• Sticking to original story makes this film bibbidi-bobbidi-beautiful.
• Lily James is captivating as Cinderella.
• Director Kenneth Branagh makes the familiar feel fresh and magical.
When the “Sleeping Beauty” story was reworked into the movie “Maleficent” last year, the fairytale was changed to give a juicier role to Angelina Jolie. The move made the story muddled and unfamiliar.
The new version of “Cinderella” makes no such mistake. It is an enchanting version of the familiar story of a young beauty, friendly mice and a slightly wacky Fairy Godmother. Staying loyal to the 1950 Disney animated production makes this new version bibbidi-bobbidi-beautiful.
Because the audience knows everything that’s going to happen in this story, the film can’t bank on surprise and intrigue to hold the attention of the audience.
Under the guidance of director Kenneth Branagh — who understands being loyal to a familiar text with his work on “Thor” — “Cinderella” banks on a fairytale setting, stunning costumes, perfect casting and a gorgeous soundtrack by Patrick Doyle. Even when the story is familiar, these elements are so spellbinding that the film feels fresh.
The magic starts with Lily James, the actress best known for playing Lady Rose on “Downton Abbey.” She brings the perfect blend of beauty, charm and innocence to breathe life into Cinderella. She is able to make her performance feel real, whether she is talking to mice or spinning through a ballroom with her Prince (Richard Madden).
Without her, the movie wouldn’t have been able to survive —even with the help of a Fairy Godmother. James plays the character with such strength that even when she becomes the brunt of her stepmother’s wrath, she never feels like a victim. The courage and kindness she brings to the role shines through.
Her transformation into a ball guest is completed by the dazzling blue gown created by Academy Award-winner Sandy Powell. That dress is matched by Cinderella’s wedding gown, which is sure to become a popular choice by future brides.
Equally important is the casting of the evil stepmother, played with just the right amount of wickedness by Cate Blanchett. She dishes out her mean-spirited ways with the perfect note of venom.
Helena Bonham Carter finds the perfect amount of zaniness in playing the Fairy Godmother. She is equal parts competence and befuddlement, giving the character some wonderful comic relief. She fits wonderfully with Branagh’s staging of the pumpkin-to-carriage transformation (and back again) that gives the film a big special effects moment.
But, most of all, this film finds its strength in its tales of love. There is no doubt that when Cinderella and the Prince look into each other’s eyes, there are no other people in the world for them. The story also finds strong elements of love between parents and their children.
Tackling the fairytale in such a direct manner could have been Branagh’s undoing. Instead, he presents the tale with such joy and passion that it becomes a nostalgic journey to a time of childhood dreams. It’s an escape to a place where magic can happen, both because of a Fairy Godmother’s wand and the power of the human heart.
As a bonus, there is the wonderful and whimsical “Frozen Fever” animated short with the movie. It features the “Frozen” characters and a song that will be an instant hit.