Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Where & When: Vista Theater, Hollywood, CA. March 15, 2015 1:15PM
Since the Walt Disney Studios has seemed to run out of fairy tales to animate, the idea is to produce live-action versions of their classic films. First to arrive was "Alice In Wonderland" and it proved to be a global sensation, amassing over a billion dollars during it's run back in 2010. With that kind of success, "The Jungle Book", "Dumbo" and "Beauty and The Beast" are on a fast track to reach theaters but for now, "Cinderella" is the latest to be brought to life. While I wasn't overly impressed by Tim Burton's bombastic take of Alice's trippy adventures, what Kenneth Branagh has done with "Cinderella" I find to be inspired and magical. The director has made a spirited, straight-forward film, remaining fairly faithful to this timeless fable based on the 1950 Disney movie and the first written adaption by French author, Charles Perrault (and avoiding the unpleasant cutting off toes to fit in the slipper stuff like in the Brothers Grimm version). The graceful script by writer/director Chris Weitz has wisely kept the modern touches to a minimum which allows us to be swept away by one of the very first love stories.
Our tale begins with a little girl named Ella who is deeply loved by her much-in-love parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell). Their idyllic life is shattered when her mother suddenly becomes gravely ill. Her final wish is for her young daughter to always display courage and remain kind to others, which Ella promises.
Ella grows up to become a beautiful young woman (now played by Lily James of "Downton Abbey" fame). Her uncomplicated life with her father is disrupted when he remarries a recent widow. Lady Tramaine (Cate Blanchett) arrives with her dimwitted, gaudy daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera, also from "Downton") and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and a cat named Lucifer in tow. The evil stepmother is the showiest role in this story and without a doubt, the two-time Oscar winner makes it all her own, carrying herself like a fanciful peacock with arched eyebrows, venomous smile and an icy chill that Joan Crawford would envy.
After Ella loses her father due to an illness while out at sea, she's left alone with these horrible women. Short of funds, Lady Tramaine dismisses the staff and encourages her stepdaughter to help around the house. Moved up to the attic and no longer allowed to eat with the family, Ella soon realizes she has become nothing more than a live-in maid. After serving breakfast covered in soot, her step-sisters cruelly rename her "Cinderella".
Frustrated with trying to keep her promise to her mother, Ella rides off and stumbles across a hunting party. Among the hunters is Prince Charming (Richard Madden) who becomes so enchanted by this simple girl that he decides not to disclose his identity. Under pressure to marry someone royal, the Prince decides to select his bride at the upcoming ball but extends the invitation to all eligible ladies of the land with the hope of seeing Ella again. When the news reaches Lady Tramaine, she spares no expense at making sure her daughters will captivate the Prince. Ella announces she'd like to go too but her step-mother savagely removes that thought out of her head.
Once Helena Bonham Carter arrives as Ella's daffy fairy godmother to magically whisk her off to the ball, we know she will dazzle the Prince, dash off moments before midnight, leaving behind her glass slipper and then the future King will desperately search throughout the entire kingdom for the only woman that can fit in to this shoe.
Since we are very familiar with this story, the only way this would truly standout is in the way it's put together. There are no talking animals (although CGI has the critters believably engaging with Ella) and not a single note is sung but this "Cinderella" will keep your attention with vivid, candy-colored images. With a superb cast (that also features Sir Derek Jacobi as the King and Stellan Skarsgård as the conniving Grand Duke), the exquisite work of production designer, Dante Ferretti, the radiant costumes by Sandy Powell (both the winner of three Oscars) and expert camerawork from Haris Zambarloukos together makes this a breathtaking experience.
The charm of "Cinderella" is decidedly sweet and old-fashioned and that is certainly not a bad thing. During these cynical and jaded times, the simple pleasure that comes from the notion that good can triumph over evil (while still being able to forgive) or that happily ever after can actually happen is quite appealing.