Actors: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
Dubbed: French, Spanish
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Number of discs: 2
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Run Time: 105 minutes
In watching Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live-action adaptation of the 1950 animated Disney film and its 1697 source material by Charles Perrault, I found myself marveling at some of the climactic moments of romance and magic. I had imagined that there would be no surprises in the viewing experience, which was a faulty assumption despite the fact that the greatest surprise was how easily I was swept up in the grand visual spectacle of the romance. Perhaps it says something about the power of nostalgia that the moments which affected me most were those that reminded me of the animated classic, but I am still simply impressed that a curtsy could be so magnificently executed that it caused me to rewind and re-watch. Unnecessary as this film may have been, Cinderella stands as the best in Disney’s slew of cash-grab live-action adaptations, free from cynical updates or feminist revisionism.
With Branagh handling the material with the same reverence and respect that he has often given to his Shakespeare adaptations, Cinderella’s strength comes from its sincerity. The performances are grounded in reality while even the most magnificent visual spectacle feels restrained and elegant, with costumes by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell elevating the romance to heights that feel absolutely magical. These costumes would be nothing without the actors wearing them, however, and Lily James is excellent as the kind and courageous title princess, shining brightest while dressed in that iconic blue dress. Just as marvelous is Cate Blanchett’s stylish portrayal of the evil stepmother, embodying the poise of Joan Crawford rather than turning the villain into a one-dimensional caricature. My only complaints about the costuming came in the form of the prince’s impossibly tight-fitting pants, which caused all sorts of problems for production and actor Richard Madden. It made me uncomfortable just to watch.
There are plenty of other actors who shine in supporting roles, though the extra padding to the narrative adds in enough unnecessary scenes of these characters to feel slightly bloated. The inclusion of a hammy performance by Rob Brydon as the palace painter within a scene of dry exposition felt forced and out of place, leaving me longing for more sequences of the silent CGI mice, or a quicker path to the ballroom. Even Helena Bonham Carter was a bit too cartoonish as the fairy godmother, mistakenly giving the type of over-the-top performance she typically reserves for a Tim Burton film. Whereas Branagh was able to capture the romance and magic with elegance and poise, the strained attempt to cram childish humor into the narrative causes the filmmaker to stumble.
There was no need to make this film, beyond Disney’s need to bleed their audience of as much money as possible, but that doesn’t make the end product worthless. While this version is unlikely to replace the animated film for many nostalgic viewers, it does provide the best live action adaptation of the material yet. And even if I am justified in complaining about the greedy corporation that is Disney, this is unlikely to affect the appreciation of the film from young audience members seeing this tale on the big screen for the first time. And part of me is just relieved that Ella was not turned into a sword-wielding princess or forced to embody a feminist agenda with a dismissal of romantic love. The message of kindness and courage may seem passive to some, but I never found the heroine to appear weak in her willingness to be forgiving and compassionate.
The Blu-ray release seems almost a must for a film so visually stunning, if only to catch the many nuances of that spectacular blue ballroom dress. Along with a DVD and Digital HD copy of the film, the Blu-ray package comes with a handful of extras that include 12 minutes of additional scenes and the theatrical short released with the film, “Frozen Fever.” Among the additional scenes are more moments from the childhood sequence for Cinderella, though this was the portion of the film which already felt too heavily padded. There are also several featurettes showing the tricks of the filmmaking process, as well as interviews with key cast and crew members about the nostalgia of the narrative and difficulties within the adaptation. One of the featurettes focuses on the creation of Ella’s computer generated animal companions while another is about the construction of the crucial ballroom sequence.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 7/10