reporter writer David Rooney found that Cinderella “gradually reveals the qualities of a self-possessed modern girl” and wrote of the romance between the prince and Cinderella, “The film defines their love not as an act of rescue but of two people accepting each other for who they are.”
However, some critics felt otherwise, with Peter Debruge of Variety writing that “Cinderella doesn’t necessarily come across any more dimensional here than she did in the earlier animated film” and Guardian critic Guy Lodge found that “its go-getting villain [the stepmother] is the only element of this irony-free interpretation that feels remotely revisionist… One might have expected the co-creator of American Pie to give Cinders a little more spunk, so to speak, but she’s relentlessly ingenuous,” though Lodge felt that “the film’s naff, preserved-in-amber romanticism is its very charm.”
So how will the movie’s eventual critical reception affect future fairy tale movie adaptations? It’s no secret to anyone who’s been going to the movies that fairy tales are everywhere lately. Some fairy tale movies like "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "Mirror Mirror" have not been box office hits. But many of those that have hit, like 2014's “Maleficent,” 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and the 2010 movie “Alice in Wonderland,” have hit big. "Alice" was the second-highest-grossing movie of its year, according to the website Box Office Mojo, while "Maleficent" was eighth-highest. According to Variety, “Cinderella” should have a strong opening this weekend, with some children on spring break and the film having cost less than other fairy tale productions like “Maleficent.” If “Cinderella” does as well as predicted, it will just ensure even further that the fairy tale trend continues.