Adapting an animated classic like Disney’s Cinderella is no easy feat. Since being released in 1950, the animated film has become an animated classic, quickly taking its place alongside Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty in the pantheon of animated masterpieces. Everything about the film, from its characters to its costumes, have become immortalized.
Earlier this year, a new version of Cinderella, directed with flair by Kenneth Branagh and written by Chris Weitz, was able to modernize some of the relationships and themes and retain what made the original animated film so special. Again: not an easy feat. On the home video release of Cinderella (out this week on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere), you get the sensation that all of the filmmakers were trying to make a film that lived up to the animated film’s legacy.
We got the chance to talk to Weitz, who recently wrapped script duties on next year’s hotly anticipated Star Wars: Rogue One, about trying to stay faithful to the original while also reinvigorating it, if there were any deleted scenes that he sorely misses, and a time that the movie had more overt “thriller” elements.
On the special features, it seems like you were very attached to the original animated feature and inspired by that type of approach. Was it hard to figure out what you’d reference and what you’d stay away from?
I didn’t feel like there were many edicts in terms of what we were meant to preserve. So that wasn’t hard. What’s hard is if you’re going into it, and this is just being a screenwriter, is the question of how to preserve the spirit of the film that people love, while tweaking some of its messages. Which is to say, the view of romance in the animated film is not particularly contemporary. The prince gets something like seven lines and so there’s not much for Cinderella to go on, at least as we understand it, in terms of why she loves him or why she wants to go to him. I think these days, we demanded more than that. We knew the places we wanted to go in a bit deeper and wanted to expand things and our general sense was that we didn’t want to fix the bits that weren’t broken.
What was it like working with Kenneth Branagh?
It was great. I think that, first of all, he’s a lovely guy. He’s a gentleman and a great collaborator. He’s just as good with writers as he is with actors. He really gives you the space to experiment and have fun with things. I can’t tell what he’s like on a movie where it’s not supposed to be fun. Part of what he wanted to bring to this was a real sense of lightness and joy and I think that’s something the cast and crew felt.
As light and fun as the movie was, at one point on the disc there’s a discussion of amplifying the “thriller” elements of the movie. Can you talk about that?
I think there were certain moments where you think, Well we’re going quite straight ahead with this story and there are very few surprises, in the sense that you’re making a film that everybody knows the ending to, and also the beginning and the middle as well. So there was a bit more drama at one point about whether or not Cinderella was going to reach the Prince after the ball, to get back in touch with him. Eventually it was dropped because it really wasn’t necessary. The ellipses that the fairy tale employs is very useful at times. The great thing about a story that people know the ending to is that you don’t have to explain that much. So it didn’t make sense to amp things up too much.
There are a few deleted scenes on here; was there anything you were really sad about losing?
No. I mean of course I miss every single piece of golden dialogue I ever wrote, but I really don’t. As a matter of fact, the first time I saw the final cut, I didn’t even know that they were missing, which is a great sign.
Another huge part of the disc is behind-the-scenes footage of the ballroom sequence. When you were writing that did you ever imagine the opulence would be brought to screen, or were you totally surprised?
That was a great surprise. I saw the set while it was building so I thought, Wow, this is rather big. But I wasn’t there when they were filming it, so it was a lovely experience for me to see it all put together. I think that [production designer] Dante Ferretti is a genius. So there were so many times when I watched the film, where I felt like the film was given a shot in the arm by the visuals and by the sets. It helped a huge amount.
Were you ever afraid that this version of Cinderella would be rejected? And what was your response when you realized that it was fully embraced?
Listen, with the internet, somebody’s going to dislike what you’re doing. So there was going to be somebody who disliked it. I felt really good and confident about the non-ironic approach that we were taking to this material. I felt that it was very much in the spirit of the 1950s version, even if we change things or tweak things or introduce new elements. So I felt okay about it. I was surprised and delighted when we got so many lovely reviews and when the response was so strong. I think that’s a credit to Ken’s direction and also to his casting. It’s a skill to be able to figure out how good Lily James is going to be in that role, how she’s going to elevate the material. It was really wonderful to experience it.
Cinderella is out now on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere.