Born to a loving father (Ben Chaplin) and a kindhearted mother (Hayley Atwell), Ella (Lily James) was always raised to “have courage and be kind” in her life. She was kind to all the creatures around her and saw the best in life. Later on, when her mother and father pass away, she is left with a wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters who take advantage of her. Everything changes after she meets a man named Kit (Richard Madden) in the woods.
There’s definitely a fantasy element to the whole story, but this film captures the emotional connections between the characters that were sorely missing from the original animated tale. The characters have more depth, the filmmaking is top-notch and the overall feel is exactly the sort of thing that modern moviegoers will enjoy. It’s not without its faults, but this is definitely one of Disney’s better live-action endeavors.
Lily James must have permanent smile on her face after this film; it’s very rare that you’ll see her without her pearly whites flashing. While often mistreated, she never falters in her kind ways and we learn more about her through her interactions with those who cannot speak. James offers up a tenderness that will sweep you off your feet, and she completely sells the rags-to-riches tale without coming off as too cheesy.
Director Kenneth Branagh, known for his many Shakespeare performances, definitely has an eye for the theatrical. The costume design is extraordinary, and the world he creates truly feels like something out of a fairy tale. Some of the sweeping shots Branagh uses are simply breathtaking. He’ll focus on a character or two for an intimate moment, then pull back quickly and sweep you along the walls of the castle. If there was any doubt in his directorial abilities, let it be quelled now.
Whereas many Disney films suffer from the lack of connection between a prince and princess, “Cinderella” gets a lot right. Rather than just happening upon the Prince at the ball, Cinderella meets him in the woods, where the two laugh, smile, flirt and see the world through the other’s eyes. When they begin to fall in love, it feels more natural and makes for a better story.
With so much focus on Cinderella and the prince, there’s not too much time spent with the side characters. While the King and his right-hand men are well-written and seem genuine, the wicked stepmother and her stepdaughters are the weakest links in the film. Cate Blanchett is one of today’s greatest working actresses, but she doesn’t bring anything new to the role. She’s still cruel for no reason, and her daughters just bicker and insult Cinderella. The idea that these women are still so ugly on the inside without a reasonable explanation frustrates me, especially when so much of the film is explained so well.
“Cinderella” finally gets a shot at redeeming her story for a new audience, and the film doesn’t disappoint. More time and care has gone into creating the romance between her and the Prince, which is what the credibility of the story hinges on. The biggest letdown is the fact that Helena Bonham Carter only gets five minutes to shine as the fairy godmother, where she’s clean and helping someone for a change.
The film hits theaters March 13.