Review: Cinderella keeps the safe route, but also keeps the magic

Disney’s new live-action Cinderella might not try any new magic tricks, but thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s vision and aesthetics, the classic tale feels new again.

Disney’s new live-action Cinderella might not try any new magic tricks, but thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s vision and aesthetics, the classic tale feels new again.

Some might be wondering why Disney and other studios are starting to revisit their own animated classics, but with Alice in Wonderland’s worldwide box office crossing the $1 billion mark and Maleficent’s coming close to $750 million, it’s easy to see why studios are green lighting more of these projects. Add in moderate success stories like Oz the Great and Powerful and Into the Woods and on.

It can be argued that Cinderella only exists because of those staggering numbers, along with the success of the ABC television show Once Upon a Time. We should also start getting used to these as there is a planned live action Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book and a sequel to Alice in Wonderland all coming our way.

Let’s be thankful that Cinderella is by far the best of the bunch so far. Where Alice in Wonderland was a misfire in almost every way imaginable and Maleficent messed with the somewhat iconic character’s identity, Cinderella decides to take the safe route. There is very little that varies from the 1950 animated classic, which is why it succeeds but isn’t a runaway success.

Everyone knows the story: a young, beautiful girl is horribly mistreated by her evil stepmother and two stepsisters who force her to do awful chores and such for them. She attends the prince’s ball with the help of her fairy godmother and falls for the dashing Prince Charming. Midnight strikes and a glass slipper is left behind.

I won’t spoil the ending but I think you know what happens.

The story, or I should say an original story, is not the reason that most people will be buying tickets this upcoming weekend. Instead of going the “it’s a sequel but not really” route of Alice in Wonderland or “the untold story of a villain that isn’t really that evil” of Maleficent, Cinderella is being sold as an updated version of the tale everyone knows.

What sets this version apart, however, is the direction of Branagh. While his last couple of outings have failed to show any remarkable signs of directing talent (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Thor while fine films, do not have any memorable direction qualities), Cinderella showcases the actor/director’s ability to work behind the camera.

The practical production designs, costumes and cinematography are put together with a sense of wonder and magic without using too much green screen or the CGI that really hurt Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent. It feels like a production, which is okay for this world since it deals with magic and fantasy settings, but everything seems to have its place. It’s possibly too perfect, which is what Branagh might have been going for.

The acting is solid all around, especially when it comes to newcomer Lily James and recent Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett. James does a wonderful job of capturing the innocence and kindness of Cinderella without being over the top or annoying, which could have certainly been the case. The veteran Blachett has a blast with the role of the evil stepmother and her performance teeters on the edge of being too hammy, but she reels it in before it reaches that point.

Cinderella does not earn any points for originality, but it certainly makes up for it with its wonderful direction, solid acting and overall sense of magic. It’s a sweeping and classic tale that deserves to be seen on the big screen and for all generations to enjoy. Whether screening the 1950 animated version or this updated take, either will get the job done.