Director: Kenneth Branagh.
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Ben Chaplin, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Helena Bonham Carter.
|"Who's up for a kick of the footy?"|
OLD fairy tales never die - they just get remade, re-imagined, rebooted and rewritten forevermore.
In recent years we've seen a gritty take and a comedic take on Snow White, a horror-themed Hansel & Gretel, various dark versions of Red Riding Hood, the all-singing mash-up of Into The Woods, and a big-budget action revamp of modern fairy tale Alice In Wonderland.
With all this twisting and sculpting of classic stories, it's actually refreshing to watch Disney's live action version of Cinderella because it remains largely faithful to both the original fable and the best known iteration of the tale - Disney's own animated version from 1950.
While the lack of updating does make the plot and this retelling feel dated and somewhat naïve by modern standards, it's nice to see Branagh and writer Chris Weitz put their faith in the classic narrative and its signature moments, albeit with plenty of 21st century CG trickery.
Surely everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of Cinderella but just in case, here goes: in a fantastical and vaguely European kingdom, Ella (James) is the downtrodden girl left orphaned and under the thumb of her stepmother (Blanchett) and stepsisters (Grainger and McShera) following the death of Ella's dad (Chaplin).
Forbidden by her stepmother to attend a ball at the royal palace, Ella attends anyway with some magical assistance from her fairy godmother (Bonham Carter) and proceeds to win the heart of the prince (Madden) but is forced to flee before the night is over.
Will the prince discover Ella's true identity? Will they ever meet again? Or will the stepmother's own evil plans come to fruition?
Of course, 99 per cent of people already know the answers to these questions and the other one per cent would likely be able to guess given the predictable nature of conventional Hollywood storytelling.
So what is the appeal here? Why bother seeing the umpteenth retelling of an antiquated love story of the poor-girl-meets-rich-boy variety?
The main drawcard is the visuals. Branagh, having displayed a previously unknown knack for CG-heavy blockbusters with Thor, presents a sumptuous-looking film that is continually easy on the eye, whether his camera is sweeping over the kingdom or through a lavish ballroom full of stunningly costumed revellers or simply capturing Ella at work in front of the dying embers of the kitchen fire.
While it's Ella's CG-enhanced transformation - complete with pumpkin coach and mice for footmen - that is the film's big moneyshot, its true highpoint is an opulent dance sequence where the artful production design and outstanding costuming come to fore, even if the whole scene appears to have parachuted in from a long-gone era of cinema.
This brings us to the thing most likely to divide audiences - is this quaintly out-of-date or pleasingly old-fashioned?
Ella's character has been somewhat modernised, with an enhanced sense of inner strength and independence to go with her overwhelming niceness, but the gentle pace and sedate storytelling do seem like an anachronism against the hyperactive editing and technicolour assaults we've come to expect in family friendly fodder these days.
Perhaps the other major flaw is the humour, or lack thereof, in the film. While Blanchett gets a couple of killer lines in what is the film's stand-out performance, there is a serious need for a few more laughs to offset the earnestness of it all, especially in the oh-so-sincere opening and closing act.
The filmmakers seem acutely aware of this, hence we get a bizarre cameo from Rob Brydon that is admittedly funny but so out of place it feels like Brydon has wandered in from a neighbouring set.
Thankfully the performances are uniformly good, with Blanchett and Bonham Carter particularly relishing the chance to go over-the-top (in a good way).
There's every chance this will become the go-to version of the Cinderella story for a new generation unfamiliar with the 1950 animation, but there's also a possibility this will be overlooked by a young audience more at home with the crash-and-bash of modern cinema.