There still seems to be a permeating thought in the moviemaking world that taking an animated classic and turning it into a live-action movie is a good idea. With far too many of those movies savaged by critics and audiences, it seems successes like “101 Dalmatians” were just enough to keep the prospects still alive. Disney would also likely cite their “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, even if the characters hadn’t been used in animated form before. Regardless, the fact they come from an attraction at Disneyland would still be considered qualifying as coming from a different form of animation.
Despite human actors always being irreplaceable in a time when motion capture artists are creating very non-human characters, that cross between animation and live-action is still a huge leap. Animation creates a different type of universe where anything magical happening easily integrates into the surroundings. Disney’s original animated classic “Cinderella” from 1950 is a good example of how that works, outside of the characters being designed to look real.
Yes, there’s an interesting distinction between the animation of Disney and more traditional animation. Disney always used models to convey movement that was accurate to reality. Having those human-like characters interacting with more traditional animated characters created a lot of animation innovation that you don’t see used even at Disney any more.
Perhaps it’s one reason why Disney thinks a live-action version of “Cinderella” can be easier done based on the human characters acting more like real people. Regardless, because human actors provide more noticeable nuances to a performance, it can still be a challenge to make the characters from an animated movie translatable into reality. An actor almost has to bring their tongue in cheek in order to pay tribute to their animated character counterpart.
The only one who’s been able to do that successfully was Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil in the live-action “101 Dalmatians.” With de Vil being so outrageous in her evil, it might be the only Disney villainess who could translate well into reality if keeping a certain frame of mind on how much scenery had to be chewed.
But what about the wicked stepmother of the upcoming live-action adaptation of “Cinderella”, directed by Kenneth Branagh? There may be a little irony there when you see one actress known for playing baddies recently now playing good.
A Showcase for Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter?
It’s Cate Blanchett who will play the evil Lady Tremaine that’s so familiar from the original 1950 animated classic. What makes Lady Tremaine so interesting is that she’s not over-the-top tyrannical as we see with other Disney villainesses and more soft-spoken and demure in her cruel treatment of her stepdaughter. It’s a chance for Cate Blanchett to play a character that’s quite different from anything she’s played before. She hasn’t played cold and calculating evil very often, and it could be a chance to create a rare Oscar-caliber performance in a Disney live-action re-imagining.
It may turn out that all the sideline characters end up stealing the spotlight with their performances. With Lily Jones as Cinderella, she no doubt had to buckle down in order to hold her own around Blanchett, plus Helena Bonham Carter.
The irony in Carter being in this live-action “Cinderella” is that she’s going to play the Fairy Godmother. It might be a challenge to think of her playing someone so benevolent after playing so many over-the-top villainesses recently. In the last few years, you can’t help but picture her with a literally inflated head while playing the screaming Queen of Hearts in 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” We’ve almost become accustomed to Carter being over-the-top in her more recent performances, so this performance might have been by design to eliminate that persona.
Will Blanchett end up becoming the real star of “Cinderella” when it releases next year? It’s rare for a great actress to be nominated for an Oscar after being in a movie thought not to be conducive for awards. With a subtle Disney villainess, however, it might not be any different than had she decided to play one of the villainesses in a Shakespeare adaptation directed by Branagh.