Movie review: Live-action "Cinderella" is surprisingly charming

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Let’s get this out of the way. Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Cinderella” seems like a terrible idea, a case of a company cashing in on its own classic. But unlike “Maleficent,” this one actually works. I’m as surprised as anyone.

It sticks to the tried-and-true — so much so that surprises are few — but under the watchful eye of the quality team assembled, this “Cinderella” does the story justice.

The story as you know it is told without frills. Young Ella (Lily James of “Downton Abbey”) ends up under the care of her (wicked, duh) stepmother (Cate Blanchett) after the untimely death of her father.

But, as we all know, someday her prince will come, in this case in the form of Robb Stark from “Game of Thrones,” Richard Madden.

I actually went into “Cinderella” pretty blind, and I was surprised by how much it eventually won me over. I had my a-ha moment when the final credits rolled with “Directed by Kenneth Branagh.” Branagh was originally most famous for directing and starring in some great Shakespeare adaptations, but he also helmed the surprisingly crowd-pleasing Marvel Comics big-screen version of “Thor” (pre Disney acquisition, by the way).

Working with a sharply adapted script by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), Branagh paces things well — although the 1:45-ish running length may prove a bit long for squirmy little ones — and gives the lavish sets and costumes their due without shoving it down our throats. Seriously, it’s rare that I’ll recommend a movie just for the sets and costumes, but wow.

But he’s also an actors’ director, so the best of this solid cast comes out. James’ abundant optimism as Cinderella may grate the cynics — my movie partner declared the whole thing “too saccharine” — but she’s wide-eyed and perfect for the role. Madden is also dashing and possesses enough bumbling Hugh Grant charms to round it out. But the real scene stealers are Blanchett (because duh) and Helena Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother.

There is a tendency to over rely on CGI effects, and some of the interjections of humor come off a little modern-Disney (that’s bad), but overall it is a surprisingly winning retelling of a classic. Who knew?

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures


Opens Friday

3 stars out of 4