*** out of ****
Never underestimate the power of a Disney princess. This live-action version of Cinderella has already scored $70+ million at the box office in its nostalgic and gorgeously cinematic re-telling of the classic tale.
Ella (Lily James) is the child of a loving mother (Hayley Atwell) and an equally devoted father (Ben Chaplin). After her mother dies of an unforeseen illness, Ella’s father hopes to recover from his sorrow by marrying the beautiful and sophisticated Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). He brings his new bride and her two egotistical daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) to live with him and Ella at their beautiful country estate, but once he too dies, the family’s financial situation turns precarious, and Lady Tremaine dismisses the household staff, forcing Ella to take their place. Ella, with nowhere to go, and unwilling to leave her family home, is left miserable and mistreated until she meets a dashing stranger in the woods.
The film is endearingly whimsical and upbeat. A treat for the eyes, where the costumes and scenery take as much center stage as the actors themselves, and costume designer Sandy Powell outdid herself with the elegant clothes and Cinderella’s classic make-every-girl-in-the-audience-forget-feminism-and-sigh-in-envy ballgown.
While Disney’s most recent fairy tale film, Maleficent, delved into the evil queen’s background, this film’s resident baddie (ahem Cate Blanchett) was barely given a cursory motivation for her wicked deeds. But since the target audience for this film is adolescent girls, I doubt that they’ll even notice.
This Cinderella follows in the footsteps of recent powerhouse princesses (Elsa and Anna from Frozen) and is given strength and courage – the film’s ever-so-important theme. No longer just a damsel in distress who throws herself on every conceivable object for a good cry, the character has been revamped into a strong young woman worthy of the title of role model.
Overall, director Kenneth Branagh has created a kid-friendly and beautiful rendering of the classic fairy tale, with little variation from the beloved hand-drawn version