Encouraged no doubt by the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficent, the revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty that starred Angelina Jolie as the misunderstood witch, Disney gives another one of its animated classics the live-action makeover. Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a lush but frankly lifeless retelling of the much-loved fairytale. The film suffers on account of its generic storytelling and inert direction. Screenwriter Chris Weitz brings no twists or surprises to the classic storyline like Maleficent did, and Branagh, while mounting an opulent spectacle, doesn’t have the distinct visual style of Burton.
That’s not to say everyone will hate it. Kids, who’ve enjoyed the animated version (which still holds up although it was made in 1950), will likely be fascinated by the sight of a pumpkin being turned into a golden carriage, and mice transforming into galloping steed. The CGI is impressive, and key scenes like the one in which the magic wears off and things go back to being what they were, are nicely handled.
The problem is that there’s no fun in the film. Lilly James, who plays Cinderella (or Ella, as she’s referred to through most of the film), is oh-so-earnest, almost to a fault. You long for some spunk, some rebelliousness; you get none. But it’s hardly her fault that this version of the story turns the character into the sort of unconditionally cheery soul that dances in the rain, talks to animals, and sings songs that go “dilly dilly” this and “dilly dilly” that.
There’s some respite in Cate Blanchett’s delicious performance as the wicked stepmother – she’s in full Cruella de Vil mode – but the film needed more of that. We also get Helena Bonham Carter in a single-scene cameo as the Fairy Godmother, and then there’s Richard Madden as the handsome Prince Kit who becomes obsessed with finding the mysterious maiden who left behind the glass slipper while making dash from the ball.
Speaking of the ball, Branagh delivers a full carnival-style orgy of colorful gowns and pirouetting princesses; there’s no doubt little girls will be awestruck by the sight. The film too is unlikely to appeal to anyone older than 12, or to anyone seeking more than just a straightforward, literal adaptation.
I’m going with two out of five. I was incredibly bored.