Disney's live-action update of their 1950 animated classic is (almost) a complete success


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Directed by: Kenneth Branagh.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Lily James, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Nonso Anozie, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Andrew Fitch, Eloise Webb.
Written by: Chris Weitz.

Note: Cinderella is screening in a Czech-dubbed version in most cinemas, but you can catch it in English at Cinema City Slovanský dům.

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An elaborate, vividly designed and gorgeously-detailed version of the familiar Cinderella story, Disney’s 2015 live-action update of their 1950 animated feature is a winner. Director Kenneth Branagh brings the same craft and reverence for the material that made his Thor feature work so well, and the result is a modern day fairy tale that respects its origins, and works all the better for it. 

Not that it dials things back to Basile’s original Cenerentola; no, this film places its roots firmly in the previous animated musical, which was based on the later Perrault version of the story – glass slippers, pumpkin coaches, and all. 

Only problem: as you might infer from the production studio behind it, this thing has been thoroughly Disney-fied. That means plenty of CGI animals paraded about the screen and a heaping of unnecessarily broad comic relief. Every time they cut to a reaction shot of that cat hissing or those CGI mice rolling their eyes, which happens at least two dozen times, I wanted to cringe. (And speaking of broad comedy, Rob Brydon’s single scene is a complete dud.)

The past few years have seen a number of fairy tales re-adapted and re-imagined for the big screen, including the alternate-perspective Maleficent, the Bollywood-influenced Mirror Mirror, the LOTR-esque Snow White and the Huntsman, the action-centered Jack the Giant Slayer, and the outright horror (in more ways than one) Red Riding Hood, to name a few.

Branagh’s Cinderella, meanwhile, proves that you don’t have to mess with a good story or update it to reflect some current trend: this fairy tale fully embraces its iconic roots and plays things almost entirely straight, and it reminds us that sometimes that’s all you need to re-tell a good story. 

Lily James (Downton Abbey) stars as the titular put-upon heroine, who watches her mother (Hayley Atwell) pass due to illness and her father (Ben Chaplin) remarry to try to recapture past happiness, only to kick the bucket shortly after himself.

That leaves Cinderella with a wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two numbskull stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) who force the poor girl to do their bidding. In what is typically a one-note role, Blanchett virtually steals the film with a surprisingly layered performance. The stepsisters, meanwhile, are entirely one-dimensional, and used only for comic effect; Grainger and McShera are too talented for this kind of thing. 

We all know where the story is going, but a talented cast, intricate costumes, and vivid production design keep us glued to the screen. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark) is the Prince; the great Derek Jacobi is the King; and Stellan Skarsgård and Nonso Anozie provide solid support as the Grand Duke and Captain in the Royal Guard. 

And despite only appearing in a single sequence, Helena Bonham Carter lights up the screen as the kooky Fairy Godmother. One real problem, however: Carter’s nonstop narration throughout the film that tells us exactly what is going on at every step of the way. As if no one was familiar with this strange and unusual storyline; we need to be reminded of what’s happening every few minutes. 

Still, this fairy tale throwback has enough going for it to overlook the obvious detriments: anyone looking for family-friendly fun (this one is a lot less intense than last year’s Maleficent) should be delighted, though the 1950 animated version remains the definitive version of this story (and, of course, the 1973 Czech version is the pinnacle of all Cinderella movies).  

Cinderella was a massive hit stateside, opening last week to a box office tally of $68 million (the Liam Neeson thriller Run All Night came in second with $11 million). Clearly, there’s a market for this kind of thing; let’s hope this one is the beginning of a trend. Just less of the cutesy animal stuff and broad comedy next time around, please.

Note: stick around through the end credits to hear two updated songs from the 1950 animated film: Lily James sings A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, and Helena Bonham Carter does a rendition of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.

In local cinemas, Cinderella is preceded by the short film Frozen Fever, a fairly average short that expands on Disney’s 2013 surprise hit.

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