Disney’s animated “Cinderella” was released in 1950. Now, 65 years later, as part of The Mouse House’s current trend of remaking/reimagining classics from the vault (which will continue over the next few years with new versions of “The Jungle Book”, “Pete’s Dragon” and “Beauty and the Beast”), veteran director Kenneth Branagh brings to life the latest live-action interpretation of the glass slipper story.
If this was the first version of “Cinderella” ever made, or if it’s the first you’ve ever seen (which would most likely apply to a little one), it will blow you away. Branagh is able to take a tale most of us know by heart and transform it into a genuine drama and sweeping romance, that’s both grand and sincere, much like Cinderella herself. Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) gives a star-making performance opposite the excellent Cate Blanchett, who really sinks her teeth into the role of the evil Stepmother (Blanchett receives top-billing but doesn’t have as much screen time as you might expect). And Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) is quite good as the much more down-to-Earth than dashing Prince.
The screenplay, by Chris Weitz, who’s come a long way since writing 2007’s “The Golden Compass”, is packed with emotional storylines and serious themes. The abuse Ella endures is pretty intense and, in true Disney fashion, death plays a big part in the story. The PG rating is deserved. This is a mature “Cinderella”, clearly intended for an “older” young audience. 6-9 year-old girls going to the theater in their bright blue dresses with their moms may not enjoy this film (though they will enjoy seeing Anna and Elsa in the “Frozen Fever” short that plays before the feature). This “Cinderella” is not a comedy (though there are a few lighter moments) and it’s not a musical (updated renditions of two of the classic songs from the animated version are saved for the end credits). This is essentially a romantic drama.
The only time Branagh delves into “whimsical” territory is when Cinderella meets her Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is also the narrator) and she uses her magical powers to turn a pumpkin into the coach, a goose into a driver, etc. This sequence is far different in tone from the rest of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if Branagh is criticized for not making a “fun” “Cinderella”, especially for the young female target audience. However, I contend that this “Cinderella” can be appreciated by all ages, thanks, first and foremost, to James’ fresh, pure and lively portrayal of a character who, in most other versions, is pretty dull.
“Cinderella” is filled with beautiful, and rather large, costumes, gorgeous set design (there’s an extravagant and effervescent ballroom sequence) and a lovely score. And with a talented director and cast behind this bold and almost completely anti-fairy tale approach, it’s the most impressive film of 2015. I felt more than satisfied when the clock finally struck Midnight.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Cinderella” gets an A-.
Running Time: 105 min.