The thing that makes this Disney live-action remake so wonderful is the same thing that might put off some audience members: it's a pure fairy tale. This time, the studio has resisted the snarky, post-modern spin that threatened to turn previous live-action remakes (Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent) into pointless Lord of the Rings-style action epics. Instead, this is a genuinely beautiful, surgingly romantic, exquisitely made fantasy.
With only a few minor tweaks, this is the classic story of Ella (Lily James), whose widowed father (Ben Chaplin) marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). She arrives with her two spoiled daughters Drizella and Anastasia (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), and when she is also widowed, Ella ends up running the household just to keep things from falling apart. But Lady Tremaine and her daughters taunt her with the nickname "Cinderella" and treat her like a slave, refusing to let her attend the ball thrown by the Crown Prince (Richard Madden). He had met Ella before, and is hoping to see her at the ball, but she only gets a chance to go when her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) turns up with some magic to make that happen. And after dancing with the Prince all night, her sudden disappearance sends him on a desperate quest involving a single glass slipper.
To spice things up, screenwriter Chris Weitz has included a conspiratorial sideplot in which the increasingly wicked stepmother plots with a royal advisor (Stellan Skarsgard) to thwart the Prince's wishes. But otherwise, the film hews closely to both Charles Perrault's 1697 folktale and Disney's 1950 animated classic. This includes lavish sets and costumes that continually take the breath away, giving the characters the same silhouettes as their cartoon counterparts. And within this extravagant design work, the actors are able to create surprisingly textured characters. James' Ella isn't a simple farm girl in need of a man. Madden's Prince is looking for real love. And Blanchett's riveting Lady Tremaine is eerily sympathetic even in her darkest moments.
The only jarring note is Bonham Carter's slapstick fairy godmother, but she's so much fun that we don't mind much. Throughout the film, director Kenneth Branagh catches telling details that give resonance to even the most heightened dramatic scenes. And best of all is the chemistry between James and Madden, which hints that a genuine romance is blossoming here rather than a simplistic movie one. Sure, we know they're heading for a happy ever after, but watching them get there without even a hint of sarcasm is unusually satisfying. Cynics beware!
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th March 2015
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily James as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, Helena Bonham Carter as Fairy Godmother, Richard Madden as Prince "Kit" Charming, Holliday Grainger as Anastasia, Sophie McShera as Drizella, Hayley Atwell as Cinderella's Mother, Stellan Skarsgård as Grand Duke, Nonso Anozie as Captain, Derek Jacobi as The King, Ben Chaplin as Cinderella's Father, Laurie Calvert as Chief Guard Cassius, Leila Wong as Princess Mei Mei, Rob Brydon as Master Phineus, Eloise Webb as Cinderella (10 years)
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