Monday, March 16, 2015


Disney’s latest version of the fairy tale CINDERELLA is very much in the spirit of the classic era of the famed movie studio’s live-action films; it is fueled by inspired performances, constructed out of lavish sets and costumes, and injected with a morality which is intended to act as a guide for younger minds. That is the setup for this CINDERELLA; but is it enough? 

After the death of her parents, Ella (Lily James), is adapted by her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and is forced to live a life of slavery. Now nicknamed Cinderella by her mean stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera), she is whisked away to a ball with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), where she romances the young prince (Richard Madden). 

This version of CINDERELLA knows exactly what it has to do to succeed. It doesn’t bother to use an over-abundance of CGI or try too hard to impress with visuals, and it doesn’t try to add depth by spending too much time on origin stories. This CINDERELLA knows that it is a fairy tale, and all fairy tales are about character, story, and a lesson. Director Kenneth Branagh embraces these elements fully, and lets this tale unspool all on its own. The beats and settings are familiar, but what makes it feel fresh is that Branagh makes this a very human story. With both Cinderella and the unexpected backstory of the stepmother both suffering from losses in their lives, the film becomes a very human story about love and loss and how we react to it. It is a very human, relatable story in a familiar and fantastical setting. This gives CINDERELLA the heartbeat that it needs to survive. 

Branagh also embraces the classic nature of old-time filmmaking. The sets and costumes are stunning, and the pacing, visual-effects, music, and style of acting gives the film a magical whimsy that is a joy to behold. Branagh, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest Shakespeare interpreters of our time, toys with family dynamics and drama while clinging to the old fashioned virtues that make classic cinema work so well. Aside from the CGI, this is a film that easily could have been shot right next door to THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Acting is superb. Young Lily James is perfect as Cinderella; putting out all the emotion needed to create a very real character that we can easily care for. Cate Blanchett is wickedly awesome as the stepmother and elevates her performance to a point where she would have to be considered one of the most despicable movie-villains ever filmed. The stepsisters, played by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, are there mostly for comic relief but still manage to become very loathsome characters. Helena Bonham Carter is effective, although seems to put in just enough for another fantasy character, and Richard Madden is a very convincing prince. The rest of the cast, including Hayley Atwell, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, and Stellan Skarsgard are all excellent. 

With a lot of emphasis on dresses and shoes and dances and love and a morality lesson which is up-front nearly all of the time, CINDERELLA is definitely a film pointed at young ladies, but the emotional weight that the characters are given make it palpable for adults as well…who should also appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship and earnest effort Branagh has put into it. This film is a shoe that fits all. 


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