Following Alice in Wonderland and last year’s Maleficent, Disney’s latest animated classic-turned-live action feature is Cinderella and the result is surprisingly satisfying, particularly a finale that deviates from the animated feature to give the end result a little more real world heft. Director Kenneth Branaugh has brought together a well-assembled cast and solid behind the scenes crew to bring this world to life as Chris Weitz delivers a screenplay that deviates in all the right ways from the animated classic while keeping its spirit alive.
You all know the story, a young maiden loses her parents and is forced to live with her stepmother and two wicked stepsisters. The prince, in search of a wife, holds a ball inviting all the young maidens of the land to attend and this is where Cinderella ultimately captures his heart, loses her shoe, is eventually found and they live happily ever after. The origins of the story date back as far as 7 BC and things haven’t changed much in that time, and certainly not all that much since Disney’s 1950 adaptation, though there are a couple departures that I personally thought worked quite well.
“Downton Abbey” star Lily James begins her more aggressive move to feature films in the title role, a character originally referred to as Ella until her stepsisters cruelly dub her Cinderella (get it?) following a night spent sleeping in ash as the last embers of the fire burn out. Cinderella is empowered rather than fueled by any level of anger or frustration she may feel at the hands of her cruel, extended family. She’s also a person unto herself rather than one defined by the man she chooses to marry, creating a distinct line between her and her step-family.
Cate Blanchett plays Lady Tremaine, the wicked stepmother, while Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger play Drisella and Anastasia respectively. Annoying to the last, all three of them are, but there are wounds Lady Tremaine is hiding that speak to the person she’s become, not to mention the ugly influence she’s had on her two daughters. It’s this ugliness Cinderella overcomes and, in the end, even questions, in the film’s greatest deviation from the, now 65-year-old, animated version.
Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) plays what is a rather typical prince charming, accompanied by Nonso Anozie as captain of his army. Anozie, again, relegated to a supporting role, which appears is where his career is likely to remain until someone sees his talent as something greater. And Helena Bonham Carter is her typical wacky self as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother… Bippity, boo, Zippity, zoo, dibbly, dabbedy, doo…
Bits of magic, wonderful set design and costumes, all turn Cinderella into something just above a typical live-action adaptation of an ageless animated classic. Clocking in at just under two hours, you’re unlikely to find this is a movie that moves you to any great degree, but at the same time, if you paid for a ticket to see Disney’s live-action Cinderella and expected anything more than a live-action telling of Cinderella safely told by the folks at Disney you were fooling yourself. The bonus here is that it actually works, unlike the CG monstrosity that was last year’s Maleficent.