D: Kenneth Branagh. DP: Haris Zambarloukos. W: Chris Weitz. Starring: Lily James/Cate Blanchett/Richard Madden/Helena Bonham Carter/Derek Jacobi/Nonso Anozie/Stellan Skarsgard/Sophie McShera/Holliday Granger/Ben Chaplin/Hayley Atwell.
This spring Disney brings another of their beloved royalties to the big screen in the live action version of Cinderella. All glass and little substance, the film is clearly geared towards children and lacks much to make it memorable.
Well known Shakespearean maven and now director, Kenneth Branagh (Thor & Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) tackles this literal live action rendition of Cinderella with little creativity and far less wit. His fairy tale world looks too commercially cooky and lacks much depth from its central character. Lily James, mostly known from Downtown Abbey, is beautiful, blonde, but a little to saccharine for my tastes. Ella, as she is known prior to her nickname, has a fierceness of character despite the loss of her family but somehow is cloaked with too much breathless adulation on James’ part.
The script from Chris Weitz lifts so much from the beloved 1950 animated version that oftentimes you are left wishing that it was the film you were watching. Right down to the mice, which are incorporated here. Branagh and his cinematographer do bring nice breath and scope to the larger scenes, the dancing scene at the ball is particularly hypnotic. This can also be attributed to Cinderella’s ballgown, made to swish and swirl like the original animated image, it is mesmerizing. What is not is the sadly de-beareded Richard Madden who has lost all his presence as this prince. His Rob Stark from Game of Thrones was a force whereas this white panted prince is not.
Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the fairy godmother, narrates the film, which gives it a storybook quality that is distinctly geared towards children. This is where the film diverges from last year’s similar project, Maleficent, which was able to appeal to a much broader audience. One without children, for example. Maleficent is superior in other ways as its more creative approach to a well known tale brings new life whereas Cinderella falls quite literally flat. This is also the fault of the story as Cinderella is often a victim of circumstance and can do little to change her own path if you will. What message does this send to this children’s audience, really? Another post could be dedicated to just this.
Cinderella in general is faulted with a lot of earnestness and good nature. The lines “have courage, be kind” told Ella by her dying mother, played here by Hayley Atwell, are repeated so often they lose all meaning. The sequence with the most wit and character belongs to Carter’s appearance as the venerable fairy godmother. Carter brings her expert twinkle to a moment that is so iconic it could be boring. Rather her bibbity bobbity boo moments lift Lily James out of the cheerful glib and breathe some humor into making a pumpkin into a carriage. Even menacingly statuesque Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother cannot compete with her. Blanchett does her best with some limp lines, nonetheless striking in her costumes and dismissive of her daughters which gives much needed comic relief. It is just simply not enough to save this over-produced project, complete with crappy pop song over ending credits.