Opinion: Ashley picks the best live-action Disney remake

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – picking the best live-action Disney remake. Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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Sometimes it’s hard to pick just one movie or character to advocate for in these Story Geeks Nerdfights. Like, is it really possible to pick just one favorite animated Disney character or one favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film?

However, I knew right away what I was going to pick as the best Disney live-action remake: “Cinderella.” It’s one of my very favorite films, and it’s a movie I return to often when I’m feeling down and looking for something to watch that will make me feel warm and happy inside.

While I’ve enjoyed pretty much all the live-action Disney remakes, to me “Cinderella” stands out as the one that does the best job honoring the original while also bringing something new to the narrative. It’s not just a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film, and it adds some meaningful nuance to the story and characters.

I was already familiar with the actress who plays Ella/Cinderella (Lily James) from watching “Downton Abbey,” and this is probably my favorite performance of hers. Ella is a ray of sunshine who lights up every room she enters, and even the unkindness of her stepmothers and stepsisters isn’t enough to crush her spirits.

It might be easy to take a cynical view of this character and say that Ella is too positive or optimistic. Yet to me, Lily James really sells the character and makes the performance feel genuine.

Ella’s life is certainly not without tragedy; she loses first her mother and then her father, and then her stepmother turns her into a servant and regularly mocks her. But instead of allowing herself to become bitter, Ella clings stubbornly to the belief that the best way to live is to “have courage and be kind.” She stands up for herself, but she doesn’t put others down.

While Cate Blanchett’s “evil stepmother” is definitely the villain of this story, she has a few sympathetic moments that ensure she’s more than just a caricature. Like Ella, she has known tragedy and loss, and she has also been hurt by others.

However, her response is the opposite of Ella’s; she holds onto those painful memories and allows them to fester inside of her. She lashes out as Ella because she resents her stepdaughter, and in the end, her unkindness spoils the happy ending that she could have had as the mother of the new queen.

And speaking of royalty…maybe it’s controversial to admit it, but I feel like a lot of the Disney princes in the older animated movies were a little bland. I don’t remember a lot about the animated prince in the original “Cinderella” (I didn’t even remember his name and had to Google it, and I discovered that the Wikipedia article literally just credits him as “Prince Charming”).

The prince in the live-action “Cinderella” — renamed “Kit” — has more of a personality (plus, it’s good to see Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, in a less tragic story!). Even though he’s living the kind of life that a lot of people would envy, Kit is struggling with the weight of his father’s legacy. And even though technically yes, he and Ella’s whirlwind romance is probably still a little unrealistic (can you really fall in love with someone at first sight?), it’s still sweet and charming.

Aside from the main performances, there are so many little details I adore about this film. I love the music, and the costumes are gorgeous, particularly Cinderella’s magical blue ball gown. Director Kenneth Branagh knows how to spin a delightful fairytale that is light and fun, yet still has an emotional impact.

Writing about it makes me want to watch it all over again!