Sure, Alice in Wonderland was a hit, but that blockbuster starred Johnny Depp, under the tutelage of Tim Burton. And Maleficent was powered by the augmented cheekbones of Angelina Jolie. Cinderella is the first real test of Disney’s live-action raiding of its own vault. With no stars capable of truly opening a movie (Cate Blanchett may be a dual Oscar winner, but she’s no Angelina), this latest expansion of the Disney Princess brand has to survive on audience familiarity with its time-worn tale, one that has been cinematically retold more times than one can count.
This decidedly English telling is heavy on “Downton Abbey,” since Lady Rose herself, Lily James, stars as Ella, the poor young woman, who, after the death of her father (Ben Chaplin), is left in the care of a heartless stepmother (Blanchett) and two “ugly” stepsisters (“Downton”’s Daisy—Sophie McShera—and Holliday Grainger).
Fortunately, Cinderella, as she is derisively known, meets a young hottie named Kit (Richard Madden, the ill-fated Robb Stark from HBO’s excellent “Game of Thrones”), who happens to be the kingdom’s prince. And it just so happens the prince needs a princess. Hence, the need for the famed ball that Cinderella sneaks to with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, sporting some distracting dental work). That’s where Cinderella leaves the glass slipper. Yada, yada, yada. Happily ever after. If any of the aforementioned was a spoiler, you need to bone up on your Disney and your fairy tales.
Since the story is so familiar, it’s the telling that is important. Cinderella’s no Shakespeare, but Kenneth Branagh has directed Thor since his heyday as film’s preeminent stager of the Bard. That experience pays off. Cinderella constantly moves and has a certain grace about it. One is surprised that he changed the castle’s façade, but the ball gown is still blue. It’s hard to applaud scripter Chris Weitz (About a Boy and The Golden Compass) for a fairly literal adaptation of the classic children’s tale. Everything plays out exactly as one would expect.
After some not wholly successful but popular retconning of their classic cartoons (Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty), Disney’s Cinderella takes few liberties with the tale. This decision does not make it much more magical, but neither does it disappoint.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.