A Disney classic rejuvenated
Sumptuously appointed and elegantly well-acted, Disney’s “Cinderella,” a live-action rejuvenation of their 1950 animated classic, looks and feels magical and should delight even the most skeptical cynic. There was enough doubt about the project that the “Frozen” short that precedes the film was getting at least as much hype as the feature film itself but as it turns out, it is “Cinderella” that enchants and will be remembered for years to come.
Director Kenneth Branagh, perhaps a bit of a surprise as a choice if only because the Shakespearean veteran directs only occasionally (“Hamlet,” “Thor,”) turns out to be an inspiration, bringing a vibrancy to the production and gravitas to the performances. Lilly James (Lady Rose in “Downton Abbey”) is terrific as the plucky, radiantly sincere Ella who will become the belle of the ball after losing her parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin) in the Disney tradition of making orphans (or at least half-orphans) of their protagonists. After a chance meeting in the forest with handsome Kitt (“Game of Thrones’” dreamy Richard Madden) who keeps his royal heritage a secret to her, Ella is nonetheless smitten and guarding her identity as well returns to her new life as the disrespected drudge of coarse step-mother Lady Tremaine (perfectly balanced Cate Blanchett) and Tremaine’s annoying daughters Drisella (“Downtown Abbey’s” Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).
What happens from there is no secret, a Prince’s ball is announced, an iconic (and suitably whimsical) transformation occurs (complete with a pumpkin, mice and lizards as accomplices) with the help of a Fairy Godmother (Helen Bonham Carter) and our magnificently dressed orphan turned princess-to-be will dash out before the final midnight bell sounds only leaving behind one custom-fitted glass slipper.
Taking a beloved warhorse like Cinderella which has seen a number of variations (including a rather delightful adaption–1998’s “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore) and making it relevant is no easy task but everything Branagh and crew do here rings with wit, charm and a sense of wondrous freshness – all the things that were lacking in last year’s lackluster “Maleficent.”
Boldy old-fashioned in its romantic intentions yet never veering into cheesy sentiment “Cinderella” is a lovely, welcomed update on a Disney classic that would likely make Walt very proud.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements.