Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Chris Weitz
Disney began the decade with the massive box office hit Alice in Wonderland, and has since moved to capitalize on the concept of reimagining their greatest animated successes of years past, releasing new and improved live action versions. Alice was followed by Oz: The Great and Powerful and last year’s Maleficent. Each was a new take on an existing classic in the category, offering a new story for a new generation of audience. With their latest, Cinderella, Disney strays from their strategy, giving the keys to the kingdom to filmmakers Kenneth Branagh and Chris Weitz, who take the classic story of “Cinderella” and, instead of re-envisioning it from a different perspective, or a different point in the story, they choose to give us the same fairy tale that enchanted audiences of the animated classic.
The “Cinderella” story has been told countless times, in countless eras, featuring countless spins on the original story. For this reason, it is somewhat refreshing to see the tale stay fairly close to the original intentions of the European folk tale. Ella (Lily James) has found tragedy, which leaves nobody in her life except her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her stepsisters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), who treat Ella as a servant. But after a chance encounter with a handsome man (Richard Madden), Ella, or “Cinder”Ella as her stepsisters dub her, encounters her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), who is determined to get Cinderella to the ball hosted by the King and his son to find the Prince a new bride. What comes next is a fairy tale adventure Ella could only dream of when she was a child.
Cinderella’s greatest strength is its heart, followed closely by its look and feel. These elements combine to deliver a fairy tale, plain and simple. Director Branagh and screenwriter Weitz set out to deliver a classic fairy tale and succeed beyond my expectations. All of this starts and ends with the heart at the center of the story, and the message being delivered to the younger generation of viewers to be kind, have courage, and be comfortable in your own skin because everyone can be good enough. But Branagh layers this message with wonderful visuals, which give the film the look and feel of a fairy tale. The fairly corny and saccharine story goes down much easier with the cinematography and art direction to match the style intended. We are transported into a fairy tale, and never expected to believe it is anything else.
An important element to convincing us of the world in which they inhabit is the cast, which delivers brilliantly from top to bottom. The veterans of the cast, Blanchett and Bonham Carter, are just over-the-top enough to show us they exist in the dream world of Cinderella and to show us that they are having fun in their roles, which only serves to add to the enjoyment of watching them. Lily James, who I had seen on Downton Abbey before, really gives a stellar performance, embodying the kind and loving spirit of Ella which has endeared her and her story to generations.
Before I knew it, I was completely engaged and enchanted by the film. The big, beautiful colors, the wonderful performances, the lovely photography and performances, they all are included in the fairy tale package delivered by Kenneth Branagh and team. To have altered the story much, to have attempted to view the story from anyone else’s perspective but Ella’s would have cheapened the heart of the story and what makes it work as brilliantly as it does. Without the kind and loving nature of Cinderella, the story would fall below the level of delight and triumph which makes it so attractive to so many people. Although a fairly standard adaptation of the classic story, Cinderella wows with its execution and the great care with which it treats such a cherished tale.
***1/2 – Great