Disney’s latest fairytale, which is raking it in at the box office (so you just know that lots more are coming) is a live action version of their animated Cinderella. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (that’s impressive), it stars Lily James (Downton Abbey) as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett (always a good choice) as her stepmother, Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) as the Prince, Derek Jacobi (always a good choice) as the king, Stellan Skarsgard (odd casting choice but I like him) as the Grand Duke and Helena Bonham Carter (perfectly cast) as the ditzy fairy godmother. In other words, Disney found some very good actors and a very good director to make their perfectly good film, with everyone doing a very good job (including the cinematographer, the composer, the costume designer and the set designer).
And the story that Disney chose to tell is remarkably harmless. It is truly a film you can show to children of any age, with not so much as a hint of redemptive violence or ‘pain’ (a rare thing indeed for Disney films made this century). And the changes Disney made to its story (from its animated source) are often attempts at character development and humanization. That’s a very good thing indeed, though it makes one wish for more of that. And this version focuses on having courage and being kind. Nothing wrong with that. Otherwise, Cinderella tells the Cinderella story as simply and traditionally as one could imagine.
Alas, Cinderella’s biggest flaw is precisely that it has no surprises. Unlike Ever After, there are few attempts to bring 21st-century sensibilities (e.g. feminism) to the 1950 animated story. This is not a romantic comedy using a familiar story to challenge tradition. The result is that Cinderella is a little boring. And yet … And yet it could have been so much worse. And yet it had one marvellous scene after another between the king and prince. And yet the credits were an added thrill, with Lily James and Helena Bonham Carter treating us to songs from the animated version. And yet Cate Blanchett was having so much fun. And yet, I must repeat, the film is utterly harmless. All of these ‘and yets’ need to be rewarded. So I am giving Cinderella ***+. My mug is up. Take your kids without fear.