Starring: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Chaplin, Derek Jacobi
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Don’t let the live action fool you. There are still helpful mice and birds in Disney’s second version of the classic fairy tale. Like its 1950 animated predecessor, (original story by Charles Perrault) there are still hateful step-relatives, a fairy godmother, a prince, a ball and a glass slipper. The ball gown is still blue, the maiden, still blonde.
At 65, though, someone must have thought it was time for retirement. 2015’s Cinderella would be more empowered, her backstory enhanced to make her puzzling subservience understandable, she would be less of a damsel in distress.
Or maybe not.
What the latest film version of Cinderella has going for it is that it is bibbity bobbity beautiful. The costumes, set design, CGI, ambience, and visual artistry is pleasing, sumptuous, lush, and gorgeous, so at least there’s something to look at as the age-old story plays out.A 105-minute running time means that there has to be lots of filler and folderol running through the tale, and there is. Some of it is enlightening, like what happened to Cinderella’s (Lily James) parents, and why the evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) became so cruel.
Other attempts at filling up the feature length time slot rely on elongated discussions between the players, additional scenes (a stag hunt, a swing ride, a diary session with a modern pencil) and several sight gags as Cinderella’s coach and attendants are created by the magic of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). These antics continue after the ball as well, with the return of the carriage to a pumpkin, the horses to mice, the coachman to a goose, the footmen to lizards. Very well done, visually, but lingers a tad too long in the execution (and folderol).There are additional characters, such as the Captain (Nonso Anozie) and the scheming Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard), advisors to the King (Derek Jacobi) and Prince (Richard Madden). Anozie’s character is a plus, integrating the Palace Guard. Skarsgard’s Grand Duke and his requisite ulterior motive is an unnecessary detour from the story, wasting time but providing filler.All of this does not make it a bad film, by any means, but it does drag in some areas, making it less engaging than it might have been. Children will be enthralled, although one little boy at the screening I attended was fast asleep by fairytale’s end.
Meeting our heroine’s parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell) and discovering their “have courage and be kind” influence on their daughter fills in a piece of the Cinderella puzzle long ignored, but initiates the somewhat slow pace to come.That being said, the ballroom scene is full of colorful, dizzying enchantment.
Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is the haute couture reason to revel in the visuals as her scathing, scarlet lips issue a cascade of casual cruelty. Wicked stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) provide vain, silly (but not ugly) counterparts for James’s kind, forgiving, integrity-filled servant-turned-princess. Madden’s prince has a first name, and it is NOT Charming, but he does wear tights, ride horses, and pursue his prized female with a solitary glass shoe.
Thankfully, some things never change.Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet) helms a Chris Weitz (Antz) narrative that is safe – and sumptuous. Academy Award winners Sandy Powell (costume design) and Dante Ferretti (production design) weave an opulence that for some, will be enough to ride into “Happily Ever After.”Others will find the new Cinderella to be an instance of More is Less.