MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Cinderella’ Finds Magic In Live-Action Adaptation

Film: Cinderella
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

It’s hard to imagine anyone making it beyond their third or fourth year of life without being told or made to watch the story of Cinderella. In a world filled with children’s stories, films, and TV shows vying for the increasingly hard to hold attention of young people, the tale of one girl, her prince, and a fairy godmother has continuously won over audiences worldwide. The reason for that is one that alludes me to this day, but having seen Disney’s latest adaptation of this classic tale I can confirm its legacy of high quality entertainment is still firmly in tact.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the latest version of Cinderella’s journey from servant girl to princess is one of the most beautiful and enchanting live-action adaptations I have ever seen. Aside from the singing and talking animals, almost nothing has changed from the original animated Disney classic, and it’s likely because of that fact that the film works so well. The house that Mickey Mouse built is not trying to distance itself from an already proven formula, but instead are delivering essentially the same exact product, only this time through the use of real actors, animals, and (digital) film.

There are some small changes to the core story, though most serve only to further build the already thriving universe in which Cinderella exists. The beginning, for example, recounts the years Cinderella – then known simply as Ella – spent with her parents. We see her struggle with the loss of her mother, the arrival of her stepmother, and the moment she first learns her father has also passed away. There is very little magic to these moments, as they honestly depict one of the more depressing opening sequences of any Disney film to date, but they do serve to create a very real and tangible emotional connection with the story that otherwise might not have existed.

As for the cast, it’s largely because of them that the story feels new once again. Lily James, who we will no doubt be everywhere in the months and years to come, brings Cinderella to life in a way only someone who is talented, yet relatively unknown could accomplish. You know she isn’t the real Disney princess, but she commits to the role so well you could easily believe the two are one in the same. Likewise, Cate Blanchett could very easily see herself receive praise throughout 2015 for her depiction of Cinderella’s evil stepmother. It’s the kind of role that could easily have become an overdramatic disaster, but Blanchett approaches each scene with sharp wit and just enough attitude to keep you hooked. Helena Bonham Carter also appears, but she’s on screen so briefly you might not realize it’s her until the credits roll.

On the male side of the cast list, Game Of Thrones star Richard Madden is perfectly admirable in the role of The Prince. He’s not given all that much to do, so it feels wrong to discredit him for his lack of contribution to the overall story. This isn’t about the royal family, but rather the girl who makes the royal family see the world in a new light. Before she can do that however, she first has to outwit the Grand Duke, which is a role handled masterfully by the one and only Stellan Skarsgard. Aside from Blanchett it’s Skarsgard who has the longest history in film, and he brings a nice menacing presence to the entire affair.

The big question I had going into Cinderella was whether or not the world needed yet another updated take on a classic story that has already been told several dozen times in several dozen different ways. My knee-jerk reaction was to say not, but then I saw what Kenneth Branagh’s team had created and my mind was almost immediately changed. There is real magic taking place in this film, be it from the wondrous weavers of make believe at Disney or through pure cinematic luck, and it’s so palpable I doubt anyone could leave the theater without something akin to a smile on their face. If this is how Disney plans to update their classics from now on, I cannot wait to see what they develop next.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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