A well balanced magical reproduction of the classic House of Mouse 1950 animation of the same name. This newest addition in the line of Disney redo’s retains that delicate and romantic quality and doesn’t stifle any of the traditional fairy tale vision with needless updates. It completely looks and feels the part and I’m sure a whole new wave of generations will adore the happy ending story.
A widowed father marries high and mighty Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) but as he leaves for business travel, his daughter Ella (Lily James) is left behind to suffer in her own home as servant to her new stepmother and two stepsisters. Whilst out riding one day Ella runs into a handsome man called ‘Kit’ (Richard Madden) who she falls for, little knowing he’s the prince. He too is besotted with this girl from the woods and calls on every woman in the kingdom to attend a palace ball in the hope to see her again. On this special night Ella could find true love…as long as it fits in before midnight.
Kenneth Branagh’s direction is grand and sweeping, the loving traditional approach really working in favour of this old style story. The look is gorgeous and the way Branagh lets each set tell its part of the tale is wonderful. There’s a lot of circling shots too adding to the sense of building whirling attraction between the Prince and Ella. It might not be a flamboyant or unique directing gig but it benefits this specific plot and the outcome of the smooth camerawork feels magic.
The actual cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is splendid. The framing of scenes from the beautiful estate belonging to Ella’s parents to the grandeur of the palace are magnificent. Each new location is captured as necessary to fill the screen with a new place of wonder to entrance the princesses at heart in the audience. It might be a typical vibe of wealth and fancy ballrooms to daze Ella but it has to be as it’s a whole new world opening up for her and so the journey from slave girl to princess Cinderella has to be full of magic, dazzle and riches.
Sandy Powell has an awful lot of work to do and she pulls it off as costume design head. The clothes on every person makes the film come alive, the sheer scope of dressing full cast and many extras for the ballroom scene puts the film into perspective of how much it looks the part. The dresses for Ella are beautiful, even the dirty rag-like blue number hints at that beauty she can possess and then her own pink design comes in like a Hermione Granger Goblet of Fire moment. The true spectacle is in the massive poof design of her palace dress, the shimmering blue adorned with fluttering butterflies is most girls dreams come true and it’s a work of art. Cinderella isn’t the only one dressed well, everyone is costumed perfectly.
The props and sets work in kindred spirit with the amount of CGI. The decorated garden with plump pumpkins paves the way for the transformation scene, this entire Fairy Godmother sequence being full of sparkle and reminiscent of the wand waving original. The odd twisting of lizards to footmen and mice to horses is funny and done really well, it’s clearly computer wizardry but it doesn’t detract from the magic, the mice in general are the only generated characters that don’t feel right and don’t have the same spark as the 1950’s mice.
Lily James is extremely pretty so has that princess look ready in her pocket but she puts across that sort of plain Jane quality, to sell the servant she becomes and the kind heart every girl is something she pours over the screen. The romantic looks she gives to the prince are lovely and you truly feel she’s in love with him. She is on the money as the good and forgiving Ella, powerfully using her nickname to take the spite away from it. Richard Madden is charming and handsome in his rebirth after Robb Snow but it’s a pretty bland role and the drippy gentleman act doesn’t require an awful lot. Helena Bonham Carter as expected does a lot to steal the show, her helpful and magical Godmother character suiting her to the ground. Cate Blanchett is amazing. She’s better than Angelina Jolie in providing a more threatening and real villain, you can hear the snide cackle in Blanchett’s voice, she fills the screen with devilish glares and mean spirits. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera are the squabbling cruel stepsisters and fit the part nicely. Rob Brydon has a neat little cameo too as a sitcom-esque artist making all the grown ups in the cinema laugh.
It’s better than I thought it’d be and it comes out on top as Disney’s best retelling yet. It really is much the same as the original cartoon and what the trailer shows, but under sturdy direction, flawless princess duties from James and romantic imagery it’s an entertaining and wholesome movie.