Cinderella: Disney hits the mark with live-action adaptation

Somewhere in between “Maleficent” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” lies the latest live-action fairytale feature film adaptation, Disney’s “Cinderella,” starring Lily James in the title role and Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother.

A very familiar tale to most moviegoers, “Cinderella” doesn’t stray much from conventional Disney retellings of the fairytale, though there is an added emphasis on Cinderella’s parents prior to their off-screen deaths in order to help strengthen the backstory. Director Kenneth Branagh utilizes his Shakespearean roots to full effect as he elevates pedestrian conversations to uneven effect. Some scenes, especially between Cinderella and her father, hit home, while conversations between the Prince and his father feel unnecessarily heavy. While younger viewers will happily ignore the depths of Branagh’s effort, older viewers may feel the film too heavy in terms of its emotional stakes for a traditional Disney fairytale.

While James is supposed to draw viewers’ attention as Cinderella, it’s hard to keep your eyes off Blanchett, who replicates Glenn Close’s performance from “101 Dalmatians” to a near-perfect T. There’s just enough smirk and power to Blanchett in the role that dominates the screen while not feeling over the top.

It’s a little jarring at first to see Helena Bonham Carter — frequently the dressed-down villainess in these sorts of films (i.e. “Harry Potter” franchise, “Sweeney Todd”) — as a light-hearted and effervescent Fairy Godmother, but like Blanchett, Bonham Carter fills up the screen every second she appears in the film without completely overpowering James. In fact, “Cinderella” feels like a training course for the young “Downton Abbey” actress, who is likely to emerge as one of Hollywood’s better young actresses.

“Cinderella” will definitely work its way back into conversation later this year as the film is a near lock to be nominated for a number of technical Academy Award nominations, including production design and costumes as well as hair and makeup.

Computer-generated imagery does have a significant place within “Cinderella,” which is a strange thing to say, given how vivid the hand-drawn animated classic from the 1950s was.

Fans of the “golden age” film will likely feel a little uneasy at some of the technological advancements which have made nostalgic elements of “Cinderella” seem faded, especially as it relates to the Fairy Godmother and her magic.

Where Disney’s CGI specialists have improved on the classic film is the development of Cinderella’s four mice friends, who become humorous sidekicks with individually developed personalities over the course of the movie. Known more as an actor’s director than a technician’s director, Branagh has improved significantly as a director dealing with special effects and CGI in “Cinderella” since the release of “Thor” in 2011.

The film, while a quality feature mainly aimed at families, is really a secondary attraction compared to its seven-minute counterpart, a delightful animated short film called “Frozen Fever” which precedes “Cinderella.”

Mostly done to whet viewers’ appetites until the release of the recently announced “Frozen 2,” audiences will be able to check back in with Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the whole gang from 2013’s best-selling animated juggernaut as Elsa tries to throw Anna a birthday party while suffering from a cold, which ultimately causes her to sneeze out mini-snowmen.

For the most part, “Frozen Fever” is little more than an extended music video for a new song from Idina Menzel (Elsa) and Kristen Bell (Anna)  entitled “Making Today a Perfect Day.” It’s not quite as dynamic as “Let It Go,” but definitely on par with the secondary “Frozen” hits like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “In Summer.”

There’s no need in denying it; you’re probably going to see “Cinderella” in theaters for the “Frozen Fever,” but be sure to stick around and enjoy a quality family film, which seem to be fewer and farther between in the Hollywood landscape.

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