How Cinderella Got Her Groove Back

By  · Published on March 16th, 2015

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

With so many adaptations of “Cinderella” out there, what is it about Disney’s latest incarnation that attracted a massive crowd over its opening weekend? The live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale exceeded expectations to earn an estimated $70m from US theaters and another $62m internationally. That’s on par with last year’s Maleficent, yet that live-action reworking of Sleeping Beauty had the appeal of spinning a new take on the story. Cinderella, as scripted by Chris Weitz and directed by Kenneth Branagh, was fairly straight in its adaptation of a very familiar plot.

Perhaps that faithfulness is the reason. While not everything is lifted and literally fleshed out from Disney’s 1950 animated feature, especially where the soundtrack is concerned, it’s pretty close. And as much as audiences like fresh approaches to beloved characters, they also just simply like to see such characters given life the way Lily James and Richard Madden embody (Cinder)Ella and Prince Charming on screen here. I’ve seen a comparison made that these live-action versions of Disney classics are just comic book movies for girls. It’s not even that specific, really.

The popularity of Cinderella can be more comparable to the popularity of YA novel adaptations and Harry Potter movies. Children grow up on these properties, and adults are familiar with them, too. There’s family wide interest. Sure, there were many more girls seeing Cinderella than boys, and that certainly relates to the female-geared Disney Princess brand, though it’s not a hard sell to fathers, at least. We all saw the original as kids. We all get curious about what famous characters look like played by real people (and real cats, mice, lizards, etc.). Especially when done with such sincerity and integrity.

Cinderella still didn’t perform as well as Disney’s first venture into this recent live-action-remake trend. The less faithful Alice in Wonderland opened with $114m in 2010, maybe so much better because of its special effects focus. It’s worth noting, though, that it also had a budget of $200m. Maleficent had a budget of $180m. Cinderella only cost $95m, according to Box Office Mojo. In its simplicity it also has the potential to be more profitable. From just its domestic take, anyway. I don’t anticipate Cinderella getting anywhere near Alice’s $1b global earnings.

Another thing that’s really worth highlighting, especially if we are thinking in terms of gender appeal and power: Cinderella opened better than Thor, a Marvel superhero movie also directed by Branagh.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.