MOVIE REVIEW: CINDERELLA / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: KENNETH BRANAGH / SCREENPLAY: CHRIS WEITZ / STARRING: LILY JAMES, CATE BLANCHETT, RICHARD MADDEN, STELLAN SKARSGÅRD, HAYLEY ATWELL, DEREK JACOBI, BEN CHAPLIN / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 27TH
Disney's previous attempts to inject a little life into some of their classic properties, and some cash into their coffers, may not have been to everyone's taste but at least they all tried to do something with their classic material. Alice in Wonderland gave an old location and characters a fresh lick of digital paint; Maleficent provided more background on a character lightly sketched in Sleeping Beauty - the villain; while Oz the Great and Powerful did a little bit of both. In comparison, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, the latest Disney revamp, plays it almost completely straight. Kind-hearted to the point of masochism, Ella (Lily James) loses a parent, gains a wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, before losing another parent and being relegated to the role of servant girl in her own family home.
Thanks to her mother's (a very blonde Hayley Atwell) parting words to, "Have courage and be kind" Ella suffers through the frankly miserable first third of the movie with little comfort apart from the company of "Mr Goose" and some squeaky semi-comic CGI mice, whose appearance, in keeping with the slightly heightened realism of most of the movie, errs on the side of realism and who are used sparingly through the film.
Of course, it's not long before a random encounter with a stranger (Richard Madden), whom she believes to be an apprentice at the local castle, inspires Cinderella to attempt to go to the local ball only to be cruelly refused by her stepmother, but magic and a fairy godmother may have something to say about that.
Branagh tells the events of the film in a workmanlike way, but with such... restraint that it's worth asking why anyone bothered. The only real additions to the story are some minor palace intrigue, beefing up the Prince's role with family pressure to marry for the greater good rather than love, and the addition of some scheming by certain members of the royal court.
The two leads perform their duties as expected, Lily James providing a sympathetic figure, but endless scenes of her awe can get a bit wearisome, along with Richard Madden's frequent, astonished smile.
Helena Bonham Carter and Cate Blanchett provide the main draw for the film and don't disappoint. Blanchett relishes every indignity, every minor cruelty visited upon Ella, as she is slowly forced from member of the household to servant of it, unleashing a horrid, braying laugh at times that will inspire hatred in any who hear it. Helena Bonham-Carter occupies the direct opposite end of the scale as a delightfully dotty fairy godmother, who briefly brightens up the movie, setting Ella on her path to true love and then disappearing completely. The rest of the cast do what they can, although a supposedly comic turn by Rob Brydon falls completely flat.
Everything is pretty enough to look at, if not scaling any new artistic heights, but the whole enterprise just invites the question: why? Who is the film aimed at? Adults will most likely find the tale far too straightforward to find much to enjoy and what elements of good-natured humour are to be found are far too spread out; very young children will most likely find themselves impatiently awaiting the next appearance of the mice or "Mr Goose" while one misery after another is heaped upon Ella. Perhaps it could be aimed at 'tweens' or slightly younger, who haven't seen the originals and may find something to enjoy in here?
Branagh's fashioned a curiously old-fashioned fairy tale that ends up being pretty to look at but somewhat forgettable.
The main feature is also accompanied by animated short Frozen Fever, starring Anna, Elsa and the rest of the cast from the blockbuster smash Frozen. Focusing on the event of Anna's birthday, the first that Elsa's shared properly with Anna since recovering from her chronic fear of herself, it's a slight excuse for a few songs, the addition of some cute new mini-snowmen to the roster, and a gag or two but not much happens and it's eminently missable.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10