Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi and Helena Bonham Carter
Walt Disney Pictures
Release date: March 13, 2015
What I, a grown man, think of Disney’s new live-action Cinderella film is really irrelevant. So let’s go straight to the target audience: Charlotte, my 4-year-old daughter. “Char, what did you think of Cinderella?” “Cinderella had a pink dress, then she had a blue dress, and then gets married and has a white dress.”
Suffice it to say, the target crowd will lap up this latest retelling of the classic story, made timeless in 1950.
This is as close a live-action version of the cartoon as you will get, with a paint-by-numbers approach to the material. I was hoping that in the wake of the Angelina Jolie vehicle Maleficent, that this would be a fresh take on the classic story. But director Kenneth Branagh chose to stay faithful to the fairy tale we are all accustomed to. While the story is old news to the adults in theaters, the actors involved perform with gusto for their enjoyment. And with everything going on in the nation and the world today, a movie with a message of “have courage and be kind” isn’t a bad thing at all.
Lily James takes up the title role, and is a wonderfully charming and emotionally complex. She has definite chemistry with Richard Madden‘s Prince Kit (Robb Stark of HBO’s Game of Thrones). The movie, though, belongs to two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who commands the screen and chews the scenery as the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine. She is gleefully evil, bringing the same kind of menace in a live-action cartoon as Glenn Close did as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. At the end, when Lady Tremaine describes how she was once a happy wife in love before death destroyed her family, I almost felt sorry for her in the same way you feel bad for Anakin on his way to becoming Darth Vader.
Branagh packs the film with as many talented actors as possible and it helps in elevating the (at times) tired story. Ella’s parents are Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter in Marvel’s Agent Carter). The King, Derek Jacobi, and the scheming Grand Duke is Stellan Skarsgard (Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean). Of course, no Cinderella story could be complete without a fairy godmother, and Branagh casts the always eccentric Helena Bonham Carter. She narrates and tries to steal the show in her one big scene, which brought the loudest cheers from the young crowd as pumpkins become carriages and animals are transformed into drivers and carriage-men.
At the end of the day, what else is there to say but that my 4-year-old sat for 90 minutes and loved it and the young audience gave it a standing ovation at the end. And Charlotte can’t stop talking about the dresses! While it’s no Ever After, this Cinderella is definitely a welcomed addition to the Disney family.
I have to include a warning here. There is A LOT of death is this family friendly kids movie. There are TWO death-bed scenes, and of course the sad knock on the door when Ella’s dad passes. Adults were crying and even my daughter seemed to understand what was happening and she got quiet and cuddly at points.