Walt Disney’s 1950 animated-feature version of the fairy tale “Cinderella,” produced for the then-risky sum of $3 million, became a popular hit and another Disney classic.
Walt Disney Pictures’ new live-action “Cinderella” features attractive leads in Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) and Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), grand fairy-tale settings and, when it counts, affecting moments. But this only modestly engaging remake is in no danger of usurping its animated predecessor.
“Cinderella” plays it safe, against its own heroine’s motto and advice. That motto, bestowed upon Cinderella by her loving parents, is, “Have courage and be kind.”
The 2015 interpretation of “Cinderella” is a movie of limited ambition. It’s not courageous. Nor do the filmmakers take the advice that Cinderella gives the young man — whom she doesn’t know is her prince-to-be — she meets in the forest. “Just because it’s done doesn’t mean it should be done,” she says.
The new “Cinderella” doesn’t touch the emotional depths and joyful heights reached by the animated feature films created during Walt Disney’s lifetime. It is passable entertainment, but not memorable or worth viewing multiple times, as the best Disney projects are.
Filmed at the U.K.’s Pinewood Studios and on location throughout England, “Cinderella” is a handsome production. There’s Cinderella’s country mansion, the prince’s palace and its vast ballroom and his rural, tree-covered kingdom. Costumes by Oscar winner Sandy Powell and production design by Oscar winner Dante Ferretti dress the story in opulent style.
Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle wrote the film’s classical-meets-Celtic orchestral score. But the fact that “Cinderella” contains barely one song is another example of its limited scope. Unlike the 1950 film, it’s not a musical, something audiences may expect it to be. And the film isn’t in 3D, as many recent movies of its ilk have been.
Because Kenneth Branagh’s direction lacks distinction and the “Cinderella” script by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “The Golden Compass”) is thin on wit, the movie’s appeal hangs to an unusually large degree on its actors.
James portrays Cinderella as an open-hearted young woman who loves animals and intends to always honor the wishes of her late parents. Madden, playing Cinderella’s royal suitor, Kit, breezes into the role of the honorable, blue-eyed prince who falls in love with the James’ lovely and good country girl.
Well-chosen supporting players include Cate Blanchett as Cinderella’s cruel and selfish stepmother. Blanchett effectively uncoils her character’s scheming and manipulation. Early on, when Cinderella’s new stepfamily arrives, Blanchett coolly tells her kind, unsuspecting new stepdaughter she needn’t address her as stepmother, that madame will do.
Of course, Cinderella’s widower father makes a bad choice in marrying Blanchett’s bad Stepmother character. Making matters worse, Stepmother brings her silly, spiteful daughters along, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera). All three characters could have used both more sting and nuance, but this “Cinderella” doesn’t do subtlety.
The special moments and spectacle, scattered within this average movie, don’t succeed in making it something special.
“Frozen Fever,” a new short feature featuring characters from “Frozen,” precedes “Cinderella.”