Genre: Fantasy

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera

Running Length: 113 minutes

Synopsis: Kenneth Branagh directs Disney’s 2015, live-action take on the classic fairy tale Cinderella, which stars Lily James as Ella, forced to endure a life of labor at the hands of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) after her father dies unexpectedly. Although forced into a life of a servant and cruelly nicknamed “Cinder-ella”, Ella maintains her good spirits and serendipitously makes the acquaintance of a stranger in the woods, who turns out to be the prince (Richard Madden). When the royal court holds a gala ball, Cinderella wants nothing more to attend, and although her stepmother won’t allow it, she gets help from a surprising source.

Review: It’s not easy to turn a well-loved, enduring Disney animation into a live-action movie, but Kenneth Branagh manages to get everything right – this 2015 version of Cinderella not only manages to retain the spirit of the original cartoon, but also adds a little of “something there that wasn’t there before”, quite possibly making it the definitive Cinderella moving forward.

Unlike Maleficent, this is a mostly straight-up adaptation of the 1950 animation, and almost everything that you remember from the animated film is present, but with the new adaptation comes deeper characterization, particularly for the two leads. Ella’s backstory is deepened and she is fleshed out a bit more, and Prince Charming (well, Prince Kit in this version) is not just a pretty face. In fact, a tender deathbed scene with Kit and his father (played by Branagh stalwart Derek Jacobi) is one of the most heartfelt and affecting in the film. Even the evil stepmother (flawlessly portrayed by Cate Blanchett) is made a little more human with a peek into what made her so.

On top of that, Cinderella is an absolutely gorgeous movie to look at from start to finish. Every scene is lush, colourful and packed to the gills with details – this is a movie that really needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible.  Dante Ferreti’s production design is amazing, and the attention to detail can be seen in nearly every frame of the movie (the gilded carriage is literally a work of art when observed up close). Also, I’ll be extremely surprised if the costumes and jewellery by Sandy Powell do not earn multiple nominations in next year’s awards race, because simply put, they are stunning pieces of work.

Because of these additions, the live-action Cinderella will not only appeal to the children (yes, this is a totally family friendly film, and would be my top pick for the school holidays next week), but also to older viewers. Perhaps the social message of the movie is repeated a little too many times – I’m sure everyone would remember to “have courage and be kind” after the tenth time it’s mentioned – but it’s hard to begrudge a movie that is so well-made and yet remains so accessible to audiences of every age group.  I have to admit that I was initially quite skeptical of the film despite the talent attached to it, but I am now quite the convert.

P.S. The film is preceded by an animated short film, Frozen Fever (yes, THAT Frozen), but unfortunately aside from the fact that the new characters (the Snowgies) are pretty cute, it’s a rather uninspired short film, with a rather bland musical number. I was not impressed but for the children still caught up in Frozen-mania, I’m sure there would be no complaints.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)