Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Adapted close to thirty times in feature films over the past one hundred years, one might ask why the story of Cinderella, a nearly four hundred-year-old fairy tale, is being told again. Especially when Disney’s newest adaptation doesn’t offer anything particularly new or different, besides a fun bit of visual effects and a newly-divorced Helena Bonham Carter. Granted, Disney never fails to give the people what they come to see. I can’t recall a time they made a truly bad film. But with such a reputation comes expectations, lofty expectations that 2015’s “Cinderella” simply does not meet.
If you don’t know the story by now, you may be the one living in an attic. Cinderella (Lily James, “Downton Abbey”) was left in the custody of her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and wicked stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holiday Grainger) when her kind father (Ben Chaplin) fell ill on a business trip. When the prince of the kingdom (Richard Madden) announces a royal ball, at which he intends to find a proper bride before his sick father left him atop the throne, Cinderella is determined to go. But her stepmother won’t allow it. By a stroke of good magical fortune, Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) grants her all she needs to attend the ball. The rest of the story, I would hope, you can finish from memory.
Like a great stand-up comic, Disney knows how to play a crowd. “Cinderella” may not be the best work Disney has done, but it nevertheless received rapturous ooo’s and ahh’s from the packed theater crowd. Children giggled and sighed, giving the money-making adaptation (recall that Cinderella made an appearance in Disney’s second-to-last feature, “Into the Woods,” a mere three months ago) exactly what it needed to claim probable box office success. But aside from its astonishing regality – aided by the beautiful costumes, Patrick Doyle-composed music, and Kenneth Branagh direction (the Shakespearean actor and director knows how to do royal) – “Cinderella” fails to offer any redeemable qualities. It ditches “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and all of the other beloved songs from the 1950 animated classic. It has no action, and barely any comedy. It’s simply there.
The casting poses its own concerns. The traditionally beautiful stepsisters, who should be fair in looks and wicked only in heart, are not so. Their wickedness seeps outward as well. Stellan Skarsgard, playing the prince’s devious aide, is so cartoonish and over-the-top that it’s impossible to take him seriously at all. Even Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett is unusually tame.
“Cinderella” does, however, boast the debut of the Disney animated short “Frozen Fever,” which is a delicious sampling of the hit feature (for which a sequel was just announced!); with the same cast of lovable characters, a contagious tune, and enough adorable to go around. Overall, though, “Cinderella” gives us only the textbook version of the Disney fairy tale. It’ll have you shouting bibbidi bobbidi BOOO!!!