Cinderella (2015) Review
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It’s a story that’s been told, retold, and reimagined time and time again—the story of Cinderella, her evil stepmother, her fairy godmother, and her charming prince. In the latest incarnation of Cinderella, director Kenneth Branagh takes Disney’s beloved animated classic and gives it a live-action twist.

Disney’s Cinderella stars Lily James as Ella, a country girl who once lived a carefree life with her loving parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin)—until tragedy struck not once but twice, leaving her as little more than a servant girl in her own home.

After a chance meeting in the woods, the prince (Richard Madden) falls in love with Ella—much to the chagrin of his ailing father, who insists that he marry a princess instead of a commoner. The prince agrees to choose his bride at a ball held for royalty and commoners alike—but, of course, Ella will need some magical assistance if she’s going to make it to the ball on time.

This retelling of Disney’s beloved classic strives to maintain the magic and whimsy and sweetness of the animated original while adding a few more realistic live-action touches. On one hand, it still has the lovable fairy tale charm: gorgeous costumes, striking settings, and even a few helpful rodents. But it refuses to gloss over the heartbreaking facts: that Cinderella had a wonderful life with loving parents before losing first one and then the other. While the animated version begins in the middle—with an orphaned Cinderella slaving away for her stepmother and stepsisters—Cinderella takes a step back to the beginning, to explore every step in the character’s fall from happy-go-lucky country girl to a scorned servant. That gives the film sad, somber undertones—but a few amusingly over-the-top characters manage to keep the story from feeling too dark and depressing.

James certainly makes a beautiful princess—and her character is every bit as kind and courageous as her mother urged her to be—yet she’s so sweet and caring that she comes off as entirely too bland. Fortunately, though, some of the supporting characters help to give the film a slight edge. Cate Blanchett is so very good at being so very bad—while, at the same time, offering a new take on the wicked stepmother. Once, she was fashionable and popular, but then her prospects for the future came crashing down with the death of her second husband—and she takes all of her disappointment and jealousy out on poor, sweet Ella.

The highlight of the film, though, is Helena Bonham Carter’s all-too-brief portrayal of the fairy godmother—a wonderfully eccentric character who turns the whole story around. She’s so tremendously comical that she almost seems out of place—but she brings with her the lightness and magic that audiences expect from a classic fairy tale, turning a rather grim tale of heartbreak and loss into an enchanting love story.

The latest version of Cinderella is definitely Disney. It’s shimmery and colorful and often sugary-sweet. While it’s a fitting—if sometimes somber—live-action adaptation of the animated classic, though, it doesn’t add much to the story. For a refreshing twist on the same old fairy tale, I still prefer 1998’s Ever After.

Blu-ray Review:
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is certainly a strikingly beautiful adaptation of the classic fairy tale—and some of the Blu-ray release’s most interesting special features focus on that aspect of the film. Costume Test Fun is a light-hearted look at the various costumes, while Staging the Ball takes a closer look at the detailed design of the stunning ball scene—from the 2,500 candles and the 500 extras to Cinderella’s gorgeous gown.

Other features include A Fairy Tale Come to Life, which discusses the thought and inspiration that brought this classic tale back to the big screen. Ella’s Furry Friends examines the challenges involved in working with so many animals. There’s also an alternate opening, as introduced by the director, which explores a little more of Ella’s childhood. And, of course, there’s Frozen Fever, the lovable short that played before the film’s theatrical release.

Frozen Fever is definitely a must-see for any Frozen fans. It’s a sweet and funny short—complete with a catchy new song. Meanwhile, all of the making-of features included on the release emphasize the film’s beauty—and the careful planning that went into it—and they’re sure to give you a whole new appreciation for the film. So, once you finish watching the film (again), be sure to take some time to check out the special features menu, too.

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