Director: Kenneth Branagh
Major Players: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter
Out Of Five: 4
2015 is Disney’s year – so far. After the huge success of Big Hero 6, both at the box office and at the Oscars, its next offering is a live action one, a remake of its very own Cinderella.
It opened in the States and most other countries on Friday, 13th – clearly Disney isn’t the least bit superstitious – and was, dare I say it, the belle of the ball, taking nearly $70 million on its opening weekend in the US alone and around $132 million worldwide. In the UK, it arrives this Friday – a bit later, but it’s unlikely to halt the film’s momentum.
We all know the story, now don’t we? How Ella’s mother dies and her father marries again, giving her two ugly step-sisters and an even more unpleasant step mother. How she made to work as an unpaid servant and also prevented from attending a royal ball, where the Prince will choose a bride. And how the wicked stepmother and her daughters don’t reckoned on Ella’s Fairy Godmother – and some twinkling glass footwear.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to create real magic in the movies, animation was the only way. Not any more. And Disney has taken full advantage of this in re-booting some of its most iconic animations. Last year we had its riff on Sleeping Beauty with Maleficent and new versions of Dumbo (directed by Tim Burton), Beauty And The Beast and The Jungle Book are all on their way. For now, though, we have to content ourselves with Cinderella and, believe me, it’s no hardship. It’s a superb showcase for the talents of Disney’s CGI team, who give us two spellbinding transformation scenes – the one at midnight in particular – and a set of CGI animals. Many are directly transferred from the original – Gus Gus the fat mouse and Lucifer the cat – but they have no dialogue this time. Not that they need it, as they express themselves perfectly without it.
It’s also a very British take on Cinderella, which will have helped its popularity in the States. So there’s Downton’s Lily James as Cinders (another Downton refugee, Sophia McShera is one of the ugly sisters), Derek Jacobi as the King, Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden (minus his Scottish accent) is the Prince and Helena Bonham Carter plays a Fairy Godmother with more than a touch of the eccentric about her. There’s also a scene stealing cameo from Rob Brydon as a portrait painter, who is certainly no Mr Turner. Among the non-Brits, Cate Blanchett is on fine form, relishing the evil stepmother role. She may be an unpleasant piece of work but here she’s given a reason for her jealousy of Cinderella, always feeling second best to the memory of her husband’s first wife.
Visually, it’s gorgeous and elaborately so. The family home is straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, while the kingdom is an idyllic cross between rural England and something closer to Ruritania. Overall, it’s sweet but not too sugary and done with great panache and affection for the original. After the risible Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, director Kenneth Branagh needed a big hit to restore his reputation. And he’s certainly got one here.
Like Big Hero 6, Cinderella also arrives arm in arm with a short feature, one that will cause tidal waves of excitement among the fans of the phenomenon that is Frozen. Frozen Fever precedes the main feature, and makes a neat little gap filler until Frozen 2 arrives. All the same characters are back and Elsa is determined to give Anna the best birthday ever – even if she has a cold. As she says herself, “a cold never bothered me anyway.” Yes, we all get the reference.
Do I get all the fuss about Frozen? To be honest, no. The short was nice enough, the animation was good, but the whole thing left me ever so slightly cold. Perhaps it was my near overwhelming urge to strangle that irritating snowman, Olaf, or perhaps I’m just the wrong age. I’m sure its audience will love it, but give me Feast any day!!
Cinderella and Frozen Fever are released around the UK on Friday, 27 March.