Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger & Sophie McShera
With the technological wonders and impressive effects that exist behind the camera these days, Disney has taken on a movement to reinvent their animated classics into live-action films. With a dark take on Sleeping Beauty of the way in MALEFICENT, their next animated classic to be transformed is CINDERELLA. Seeing as the folk tale of Cinderella has been around for centuries and spread worldwide, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t have a clue about the general plot of this movie. In a lot of ways, the 1950 animated version has major shortcomings and they are fixed up in Kenneth Branagh’s take on this fairy tale that’s equally aimed for adults as it is for children (though some might argue it’s made more for adults).
Ella is a genuinely good person who’s been struck with tragic circumstances. Both of her parents are dead and she’s been saddled with the role of being a servant for her wicked stepmother and cruel stepsisters. Life isn’t going well and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. To add insult to injury, she’s recently been renamed Cinderella. Cinder Ella, get it? She had ashes on her face and they won’t let her live it down. While on a stroll through the woods, Cinderella meets the handsome Prince Kit who immediate takes a liking to her. Through some magic and kindness, Cinderella might yet get out of her bad situation and wind up with her true love. You know this story. Why am I giving you the premise? It’s probably for that one person who’s somehow never heard of/completely forgotten this fairy tale. Rest assured, this live action take on CINDERELLA is a great experience that we’ve come to expect from Disney.
To those who might be worried that this version of CINDERELLA deviates or puts a spin on their beloved fairy tale, you can rest at ease. There are minimal additions to this well-known, crowd-pleasing story. The character of Cinderella is appropriately lovable and the viewer isn’t forced into feeling false sympathy for her out of obligation. I genuinely cared about Cinderella, played by a remarkable Lily James, and felt like cheering when life was looking up for her. Cate Blanchett plays the evil stepmother as a wickedly manipulative and hate-filled person almost to the point where female viewers will probably feel like leaping through the screen to give this villainess a slap across the face. The wicked stepsisters aren’t allowed too much room to develop and mainly serve as comic relief that mostly works. The prince is also given a personality this time around, which was sorely lacking in the 1950 animated version. Played by Richard Madden, Kit is actually a fleshed-out prince who gets lines, scenes and character development. Gasp!
Though it has solid acting across the board from almost everybody (including Stellan Skarsgard as the corrupt Grand Duke), Helena Bonham Carter sticks out like a sore thumb. She’s just plain annoying as the fairy godmother and goes too far over-the-top. Her scenes seem like they’re from a completely different film and her comic relief is poorly executed. The whole sequence in which mice turn into horses and a pumpkin turns into a carriage would have been stunning if Bonham Carter hadn’t been mugging for the camera the entire time. There’s also unnecessary narration that can be a bit much (which was also a problem that I had with MALEFICENT), but doesn’t detract too much from the film.
The production design is absolutely stunning. It’s very apparent that love, care and attention to the most minute of details was put into the making of this film. The costumes are gorgeous. The sets are elegant. The music is beautiful and enchanting. There’s actually a fleshed-out, believable romance between Cinderella and Prince Kit that feels more genuine than the usual Disney fairy tale. That’s exactly how this movie feels too, like a fairy tale come to life in cinematic form. This is also aided by a just under two-hour running time moving at a perfect pace that will leave you wondering where the time went.
CINDERELLA should entertain both adults and children in equal measure, though I have a feeling that more adults are going to appreciate the serious treatment than kids (who will enjoy the antics of the mice, Helena Bonham Carter’s annoying godmother, and the simple story). Though there is a distinct sequence that would have been fantastic without the addition of one-liners and over-the-top humor, CINDERELLA is a cinematically mature take on a well-known fairy tale. It’s as if Kenneth Branagh has lensed his Shakespearean style of filmmaking to this live-action Disney film and it pays off in spades. CINDERELLA is a magical romance that will delight all ages.