It stays very close to the original 1950's telling, not taking the generous liberties that last year's Maleficent did, but it still has plenty to inspire dreams and foot fetishes.
After her father unexpectedly dies, young Ella (Lily James) finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters, who reduce her to scullery maid. Despite her circumstances, she refuses to despair. An invitation to a palace ball gives Ella hope that she might reunite with the dashing stranger (Richard Madden) she met in the woods, but her stepmother prevents her from going. Help arrives in the form of a kindly beggar woman who has a magic touch for ordinary things.
Director, Kenneth Branagh brings his picturesque landscapes and love of Shakespeare out in full force. In every rolling scenic pan, the focus remains on Cinderella, highlighted as almost a beacon. She's just a little bit brighter than anything around her, even from a distance. Every scene, especially the Prince's fete is so opulent and textured, it brings a whole new level of awe to the beautiful picture. Cinderella's classic ballgown is beyond gorgeous with its lavish layers, and butterfly accents.
The story itself plays on the safe side, all the while shoving the message of being brave and kind will conquer all. It gets a little preachy, and repetitive. While much is the same as the classic cartoon, there are a few changes, which makes the classic feel new again. One of those changes is the introduction of Ella's parents that have only been mentioned in back story in the past. A golden haired Hayley Atwell brings Cinderella's mother to life, displaying both strength and tenderness. She like her daughter, are so sugary sweet, that she's too good to be true. Ben Chaplin is Cinderella's handsome traveling salesman father, who is dotting on his daughter, and utterly in love with his wife. The loss of her father is utterly devastating, and so well done, that its tear worthy.
From there the story delves into the more classical aspects with Cate Blanchett's Lady Tremaine turning the young Ella slowing into nothing more than a servant girl waiting upon her and her horrible daughters. Blanchett really shines in this aspect, delivering a performance that is reminiscent of the movie stars of the golden age such as Bette Davis. She revels in her wickedness, and had the film focused on her instead it would have been a delightfully darker tale. The little back story into her descend into darkness really helps to flesh out her character.
Instead Cinderella goes for a much more naive and lighthearted feel, and excels there as well. Lily James is mindnumbingly sweet as Cinderella. Her childlike positivity can make the most callous of us believe in magic. She emits a fresh exuberant attitude while being free speaking and earnest, its easy to see why the Prince would fall head over heels for the girl after a chance meeting in the woods. And the way the girl effortlessly glides into the Prince's fete, its no wonder that she's the belle of the ball.
And speaking of the Prince, Richard Madden is so shiny and bright as the Prince, he's almost hard to look at. Seriously shiny, to the point I think they must have applied Vaseline to his teeth. I'm not sure if it was the beard or dire scowl on his face during his Game of Thrones days, but his blue eyes have never shined so bright.
The rest of the supporting cast are equally delightful in the very small parts their given. Delivering an extra bit of glitter and Helena Bonham Carter brings to life Cinderella's playful and slightly ditzy Fairy Godmother. Holliday Grainger's Anastasia and Sophie McShea's Drizella are byproducts of an overly doting, but fairly rotten mother, who've spoiled them beyond repair. Derek Jacobi is the kind hearted king, with a bad ticker, who's part is all too brief. Rounding out the cast are Nonso Anozie as the Prince's sound board and Captain of the guard and Stellan Skarsgard as the dubious Grand Duke.
Many will come for the mass appeal of the short Frozen Fever playing before it, but will find themselves falling in love with Cinderella. The story lacks the panache or uniqueness of Enchanted or The Princess Bride, but more than makes up for those short comings with charm, delivering a story with loss, love and magic.
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