“Cinderella” is a wonderful adaptation of the classic Charles Perrault story, this time without lengthy musical numbers or cartoon animation. Sure, the 1950 Disney film will always be in our hearts, but this live-action version is a welcomed addition to the new princess canon.
The story is a part of the pop culture ether – a mainstay of any young girl’s upbringing. It started as a European folktale that was ultimately included by the Brothers Grimm in their “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” Like the 1950 animated telling, this “Cinderella” is notably softer than the original that inspired it. As we learned from “Into the Woods” last year, there can be a bit of barbarism associated with the story. This means the great glass slipper scene that may have featured the chopping off of a little toe and the shaving of a heel in the source story is noticeably absent from this PG-rated version.
And if there is a freshness associated with this 2015 live-action version, it is that “Cinderella” is so straightly told and retains the spirit and, dare I say, wholesome tone of the 1950 film. Director Kenneth Branagh, who failed to find mainstream success last year with the ill-fated reboot of the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan series, seems to have found his footing with this fantasy period affair. He even makes up for the much-maligned 1994 adaptation “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” by reuniting him here with actress Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the Fairy Godmother. And “Cinderella” is shot in lovely 35mm film looking less televisual and more cinematic than the heavily computer generated “Maleficent.”
And while “Maleficent” may have advanced the princess brand with major box office returns in the earthquake that “Frozen” created, “Cinderella” is more intimate and softer and just less mean-spirited than the Angelina Jolie vehicle. But to be fair, “Cinderella” does contain a bit of animation. Through the use of subtle special effects, we get the cutest little mice, and the Fairy Godmother makes mighty colorful use of a pumpkin.
Casting choices are very solid with Lily James (of TV’s “Downton Abbey”) making a big splash here. She does sing in one critical scene, which will stir the hearts of little ones. She’s matched well with Richard Madden, known for his role as Robb Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” playing Kit, who doubles as the Prince. And Cate Blanchett is deliciously wicked as the Stepmother, but Blanchett is more than just a heartless villain, as the story develops her character in a meaningful way.
“Cinderella” surprisingly brings life to the well-heeled royal ball scene, which contains a memorable ballroom dance sequence. It is really lovely. The film is, at its core, a familiar morality tale about the evils of oppression and the virtues of courage and kindness. But the ante is upped significantly by the fine cinematography and that beautiful dance scene. And with this handsome film, the princess brand will continue to gain prominence.
It is important to note that anyone who sees “Cinderella” at the metroplex will be treated to the animated short “Frozen Fever.” That film will warm hearts as well, and set the stage for the grand live-action film that follows. And getting two films in one is well worth the price of the ticket.