Lackluster film adaptation of ‘Cinderella’ ultimately fizzles out

Lily James plays the would-be princess in a lavishly produced adaption of the classic story by director Kenneth Branagh. (Photo provided by movies.disney.com)
Lily James plays the would-be princess in a lavishly produced adaption of the classic story by director Kenneth Branagh. (Photo provided by movies.disney.com)

The live action version of “Cinderella” is another in a long line of adaptations of the beloved fairytale. The story is well known: a girl is forced to live like a slave with her stepfamily until she is given the chance to go to the ball and win the heart of the prince. This latest adaptation adds very little to the familiar story.

Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) does a fine job as the character of Cinderella. Cinderella has never been a very deep character, as her wants and needs are fairly basic. As a Disney Princess, she didn’t quite stack up to others such as Belle, Elsa and Mulan. Still, James makes the character likeable. She is given more to do than her cartoon counterpart at least.

Cate Blanchett (“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”) brings to life the infamous Evil Stepmother. While Blanchett is a wonderful actress, she plays the part a bit too over the top. She doesn’t quite have the bite of the original Lady Tremaine from the cartoon. They do try to give the character motivation in this adaptation, explaining her actions toward Cinderella. Yet, in doing so, they take away a lot of what makes the character so terrifying and an interesting antagonist. Cinderella asks her stepmother why she is so cruel, but the character is nowhere near as villainous as other incarnations we’ve seen. Anjelica Huston as the stepmother in the Cinderella adaptation “Ever After” was a real force to be reckoned with. Blanchett’s stepmother was just not as interesting as an antagonist as others that have taken the role.

The Prince, played by Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), is given a bit more screentime than in the Disney cartoon. While Madden does what he can with the role, and is undeniably charming, The Prince character is still on the bland side. It does help that Madden and James have chemistry in their few short scenes together. There is also an added subplot that the prince is not allowed to marry a commoner, which makes things a bit more interesting and gives his character opposition to reach his goals.

While the film retreads familiar territory, it is a visual treat. Director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) has made a beautiful film. The sets and costumes are both breathtaking. Branagh has made a film that has visuals that elevate it and make watching the same story again worth it. The scene where the fairy godmother–-played by Helena Bonham Carter (“The Lone Ranger”)–-turns the pumpkin into the coach is a stunning a scene, probably the best in the film.

Another strange update to this adaptation is the complete reversal of the character of the Grand Duke. In the original Disney cartoon of “Cinderella,” the Grand Duke is a comedic character and a great foil for the King. In this version, the Grand Duke, played by Stellan Skarsgard, (“Thor: The Dark World”) is turned into a villainous character looking to marry the prince off to a princess. The main reason this change doesn’t work is because the character’s motivations are never clear. It mostly just felt like a huge waste of the excellent Skarsgard in a lame attempt to add another obstacle to the prince and Cinderella getting their happy ending that wasn’t really needed.

The biggest problem with “Cinderella” is that it is ultimately unnecessary. “Cinderella” has had a multitude of updates and retellings. This story really doesn’t try to do anything new with the source material. The actors are fine, but no one really stands out. There are no surprises in this adaptation, no interesting or relevant changes made to the classic fairytale to make this newest adaptation feel worth it. It is an enjoyable enough film and Branagh has made a stunning movie. They’ve captured the magic of the story really well, but also added unnecessary elements that hindered the film more than helped it. Overall, there isn’t enough here to make it a must-see film.

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