There is nothing new anyone could possibly say with “Cinderella.” It is the most repeated story in the Western arts and it has been tweaked, embellished, mocked, deconstructed, reconstructed, and deconstructed again.
So when Disney decided to do a live-action version of the classic fairy tale, they did the smartest thing possible by going right at it without a wink or a smirk and just did the holy hell out of the thing.
The first intelligent thing they did was get Kenneth Branagh to direct, which makes a lot of sense when you consider this guy has made an entire career out of doing right by classic works that have been performed a million times.
He lovingly approaches the story just as he did with Shakespeare and trusts a fable that has captured imaginations for centuries can more than stand up on its own.
Branagh also did an expert job of casting, setting the bar high with Cate Blanchett as the wicked Stepmother. First of all, Blanchett has never phoned in a performance in her life and she’s not about to start now; secondly, she brings unexpected depth to what is truly a one-dimensional character.
Lily James (best known as Lady Rose on “Downton Abbey”) turned out to be a solid choice to play Cinderella. The best-known Cinderella is the animated Disney version and let’s be honest, that girl didn’t have a lot going on other than being pretty and nice.
James gives Cinderella a level of spark and charm that makes her a much more interesting heroine. You can see she’s not just some doormat, but her goodness is the result of a great deal of effort and restraint.
The rest of the cast falls in accordingly. Richard Madden (last seen as Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones” and is considerably more handsome with his head attached) delivers a Prince that is acceptably worthy of our blonde-haired beauty.
You can’t do much better for a Fairy Godmother than Helena Bonham Carter, who also serves as the story’s narrator, and Stellan Skarsgard is stalwart as the practical-minded Grand Duke.
Admirably rounding out the cast in the thankless roles of Cinderella’s spoiled, selfish stepsisters are Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger.
“Cinderella” is nothing short of an accomplished, enjoyable film. Plus it looks great; so much so you may want to mark it down on your way, way, way too early 2015 Oscar ballot for technical awards like costume and production design.
This movie is proof that sometimes the best way to play it is straight. It’s the same as when Lady Gaga blew everyone away at the Oscars this year when she crushed that “Sound of Music” medley by meticulously hitting note after Julie-Andrews-approved note.
There is power in these classic tales, which is precisely why they have stood the test of time. If you can get out of their way and let them breathe, you would be amazed at how much magic can happen.
“Cinderella” is rated PG for mild thematic elements.