Walt Disney’s live-action Cinderella is everything fans of the beloved fairy tale want and more. It’s magical, colorful, beautiful, exciting, and leaves the audience with an encouraging and important message of kindness and courage.
Considering how much the “Cinderella” story has been told on screen, from the 1997 made-for-TV movie with Whitney Houston to 1998’s Ever After with Drew Barrymore and 2004’s A Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff, it was refreshing to see that Walt Disney Pictures and director Kenneth Branagh (2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) paired up to create a film for the new generation.
Lily James and Cate Blanchett play well together as Cinderella and the Wicked Stepmother, while Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz (2007’s The Golden Compass) use the charms of the original fairy tale from Disney’s classic cartoon film while adding their own twists that broaden the story.
When Ella’s mother (Hayley Atwell) passes away at a young age, it’s up to her father (Ben Chaplin) to raise and care for her. After years pass and now that Ella (Lily James) is a young lady, her father has met a woman whom he has decided to marry. Ella’s stepmother (Cate Blanchett) is a woman who knows how to give a party, yet remains cold and dismissive towards Ella. She instead gives her attention to her two spoiled daughters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).
When a messenger comes to deliver the terrible news to Ella that her father has passed away during his travels, Ella is beside herself. Left without any immediate family besides her Stepmother and stepsisters, Ella is forced to clean, cook, and sleep in the attic. Missing her father terribly and sick of her Stepmother’s orders, Ella decides to take one of the horses out for a run where she meets a young man named Kit (Richard Madden) in the forest. Unaware that Kit is in fact the Prince, Ella returns home with the dream that there could be something more out there for her and maybe one day true love.
Lily James (PBS’s Downton Abbey) is absolutely exquisite, charming and sweet as our Cinderella. The young actress gives a well-rounded performance as Ella and clearly has a lot of fun dancing around in that gorgeous bright blue gown. Richard Madden (HBO’s Game of Thrones) gives a genuine and friendly quality as the Prince – he actually has a personality! One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is that Ella and the Prince slowly fall for each other, meeting first in the woods, without Ella knowing he is royalty, only to find out at the ball that he’s actually the Prince.
Cate Blanchett gives a flaw-free performance and has an absolutely wild time as the wicked Stepmother. Blanchett is easily one of the best actresses working today, but the Australian beauty was born to play this villainous role in this popular fairy tale. Between her constant evil glare at the young and innocent Cinderella, her obvious desperation for her two daughters to be married off, and her incredible gowns and glamour, Blanchett steals every scene she’s in. In one particular scene where the Stepmother is speaking with Cinderella, almost confiding in her, Blanchett gives a surprisingly raw edge to the Stepmother that we’ve never seen in any Cinderella film before.
The production design by Dante Ferretti (2011’s Hugo) is nothing short of spectacular, and the movie as a whole is visually stunning, while the costume design by Sandy Powell (2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street) is Oscar-worthy and absolutely gorgeous. The Stepmother’s extravagant gowns and headpieces and the fairy godmother’s (a wonderful performance by Helena Bonham Carter) glittering white gown and Cinderella’s blue ball gown and romantic wedding dress are pieces of art in themselves.
In the middle of a super slow winter movie season comes the first truly great film of the year. Walt Disney stays true to their classic film while refreshing it for audiences of all ages.