- RatedPG /GenreFantasy, Romance
You cannot help but get the feeling that Disney has something up its sleeves.
After the phenomenal success of the sassy ‘Frozen’, the daringly revisionist ‘Maleficent’, and even the Stephen Sondheim musical extravaganza ‘Into The Woods’ where beauties dodge princes, we thought we have seen it all.
But no, the vaults of Disney run deep, with enough raw material for many more remakes, re-imaginings and spinoffs.
Director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz’s ‘Cinderella’ is easily Disney’s best effort in translating an animated feature for the big screen with live action. And it is, perhaps, a long time coming.
The original 1950 animation is, after all, the movie that saved the House of Mouse from insolvency and irrelevance back then. And so, it is fitting that ‘Cinderella’ will usher in Disney’s line-up of live-action re-inventions.
But before we see Emma Watson’s Belle tame The Beast or Bill Murray's Baloo sing about a bear being at ease with the bare necessities in Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’, we have this elegant production that is still faithful to the 1950 story.
Branagh does not reinvent the wheel here, but he has added elan to the story and more layers to the characters.
Perhaps his biggest masterstroke is subverting the notion of female empowerment, where strengths lie not in heroics, but in the sheer decency of its leading female protagonist.
“Have courage and be kind,” Cinderella says, repeating her mother’s dying words.
And it is this courage and kindness that will free the girl from the abuse of her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (a snarling Cate Blanchett) and her two stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera).
Cate Blanchett is wickedly fun as Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's stepmother | Photo: Disney
This is where Branagh veers from legend: Cinderella meets Prince Charming (Richard Madden) while on horseback in the forest. He introduces himself as Kit, an apprentice at the palace, rather than heir to the throne.
When she discovers he is part of a hunting party, the animal-loving Cinderella persuades him not to kill a stag. And sparks fly.
We find out later that the ailing king has planned a ball for the prince to choose his bride. Determined to meet the mysterious girl in the forest, the prince opens the guest list to all the maidens in the kingdom.
But what the young prince does not know, is that the scheming Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard) has promised him to somebody else.
While her two stepsisters scheme to land a prince as their beau, Cinderella just hopes to meet Kit the apprentice again.
And she gets her wish, thanks to her fairy godmother (a polished Helena Bonham Carter) who "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo-ed" a few things. Well, we all know that part of the story.
A PERFECT FIT
Lily James, who plays Lady Rose in 'Downton Abbey', is winsome as the titular orphan girl cast into the role of a woebegone servant by her adopted family after her father's death.
She is filled with so much sunny optimism that you just might find it unbelievable how someone can live with so much humiliation and abuse under one roof.
Yet, it is this hopefulness that drives the story; the faith in believing that good things happen to good people as opposed to the no-matter-what-the-cost pragmatism espoused by her stepmother.
Like Angelina Jolie before her as the misunderstood sorceress in ‘Maleficent’, Blanchett is no stock villain and hardy as the wicked Lady Tremaine.
“She, too, had known grief,” the audience is told, “but she wore it wonderfully well.”
LAVISH VISUALS AND COSTUMES
Disney spared no expense in outfitting this fairytale to equal the visual spectacle of its animated sibling.
Palatial sets with a Baroque flavour are conjured by multiple-Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferreti.
Completing the fantasy are the enhanced CGI-trickery, and the lavish gowns and outfits by three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell.
This is beguiling proof that Disney still knows its way around fairyland.
'Cinderella' opens 12 March 2015