|'What Branagh's film lacks in bravery and innovation, it makes up for in charm, craft and star power'.|
In a roundabout way, for Disney to create a straight version of a princess-centric fairytale after essentially sending up their entire back catalogue of such stories through 2007's Enchanted is a relatively bold move. It's for that reason director Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella stands up pleasingly well as a traditional reworking of Disney's own 1950 animated version of the universally-known tale.
With tongue steadfastly out of cheek for the vast majority of his film, Branagh allows the traditional fairytale elements of the story to shine through and provide the strongest moments of the film. The use of CGI is apparent but never overdone, with the two transformation sequences that first see the pumpkin transform into a coach, then devolving from vehicular to vegetable form later on, delivering memorable highlights.
With a running time just shy of two hours, and the source animated feature barely making it past the seventy minute mark, there's a sizeable chunk of embellishment added to this version of the story from scriptwriter Chris Weitz. Many parts work very well: Prince Kit (Richard Madden) is fleshed out considerably from his animated counterpart who barely registered as a character in 1950, here given a pleasing if somewhat slight relationship with his father the King (Derek Jacobi). An entire opening act is also dedicated to a prologue telling the story of how Ella (Lily James) came to be under the care of her stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), a section which works well in adding weight to the more familiar elements of the narrative later on.
There are times where Branagh's vision feels a little too earnest for its own good however. This works as a straight telling of the Cinderella story, but how far can such a sincere version go in 2015? Elsewhere in the Disney Cinematic Universe we've seen the studio bring a far more modern - even postmodern - aesthetic to classic fairytales with the likes of Tangled and Frozen. We've also seen the House Of Mouse revisit its past films in much bolder fashion than Branagh attempts here, most recently in Sleeping Beauty re-imagining Maleficent. Whilst that film was ultimately far more miss than hit, it could be argued that it at least attempted to shake things up where Cinderella is happy to keep things safe. Repeating a moral platitude such as "have courage and be kind" in Spider-Man-like fashion does nothing to help this middle-of-the-road feeling.
What Branagh's film lacks in bravery and innovation, it makes up for in charm, craft and star power. Blanchett is the stand-out as the hateful Tremaine, but Helena Bonham Carter as one of the film's most eccentric elements as a Fairy Godmother who could easily have stepped out of a Tim Burton film provides some satisfying mid-film entertainment. Cinderella may not do enough to ever become truly memorable, but it's very hard not to be taken in by its old-fashioned appeal whilst sharing its company.