‘Cinderella’ (2015) review: Magical

Lily James and Richard Madden in Cinderella
Lily James and Richard Madden in Cinderella (2015)

There are movies that I like, movies I love, and movies I *love*. The first are movies I think are good and will watch again, maybe once, at the most twice, such as Kingsman: The Secret ServiceBirdmanThe Divergent Series: Insurgent. (Anything else is overkill.) The second are movies I’ll gladly watch a few more times, like The Lego Movie and Whiplash, though I need some distance between each viewing. The last category belongs to the films that have won my heart and mind entirely, the ones which after I finished watching them for the first time in the cinema, I immediately wanted to go back in and rewatch them a second, third, fourth time. Cinderella belongs squarely in the last.

(Whether the movie is good or bad is irrelevant. There are movies that I think are great but I can’t exactly say that I “like”, and I’m perfectly fine if I never watch them again.)

Lily James in Cinderella
Lily James as the good, courageous and kind Cinderella

Partly because I love the 1950 animated movie. (Which girl who grew up on Disney movies *doesn’t*?) But more importantly, this live-action version starring Downton Abbey’s Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) and Game of Thrones’ poor, doomed Robb Stark (Richard Madden) adapts the well-loved classic so faithfully, with negligible differences, down to Gus and Jaq the “talking” mice, that I cannot find a single fault with it. (Ok, maybe one or two.) It’s just magical and romantic and a wish fulfillment fantasy that’s lovely to escape into for two hours. The prince is handsome and sweet, her ball gown so swishy and beautiful (though it’s a wonder she can walk in it), her wedding gown a dream, and Cinderella is saved because her prince was there and he heard her singing through a window. Typical Disney stuff.

Lily James is Cinderella and Richard Madden is the Prince in Disney's live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale, CINDERELLA, which brings to life the timeless images in Disney's 1950 animated masterpiece as fully-realized characters in a visually-dazzlling spectacle for a whole new generation.
Ella and the Prince meeting for the first time.

Which is *exactly* what I want a live action adaptation of a Disney animated movie to be. Some people will — and some critics have — pick a bone with the fact that there’s not a spark of originality in this retelling; but sue me for wanting films associated with fond childhood memories to stay the same. I would embrace edgy remakes if they were any good, but Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent weren’t; I don’t care how much money they made, I never want to watch them again. (And yes, I know I sang a different tune about Maleficent in my review when it came out, but looking back, I really cannot remember why I said it was pretty good. All I remember are the unimpressive supporting characters and the lousy third act with Maleficent battling Mad King Stefan in a chaotic, dark sequence. Give me the animated Sleeping Beauty any day!)

They had better treat the upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast — with Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast — right. (If “Tale as Old as Time” isn’t heard somehow, somewhere in the ballroom scene when Belle and the Beast are dancing, I will be up in arms.)

Cate Blanchett is the Stepmother and Lily James is Cinderella in Disney's live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale CINDERELLA, which is directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Ella (Lily James) serving her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) in Cinderella (2015)

Though sometimes Ella’s “oh look, I’m just a humble country girl, why is everyone looking at me” act is a bit hard to swallow — when she arrives last at the ball, she walks down the ballroom stairs like the attention grabber she *clearly* knew she was, while pretending she wasn’t. I could also do without the 500 reiterations of “have courage and be kind”. But these are minor eye-rolling quibbles. I love the movie.

Lily James as Cinderella at the ball
Ella making the most out of her princess moment

The supporting cast is equally delightful. Cate Blanchett is such a glamorous and commanding presence as the wicked stepmother, you can’t help but enjoy every moment she’s on screen, though you feel indignant on Ella’s behalf of course. Her bold makeup, imperiously coiffed hair and dark and heavy dresses makes her look like the quintessential golden age Hollywood villainess. Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera), Ella’s two ugly stepsisters, are as quarrelsome, airheaded and ugly stepsister-y as you expect them to be. (Sophie McShera also hails from Downton Abbey, though in a role reversal as kitchen maid Daisy.) The Grand Duke is a scheming figure rather than the bumbling comic relief he was in the animated movie, but he’s played by Stellan Skarsgård, so I like him. Director Kenneth Branagh’s fellow Shakespearean thespian Derek Jacobi is a more loving King and father than the animated movie’s plump though cute old man who just wants grandbabies, no matter where they come from.

Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) in Cinderella
Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) in Cinderella (2015)

The original animated movie’s songs such as “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “So This is Love” didn’t make it in, but they managed to fit in a single spoken “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” by Helena Bonham Carter’s amusing fairy godmother, first seen in unrecognisable aged makeup, and then bright and sparkly in another of the film’s numerous impractical though lavish dresses.

(Though if you stayed till the end of the credits, you can hear Lily James singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and Helena Bonham Carter singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” at the end.)

Helena Bonham Carter as Fairy Godmother in Cinderella
Helena Bonham Carter as Fairy Godmother in Cinderella (2015)

Speaking of bright, sparkly and lavish: that is the theme du jour of the film’s production design and costumes. There is an entire scene dedicated to Cinderella and the Prince’s first dance in the grand ballroom, which was choreographed to maximum “swish effect” of the Dress. It was dazzling to behold.

Cinderella and the Prince dancing at the ball
Cinderella and the Prince swishing around the ballroom during their first dance

Sure, Cinderella (and plenty of Disney’s older movies) promotes unhealthy fantasies of “someday my dreams will come true” and backwards notions of women being saved by men. (No matter how much they couch it as Ella being saved because she “ha[d] courage and [was] kind” — she would still be stuck in the attic if her prince didn’t happen to be there.) But sometimes, you just have to take movies as they are and bask in their glow. I’m floating on a cloud of fluffy dreams now. Don’t pull me down, thanks.

Cinderella and the Prince in the garden
Cinderella and her Prince in the garden