Cinderella: Remaking Disney’s Classic Fairy Tale

cinderella_posterA live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale, Disney’s “Cinderella” brings to life the beloved characters and timeless images from the studio’s 1950 animated masterpiece in a visually-dazzling spectacle for a new generation.

For years, the Disney Studios has been interested in bringing “Cinderella” back to the big screen, to reintroduce the classic tale to a 21st-century audience and build on the nostalgia and memories cherished by millions around the world.

But the film needed to be entertaining and bring as much fun and humanity to the fairy-tale characters as possible, while preserving the unforgettable elements from the animated classic.

Director Kenneth Branagh (“Hamlet,” “Thor”) had never toyed with the idea of directing a fairy tale before, but after reading the script by screenwriter Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), he found that the story spoke to him in many interesting ways.

cinderella_14“I was captivated by the power of the story and felt I was in sync with the visual artistry that was being developed,” Branagh says. “It’s a classic piece of storytelling where the central character goes on a journey that we can really identify with, so the texture and landscape of a great story was wonderful to play with as a director.”

Branagh’s long-term producing partner, David Barron (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”), knew Branagh was the right director for the job. “I’ve worked with Ken for over 20 years, and he is the perfect choice to direct ‘Cinderella,’” Barron says. “He has a passion for storytelling and a rare gift for finding the humanity of every situation, even fairy tales.”

To make the film relevant to modern audiences, it was this core of kindness and compassion that would be fundamentally important. And the filmmakers were convinced that the powerful story, combined with a talented cast and a strong script with more complex and realistic characters, would make for an entertaining cinematic experience.

“The thing for us was not to try too hard to re-imagine things, but to go by the lights of the story as we saw it—a world of hidden wonder and beauty, with the animating force of kindness and faith at the heart of it,” says Weitz.

cinderella_13_jamesProducer Allison Shearmur (“Pride and Prejudice” and Zombies”) says, “‘Cinderella’ is one of the greatest treasures, cinematically, of all-time. It’s a spectacular film, so the responsibility to approach it again, and for this company, was a daunting proposition for everyone involved. But we loved the original film and intended to honor it.”

The 1950 Classic

Disney’s animated fairy tale “Cinderella,” the magical love story of an ill-treated heroine whose dreams come true, was a colossal moment in Disney’s rich cinematic history. With a production budget of close to $3 million, “Cinderella” was a huge financial risk for the studio at the time, but the film opened on February 15, 1950 to universal acclaim and was a big hit commercially, grossing more than $34 million and firmly solidifying the studio as a major force in the industry.

Today, 65 years later, “Cinderella” has become one of the studio’s most treasured titles.  The film is included on the American Film Institute’s list of the “10 Greatest Animated Films of All Time” and is an enduring fixture on America’s pop cultural landscape.

Shearmur remembers seeing “Cinderella” as a child at her local movie theater in Long Island, New York, thinking it was the most magical experience ever. “Not because it was about a young girl with nothing going for her whose dreams all of a sudden come true,” she says. “It was the scope of that world, and the fact that her world could turn around, which really stuck with me.”

The significance and popularity of fairy tales are still prevalent today, their storylines and illustrations captivating children and fostering imaginations, their morals and resolution helping children to develop emotionally and psychologically.

cinderella_13_blanchettThe tale of “Cinderella” is a simple story that has touched people around the world. According to producer Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), the simplest stories are the ones that tend

to stick with us. “There’s just something fundamental about them,” he says. “No matter how many times they are repeated or reinterpreted, stories like ‘Cinderella’ last for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years.”

For most, the enduring story came to life with the beloved animated film in 1950, but its origins date back to the 21st century and the Egypt an tale “Rhodopis” by the Greek historian Strabo, which is considered the earliest-known version of the story on record. In 1697, Charles Perrault’s French interpretation of the tale entitled “Cendrillon, or the History of the Little Glass Slipper” was published, which introduced the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage and the glass slippers.

The Grimm Brothers’ take on the story, “Aschenputtel,” which came out in Germany in 1812, featured a wishing tree that grows on her mother’s grave in place of a fairy godmother and set forth a much darker tone, but it is Perrault’s adaptation on that is most similar to Disney’s. Since then there have been countless incarnations of the story across all forms of media, from print, film and television to stage, music and art.

cinderella_12_jamesCate Blanchett (double Oscar-winner, for “Blue Jasmine,” “The Aviator”) has always loved fairy tales, and this one in particular, because they deal with complex issues facing children. “So many stories that children are told now make them feel that they are heroes who can overcome anything and that the world is a perfect place,” she says. “But the classic tales, like ‘Cinderella,’ remind us that the world can be a nasty place and require a good deal of courage and resilience to survive.”


Ella, played by the fresh-faced Lily James, is a beautiful young woman whose idyllic life crashes down when her merchant Father (Ben Chaplin) remarries following the tragic death of her Mother (Hayley Atwell).  Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera), into the family home.  When Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family.

cinderella_11_maddenIndeed, she is forced to become their servant, disrespected, covered in ashes and spitefully renamed Cinderella. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella doesn’t despair or despise those who mistreat her. She continues to remain positive, determined to honor her mother’s dying words to “have courage and be kind.”

When Ella meets a dashing stranger in the woods, unaware that he is really the Prince (Richard Madden) and not just Kit, an apprentice at the palace, she believes she has finally found a kindred soul.  Her fate is about to change when the King (Derek Jacobi) summons all maidens in the kingdom to attend a royal ball at the palace, raising Ella’s hopes of again encountering the charming Kit.  But her Stepmother forbids her to go and callously destroys her dress.

Meanwhile, the calculating Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) devises a plan to thwart the Prince’s hopes of reuniting with Ella and enlists the support of the devious Stepmother.  But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand.  A kind beggar woman (Helena Bonham Carter) steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin, a few mice and a magic wand, changes Cinderella’s life forever.

cinderella_10_jamesKenneth Branagh is one of a versatile filmmaker, equally adept with the works of William Shakespeare as he is with Tom Clancy or a superhero from a Marvel comic book. In addition to his acclaimed skills, he is an award-winning actor, writer and producer, and in 2011, his performance as Laurence Olivier in “My Week With Marilyn,” earned Branagh his fifth Academ Award nomination.