Nobody captures magic as well as Disney. For decades, they have delivered some of the most memorable and wonderful films time and again with rarely a stumble, at least when looking at their impressive animated filmography. No matter if you’re a child or an adult, it’s difficult not to gaze at the screen in imaginative awe and be transported to a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen. That’s why one’s hesitance towards taking a much loved animated film and turning it into live action is understandable, but they knock it out of the park with “Cinderella.” Based on the classic fairy tale, but borrowing heavily from the 1950 film, “Cinderella” is enchanting, a wonderful and stylish film with a charming lead and emotional narrative.
And that narrative should be well known by now. Ella (Lily James) is an orphan. She grew up in a warm household with a mother and father that loved her very much. Unfortunately, they are now both dead and she has found herself in the care of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett), an evil woman who treats her terribly, which includes forcing her to clean the fireplace, leading her stepsisters to give her a cruel nickname: Cinderella. Meanwhile, the Prince (Richard Madden) is throwing a ball and the entire kingdom is invited and even though her stepmother initially forbids her from attending, Cinderella is granted the opportunity by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). So she jumps in her pumpkin carriage and slips on her glass slippers to meet the Prince.
And we know what happens from there. Certain things are changed from the well-known tale, like Cinderella and the Prince meeting prior to the ball, but the story plays out basically the same. So while there are little surprises in store, the film nevertheless remains mesmerizing. The story is brought to life with imaginative vigor, with a passion that similar animated-to-live-action films like “Beastly” severely lack. Unlike that film, this isn’t a pandering tween adaptation, but rather a loving tribute to one of the greatest and most hopeful stories of all time. Director Kenneth Branagh brings his usual stylistic flare, but downplays it when compared to something like the bombastic “Thor” and allows his actors and the inherent wonder of the story do the heavy lifting.
Even with that, this story hinges on a lead actress able to pull off the title role and create an empathetic character and they couldn’t have cast anyone better than Lily James. Before Cinderella’s mother died, she told her that there were two things she always needed to remember: to have courage and always be kind. They’re words to live by, but they also serve as a foundation for James to craft a character that is impossible not to fall in love with and root for. Not since 2007’s “Enchanted” have I felt such a strange connectedness to such an optimistic person, a perspective that remained unchanged in her even as she faced extreme adversity.
In fact, all of the performances are stellar, as each performer brings exactly what is needed to each respective role, except for, oddly enough, the typically great Cate Blanchett. While the costume design and occasional silliness of prior iterations of the story can be blamed for some of it-she’s naturally decked out in all dark, evil colors and accompanied by a cat whose name is, get this, Lucifer-her exaggerated mannerisms and dramatic tone do little to ground what is otherwise a captivating tale. If the aim was to make her unlikable, then she succeeded, but not because of her actions in the story, as it should be, but rather because her performance really is that annoying.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot of wonder in this version of “Cinderella,” and it’s captured in an extravagance that doesn’t overtake the story, but enhances it. With a beautiful score that complements its already timeless story, “Cinderella” cements itself as a modern day classic, a film that boys and girls of all ages will adore.