Disney’s latest live-action version of Cinderella, delivers what the most dedicated fans of the famous tale would expect: traditional storytelling. Director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) brings to life the well known animated classic while staying true to sequence of events of the original 1950 version.
Besides staying true to the animated version, one of the high points of this live-animated reboot came from the innocent beauty of Cinderella herself, played by Lily James of Downton Abbey fame. Opposite her is the Prince, played by Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden. With not much new to be discovered about the plot and direction of the story, the chemistry between these two still manages to build, fulfilling the magical expectation of the well-known love story. An additional scene not included in the animated version, places Cinderella and the Prince in a chance encounter in the woods. Here I first found my appreciation for Madden’s Prince. Traditionally, the Prince Charming character is arrogant and stuffy, his arc and transformation completed only when he learns the lesson that money doesn’t buy happiness, love isn’t just for the wealthy, or even commoners make for suitable wives.
But Madden’s Prince is immediately humble, self-conscience about Cinderella learning of his true identity. Madden is nothing short of enchanting and charming. His character’s immediate need is not to find a princess, but to live up to his destiny and make his ailing father, the king, proud. Played by Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The King’s Speech), the King has his own encounter with Cinderella, where she tells him of his son’s one true wish to make him proud. It is then that the King understands his son’s desire to choose her as his bride despite not being of nobility.
There is no shortage of comedy relief either. I found myself highly entertained and laughing throughout at the antics of the Stepsisters, Anastasia played by Holliday Grainger (Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre) and Drisella played by Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey, Galavant). From snoring so loudly they knock themselves out of bed to their cat-like screeching attempt at singing, the two do their parts to lighten their scenes, making sure the film doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Aside from the brightest smile and bluest eyes ever found on a prince, Cinderella’s extravagant trademark blue ball gown, and the clumsy stepsisters, stealing the show is Kate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as the wicked stepmother. Blanchett is right up there with some of the best: Glen Close’s Cruella De Vill, Susan Sarandon’s Queen Narissa, and most recently Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent. Her wickedness is subtle and controlled, such that she makes being bad an art. There is no denying Blanchett had fun playing the wicked stepmother. The is evident when after a short stint of terrorizing Cinderella, she turns to her own daughter and tells her to, “shut up” as not even her own mother can stand the sad attempt at singing.
Where Branagh finds success in staying true to the Disney animated version, it is also where one could find its flaws. At times the movie’s pace slows and can become difficult to stay with, especially with younger viewers. The telling of the already well-known and established backstory takes a little longer than necessary to get through. This however is a necessary evil as it sets up the compassion and kindness of Cinderella, that the Prince falls in love with and which allows her forgive her stepmother in the end. There is an overuse of voice-over narration done by Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland) who also plays a very memorable Fairy Godmother. While Carter is fantastic as the Godmother, there needed to be more of her and less of her narration. I found myself chanting heavily for her to say those special, magical words, “Bipptiy, boppity, boo!” While she does use the magic words needed for turning pumpkins into carriages, I wanted more of this scene, more of the Disney Fairy Godmother we know and love. It is seldom we see Carter playing the “good guy” character; she excelled at it and should do it more often.
This live-action reboot of the Disney animated classic delivers on all that made the original great. The performances were the most memorable part, not simply because they are played by beautiful people (It didn’t hurt though), but because they are authentic and they pull us into the fantasy world of fairy tales. While pacing and cinematic storytelling techniques are the only real measureable flaws, they will go mostly unnoticed by the typical moviegoer. Adults and children will go to see Cinderella because they are dedicated fans of the well-known story. I am confident that they won’t be disappointed, but rather find a renewed faith that dreams really do come true.