Director Sir Kenneth Branagh crafts an amazing, expansive fairytale film with a quality crew and cast including a star making role by Lily James (TV’s Downton Abbey), and featuring Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett as the infamous stepmother (Lady Tremane).
James holds her own with Blanchett as their relationship anchors the film, yielding real emotional responses without manipulation or too much menace (ideal for younger viewers). James also has several special sequences on her own while Blanchett is often with her two daughters, played by Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre) and Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey).
Richard Madden (TV’s Game of Thrones) plays the prince (a.k.a. Kit) who is often accompanied by the Captain of the Royal Forces, played by Nonso Anozie (Ender’s Game, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). Important family (and fantasy) characters are the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), Ella’s parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin), and Kit’s father (Derek Jacobi). Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, The Avengers) plays the Grand Duke and Alex MacQueen makes the most of his part as the Royal Crier.
This Disney film continues the recent success in recreating animated classic films into live action epics (e.g. Maleficent, upcoming Beauty & the Beast). Cinderella naturally uses the original 1950 Disney animated classic and the base fairytale as a solid base for a strong screenplay from Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Antz).
Branagh is well on his way to match his prestigious acting career with this impressive visualization of the familiar tale, backed by amazing sets and costumes from two 3-time Oscar-winning experts, Dante Ferretti and Sandy Powell. Music, color, composition, lighting, cinematography and other technical elements yield smooth transitions and genuine emotion throughout the 112–minute running time.
Audiences see these actions, the circumstances, and consequences from several perspectives without confusion, meanness or misdirection as filmmakers also manage to package in some genuine surprises and creative animal character sequences (yes, including Gus the mouse and Lucifer the cat).
The magic-filled sequences blend into the plot well. Only an odd, fairly comical early sequence involving a painter puts a bump in an otherwise smooth experience. It’s seems the one-time appearance of this painter sequence was cut short.
Character development and formidable situations bring gravity to admirable themes like “have courage and be kind” and “pain turns to memory”. Branaugh makes Kit’s first meeting with ‘Cinderella’ very memorable with uniquely circular shots while they ride on horseback, which mirrors the stunning ballroom sequence later in the film.
All the memorable filmmaking moments in this film temper against the only “magical” elements, which begin when Carter appears as the Fairy Godmother. This movie is extraordinary and highly enjoyable even before these magic sequences begins, which curtails the audience’s personal, deeper feelings/questions about society and gender roles until after the ending credits. The PG-rated Cinderella (mild thematic elements) gets a solid recommendation.
Get your seat early so you don’t miss the brand new sequel, short film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Frozen Fever, which features Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and a group of new characters.