CinderellacoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes
2015, 105 min., Color
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Included: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Only Disney would have the audacity to attempt a live-action remake of an animated classic, and to play it fairly straight as a romantic drama—with even less comic relief than the original. And only Disney could pull it off.

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella, so it’s really a matter of how the story is told. I think the studio made the right call. They decided to craft an origin story: to fill in the information gaps, to flesh out the characters, and to focus on the romance. The devil is in the details, but details—and devilish characters, for that matter—have always been Disney’s strong suit. Cate Blanchet plays the stepmother with the same complexity as Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, the backgrounds are as striking as anything you’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the interiors of this live-action feature rival what we saw in Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. I wouldn’t say the CGI elements are seamless—you can certainly tell that the lizards and mice are computer-generated—but they’re cute as the Dickens.

Scottish actor Richard Madden (Klondike, Game of Thrones) plays the Prince, but Lily James (Downton Abbey) is even more charming as Ella, nicknamed “Cinderella” by her stepmother after she’s found lying next Cinderellascreen1to the hearth to keep warm. It’s easy to become as captivated by Ella as the Prince is, enthralled by her fresh optimism and live-by mantra: to have courage and to be kind. In other words, Cinderella has an inner strength and beauty to complement her physical good looks, and Disney drives home the point that what’s inside matters more. The screenwriters also are mindful of the Disney princess “brand” as they suggest that while little Ella wasn’t royalty, she was a princess to her mother and father, who loved her very much. And Disney being Disney, death is handled matter-of-factly. “Way of all flesh, boy,” a dying father tells his offspring.

If there’s a surprise, it’s that the live-action stepsisters (Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger) aren’t as broadly comic as they’re often played, and that the fairy godmother is played a little more comically by the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter, who has as much fun with this role as she did playing Disney’s Red Queen in the live-action Alice and Wonderland.

Cinderellascreen2In this version of Cinderella there’s much more development of the Prince and his relationships. We see him interacting with a captain of the guard (Nonso Anozie), a manipulative Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard), and his father, the King (Derek Jacobi). Collectively those interactions make the pair’s coming together more satisfying, and more than anything else the live-action Cinderella is a grand romance that does for this fairy tale what Neuschwanstein Castle—the inspiration for Disney’s theme-park castles—did for all of them: it celebrates the magic, the majesty, and the happily-ever-after ending that everyone, deep down inside, still craves.

The characters, the story, and the wonderful details will make this a repeat play, no matter how familiar it is. Don’t hesitate to add it to your collections. You may know the story, but, like Hoosiers, it’s somehow rousing every time you watch. Get it in Blu-ray combo pack to enjoy a flawless and room-filling DTS-HDMA 7.1 soundtrack (which, surprisingly, is song-free except for one number that Ella and her mother sing) and a gorgeous-looking 2.39:1 widescreen presentation that really pops in HD.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: None, really
Adult situations: Characters die off-screen
Takeaway: Disney is still king when it comes to bringing grand romances and fairy tales to life on the big screen.