SYNOPSIS: Lily James plays the classic Disney princess in this live-action version of the magical tale directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Released in Theaters: March 13, 2015
Best for Ages: 7+
Genre: Romance, Based on a Book
Runtime: 105 minutes
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett
Official Site: Cinderella
Apparently, a lot, if you put Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair and lovely Lily James in the title role. This new live-action version is beautiful in every way, from the dreamy story to the stunning sets to the gorgeous shimmery blue dress and golden coach crafted out of a pumpkin.
I know it’s probably not politically correct to love a movie where a girl is “rescued” by a handsome prince, and yet, I love this movie. It takes me right back to my own childhood and my beloved, well-worn Grimm’s Fairy Tale book.
The story begins with young Ella (played as a child by Eloise Webb) living a happy life with her loving mom and dad (Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin) in a beautiful sprawling home in the country. Until her mom gets sick and dies, but not before reminding the girl to “have courage and be kind,” and telling her that she has more kindness in her little finger than most people have in their whole body — and that there’s power in that kindness.
Ella grows into a beautiful young woman (Lily James, who plays Lady Rose on PBS’ “Downton Abbey”) as she and her dad adjust to life without her mom. But eventually, her dad remarries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett, deliciously evil to perfection), and Ella must share her home with two wicked stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera).
Things go from bad to worse when Ella’s dad dies while away on business and she’s left to deal with these horrible women who turn her into their slave, banish her to the attic, and dub her “Cinderella” when the girl’s face is covered with cinders from the fireplace.
But things start looking up when Cinderella meets a handsome prince (Richard Madden) while riding her horse in the woods one day. You know the rest of the story. In the hopes of meeting the girl again, the prince decides to host a ball and invite all the ladies of the kingdom to attend. Ella plans to go, but the villainous stepmother and stepsisters rip her dress. It’s all too much, and after holding it together for years (the rest of us would be sitting in prison for murder at this point), Cinderella nearly cracks.
That’s when her awesome fairy godmother shows up (played by Helena Bonham Carter), turns Cinderella’s mice friends into beautiful white horses, and crafts a small pumpkin into a shiny golden coach. Best of all, she turns Ella’s ripped dress (which she’d made from one of her mother’s dresses) into the most beautiful ball gown I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s like the dress is spun from silver and gold silk. And oh yes, those infamous glass slippers.
Ella’s entrance into the ball is magnificent, as she descends the massive stairway into the arms of the waiting prince as the other ball guests look on. Ella and the Prince look dreamily into each others’ eyes until the stroke of midnight, when Ella must flee before the coach turns back into a pumpkin and the spell is broken.
Of course, she leaves one glass slipper behind, which is all the prince needs to take it from there, despite his father the King’s request to marry a woman of high standing. The legendary Derek Jacobi plays the King, by the way, and Stellan Skarsgard plays the Grand Duke. Excellent casting all around.
On the surface, there are so many things wrong with this story that you lose track. Why didn’t Cinderella leave the evil stepmom and sisters? She’s probably old enough to find a job in the village, right? And who marries someone after meeting them only three times, two of them when the guy didn’t even know who she was?
But look, how often do we get to have a happy ending at the movies — or in life, for that matter? Life is hard, and it’s nice when things work out. And despite the whole “getting rescued by the Prince” thing, Cinderella is kind and brave and loves all living things, especially those adorable mice companions who never let her down.
Get in your seats early enough to catch the new “Frozen” short called “Frozen Fever.” I’m not sure if it’s a bridge to the recently-announced “Frozen 2,” but like “Cinderella,” it’s dreamy and a cute story, to boot.
THE DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):
Sex/Nudity: A few kisses. Cinderella gasps when the prince takes her into his arms at the ball.
Violence/Gore: Cinderella is orphaned by her parents, and the king dies in his son’s arms. The stepmother and stepsisters are cold and uncaring and cruel to Cinderella, locking her in the attic at one point. The scene where the coach and horses are turned back into a pumpkin and mice is somewhat intense as they race through the wood towards home.
Profanity: Lady Tremaine calls her daughters “stupid” and tells them to shut up.
Which Kids Will Like It? Kids aged 7 and older who like romantic fairy tale stories.
Will Grownups Like It? “Cinderella” is a beautiful movie to share with your kids and take you back to your own childhood.
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM:
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
Jane Boursaw is the film critic and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the shop for fresh editorial content.