Credit: Ellen von Unwerth

Eight years after Enchanted, two years after Frozen, and just three months after Into the Woods, Disney offers up a new Cinderella that isn’t afraid of its old-fashioned legacy. The earnest new Princess film, written by Chris Weitz and directed by Kenneth Branagh, isn’t a reinvention or a re-imagining—as was Disney’s Maleficent—but a loyal live-action companion to the 1950 animated classic. There are kindly household critters, a handsome prince, a wish-fulfilling fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), and, of course, a glass slipper.

Lily James (Downton Abbey) plays the poor orphan, Ella, left in the care of her cold and calculating stepmother. But, oh, what a wicked stepmother. “Cate Blanchett in a delirious swirl of candy-colored evil,” writes Chris Nashawaty, who graded the film a B. “Blanchett is nasty perfection from her blood red lips to her baroque Sandy Powell-designed gowns. She’s like a cross between Coco Chanel and Norma Desmond, and she smartly plays her harpiedom to the back row of the theater.”

Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden plays the handsome prince, who gets to be more than simply charming in this live-action adaption, and Stellan Skarsgard introduces an element of sinister Shakespearean intrigue that feels organic when crafted by a director like Branagh. All in all, this is a fairy-tale movie that isn’t ashamed of the label.

For more elaborate analysis, click below for a round-up of reviews from around the country.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“I wish certain stretches of the film moved a little faster (as I’m sure some parents with antsy young ’uns will too), and I’m still a bit wary of the tale’s retrograde notions of what constitutes wish fulfillment for girls. But the fizzy cocktail combination of Blanchett’s cartoonish hauteur and Branagh’s visual razzle-dazzle and confectionary sets (courtesy of the legendary Dante Ferretti) manages to take a tale as wheezy as Cinderella and make it feel almost magical again.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

“It’s old-fashioned is what it is, and that’s kind of refreshing. … The world didn’t need yet another Cinderella story, but the one we got is one of the best versions ever put on film.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

“Ms. James effortlessly holds the big screen, less because of her beauty than the life that both animates and demystifies that beauty, making it seem less other (even a touch aspirational) and her character feel approachable and likable. It’s smart casting because that likability and the smiles it solicits help take the edge off Cinderella’s victimization…”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

“The lovely and fundamentally uninteresting James is no match for the fire and elemental venom exuded by Cate Blanchett’s evil stepmother, who is by far the film’s most interesting character. With her chartreuse and green wardrobe, scarlet gash of a rictus grin and darting fits of cruelty, she seems to have beamed into Cinderella as if from a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama into a cozy Merchant Ivory period drama.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“For a few scenes, the movie’s delicate balance of bedside classicism is in danger of becoming just another ride at Disney World. But the first dance at the ball is the film’s emotional center, the camera twirling, the couple alone in the crowd; it’s a rapturous sequence and one that will probably set most little girls up for a lifetime of romantic disappointment.”

Anthony Lane (New Yorker)

“Girls in the movie theatre—fans of the full-length Frozen, I presume—will not only swoon but get the hint that Cinderella is now ready to be royal. You could try telling them that they are being drugged by sexist and imperialist archetypes that lost their potency decades, if not centuries, ago, but stand by to be strangled with your own Twizzlers. Some myths just will not go away.”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) ▲

“Branagh is the wizard in charge of all this magic, and he uses his wand judiciously, knowing when to effect the dramatic crescendos and when to let his players, well, play. It is to the director’s credit that he takes a tale in which there are no surprises and finds a way to let innocence, goodness and a storybook romance actually carry the day.”

Wesley Morris (Grantland)

“Disney has attached an animated Frozen short to the front of this movie. It’s cruel, like starting a long, overcooked dinner with dessert. The Frozen world is new to us, underexploited. It’s got an energy and personality that Branagh tries to give to Cinderella, but Branagh’s is excessive. Cinderella is caught halfway between the stateliness of a PBS period piece and the nonsense of Branagh’s Thor.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“The latest in a trend to rework the most precious treasures in the Mouse House vault, Cinderella is by far the studio’s most calculated retelling yet, to the extent that those who know the toon by heart may find Chris Weitz’s serviceable script a wee bit dull. Unlike last year’s daringly revisionist Maleficent or the prince-shirking Cinderella seen in Stephen Sondheim’s wink-wink Into the Woods, this kid-gloves production plays things ultra-careful…”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“The curious thing about this new Cinderella is that every old and familiar element is done beautifully. … That’s the other surprise of the new Cinderella—that the additional elements don’t add to the experience. Director Kenneth Branagh and his cast have done their best, plumbing the depths of the characters, finding reasons why the wicked stepmother is wicked, etc. But ultimately they are toiling in irrelevancy.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (The A.V. Club)

Cinderella is essentially a portfolio-style showcase for the work of Dante Ferretti and Sandy Powell, Martin Scorsese’s regular production designer and costumer, respectively. … There is so much color and texture, and yet—unlike the duo’s work with Scorsese or their fruitful first collaboration, on Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire—it never tantalizes. Without a unifying vision, it’s just stuff.”


Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 65

Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent

Rated: PG

Length: 105 minutes

Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Distributor: Disney

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