BE KIND. BE COURAGEOUS. FORGIVE.
A part of my inward being struggles with this, Disney’s update on the Cinderella story, being the first review on the site. Will I lose my man card? Oh well, one cannot control all things. And really, it is actually a very fitting film for the purpose of 35mm Gospel.
Walt Disney Studios is in an interesting renaissance. While they are churning out successful new material on a regular basis, they are also building upon established franchises with new eyes. Where last year’s Maleficent was cooked on the overdone side (I couldn’t make it all the way through that one), Cinderella reinvents itself without with a grace lacking in the aforementioned film. Its greatest strength is that it has a moral center that is never overbearing or saccharine, morals as Christ-like as any believer can ask for: Be kind to everyone. Be courageous. And forgive. Above all, forgive, forgive, forgive.
Lily James, the bright-eyed star known for her regular role on the BBC’s hit series and my wife’s greatest addiction Downton Abbey, brings a sincerity and sweetness to the role of Ella that is so unforced that the audience can’t help but fall in love with her. The progression she goes through from beloved child to pseudo-slave is heartbreaking, but her embodiment of the virtues of kindness and courage taught to her by her late mother and father bestow a strength that vengeance and vitriol could never give to her. Where most in our society would say she has every right to bear bitterness and resentment towards her selfish stepmother – fittingly played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett – she does the exact opposite and bears her cross. Not without grief – oh no – but with her heart full of love for her deceased parents.
One of the film’s greatest successes is in revamping the role of the Prince, my personal most hated Disney prince from their animated films. The animated Prince Charming is, frankly, anything but charming. He’s a whiny, spoiled, lazy brat. The Prince here, Kit (which is short for Christopher, which of course means “Christ-follower”), played with sincerity by Richard Madden (HBO’s Game of Thrones) is the type of humble shepherd-leader one would want to follow into battle and he actually pursues Cinderella with zeal.
As for the film’s artistry, it is a vision. Directed by Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branaugh, he brings a rich vibrancy to the world of Ella that makes you almost forget this story has been told before. The costumes by Oscar-winner Sandy Powell will almost undoubtedly earn her another nomination. The film’s greatest fault, in my opinion, is in the transformation scene which gives a greater hand to style over substance, which results in a cheesiness that is otherwise lacking in the rest of the film and I personally found jarring to the overall experience.
For believers, Cinderella presents a great opportunity to talk with one’s children about being kind and courageous and forgiving of one’s enemies, no matter what the cost. I also respect that Ella never counts her stepmother as an enemy. This echoes the truth that Deitrich Bonhoeffer proclaims in The Cost of Discipleship when he says that disciples of Christ do not have enemies for we are to hate no one of flesh and blood, rather the enemies we are told to love are those who hate us. Kit too, serves as a model of how Christ pursues his Bride wholeheartedly, defining her not by her social status but simply by love. Ella does nothing to earn the favor of Kit – she has his heart long before the cinders and grime are magically whisked from her face. And so it is for us, that Christ loves us no matter how far we have fallen and how dirty we have become. And only love can transform our hearts from one of bitterness to one that forgives.
There is probably no force on earth that can alter my dislike of the original animated version, but I am glad that my wife talked me into seeing this new version. It is compelling to put one in Ella’s shoes – er – glass slippers – and ask, “Would I be so kind to my enemies? Would I be so forgiving?” For myself, I have a ways to go yet. And that is convicting and encouraging at the same time.