REVIEW: Cinderella

12 03 2015

Kenneth Branagh’s biggest cinematic production to date has been “Thor,” but he established a reputation far before taking on a hot Marvel property.  Many consider him the Laurence Olivier of our time, perhaps the preeminent modern interpreter of Shakespeare.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he stood at the helm of multiple acclaimed film adaptations of the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon’s plays.

After delivering a dead-on-arrival reboot of the “Jack Ryan” franchise, Branagh turned back toward a source material that he could more faithfully reproduce: Disney’s “Cinderella.”  He approaches the fabled animated classic with the same tender touch he brings to a Shakespeare text, gingerly re-staging the action with careful attention to its original incarnation.  By not shaking anything up, Branagh ensures that his film will not ruffle the feathers of the die-hards.

But the downside of such a rigid reinterpretation is that his “Cinderella” also does not really excite anyone except the die-hards.  If the animated classic, 65 years later, still enchants children everywhere, why bother to remake it with such obliviousness to the many midnights passed?  (“Maleficent,” warts and all, at least took a stab at reimagining the “Sleeping Beauty” mythology.)  The answer seems simple: merchandising opportunities and brand awareness.

Branagh serves less as a director and more as a cookie-cutter, ensuring that all components of his “Cinderella” meet the pre-established mold.  In everything from the opening line of “once upon a time” to the traditional gender roles and ideology, the film adequately measures up.  The only worthwhile addition 2015 makes to the story is some CGI in the Fairy Godmother’s transformation of Cinderella, her escorts, and her carriage – effects that look quite magical.

Cate Blanchett Cinderella

Branagh’s staging of the action feels rather uninspired as well.  His ensemble delivers performances that indicate a sense of refinement and seriousness, both of which are at odds with the rather rudimentary dialogue and story of “Cinderella.”  (It is a movie geared towards families, after all!)  Though, to be fair, the acting fits in well with the gauche, overdecorated sets.

One performer manages to stand out above the pack, however.  That person is not renowned classical stage actor Derek Jacobi as the kingdom’s ailing king, nor is it Lily James as Cinderella.  Her casting captures all of the look of a Disney Store catalogue model for the iconic blue dress … and scarcely any of the charm of the humble girl inside the garment.

This “Cinderella” gets a big lift from Cate Blanchett, brilliantly employed as the evil stepmother who lets pure malice hide behind a belying smile. Her character gets the only storyline with any alteration that could be even remotely considered a plot twist, and it gives her the chance to pull a Machiavellian maneuver that would give Claire Underwood on “House of Cards” pause.  The elevated, overstated upper crust affectation crosses over into camp queen status on more than one occasion, but it only makes Blanchett all the more devilishly delectable to watch.  C+2stars

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2 responses

13 03 2015
Dan O.

Nothing special, but pretty to look at and simple enough to get by the problems. Even if there aren’t many to be found. Nice review Marshall.

14 03 2015
thycriticman

Ugh. I really don’t want to see this. It doesn’t sound as bad as it could have been, but it sounds exactly like re-watching a cash-grab, live-action version of an animated classic. Oh wait…

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