Is there anyone who hasn't seen Walt Disney Animation's Cinderella?
The 1950 feature is a classic that both saved the studio and inspired millions of viewers for decades to come. The fairy tale has been retold many times over the years—on film, on stage and on TV. When Walt Disney Pictures decided to revive the franchise with a live-action version, it hired Kenneth Branagh to direct. Lily James was cast in the titular role, and Branagh rounded out the cast with Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother Richard Madden as Prince Charming.
Here's what the critics are saying about Cinderella, in theaters Friday:
• "The color, vibrancy and unabashedly romantic heart explode off the screen in Cinderella," The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney raves, adding, "The studio's opulent update is enhanced by sumptuous physical craftsmanship as well as the limitless possibilities of what CG technology can achieve." He writes that James plays her part with "unaffected sweetness" and notes that Blanchett's "feline malevolence is priceless." According to Rooney, this Cinderella has mass appeal. "Anyone nostalgic for childhood dreams of transformation will find something to enjoy in an uplifting movie that invests warm sentiment in universal themes of loss and resilience, experience and maturity," he writes.
• "I'd fully expected to find Branagh's film tedious and uninspired, or, worse still, overwhelmed by a hideous deluge of computer effects, like Disney's Maleficent, or Disney's Alice in Wonderland. But something about Branagh's British reserve, his devotion to Shakespeare's formal and relatively spare storytelling structure, has rendered his Cinderella familiar but perfectly fanciful, an old tale told well," Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson gushes. He notes that Chris Weitz's script is "spry and sparkling, airy and pretty as spun sugar." He calls James "a fizzy flower of a thing" and Blanchett "a pro of the highest order," while Madden's "eyes have had their blueness turned up, his teeth put on full gleam." In the end, he says, "I was won over, seduced by its warmth and good looks, its quaint, modest proportions."
• Variety's Peter Debruge writes that Branagh "reverently reimagines Charles Perrault's fairy tale for a new generation the world over." That being said, he argues that only Blanchett "seems fit to hold her own against such extravagant costumes and sets." He also praises the Academy Award winner for blending "aspects of Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich into an epic villainess, so deliciously unpleasant one almost wishes the film were focused more on her. Alas, this is Cinderella's story—relatively blasé by comparison, though still quite promising in the wish-fulfillment department." Overall, Debruge says, "Branagh's Shakespearean roots beg for a more literary script. It's all a bit square, big on charm, but lacking the crackle of Enchanted or The Princess Bride. But though this Cinderella could never replace Disney's animated classic, it's no ugly stepsister either, but a deserving companion."
• "Branagh has delivered a construction project so solid, so naïve, and so rigorously stripped of irony that it borders on the heroic," The New Yorker's Anthony Lane says. "You could call it Apocalypse Never."
• USA Today's Clauda Puig praises the film, writing, "With its vibrant sparkle and enchanting visuals, Cinderella almost makes you believe in magic. The oft-told story has a surprisingly fresh exuberance." She calls Bonham Carter "appealing and playful," but argues it's Blanchett who "brings a new dimension to the role of wicked stepmother, providing a glimpse of what has made her so venomous. Only an actress as adept as Blanchett can take a role so easy to caricature and bring to it such subtle shading." What Cinderella lacks in comparison to Enchanted or The Princess Bride, she explains, the film "enthralls with its ravishing style and timeless message of resilience, decency and kindness triumphing over evil."
• Us Weekly's Mara Reinstein writes that Branagh "keeps his film old-fashioned and, well, a little safe." While "some may quibble that this kind of snark-free narrative is hopelessly dated in 2015," she writes, "That's what makes this rendition so charming and timeless." Best of all, she marvels, "the prince's fete is a visual feast," adding, "Cinderella's grand entrance proves why she's the ultimate belle of the ball."
• "There's no empowerment message embedded in Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, no 'Girls can do anything!' cheerleader vibe. That's why it's wonderful," Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek writes. "This is a straight, no-chaser fairy story, a picture to be downed with pleasure. It worries little about sending the wrong message and instead trusts us to decode its politics, sexual and otherwise, on our own."
• The New York Observer's Rex Reed writes that James is "too sugary" for his taste and jokes that Madden's Prince Charming is "carved out of foam rubber," though he does praise the supporting cast. "The big improvement is the story of Ella's family history, which was only hinted at in the famed 1950 Disney animated version. Father is now a handsome traveling salesman (Ben Chaplin) dashing enough to earn his daughter's hero worship without question. Mother (Hayley Atwell) is a golden-hearted role model too good to be true. Derek Jacobi is a wise old king who wants to see his son marry his true love before he dies," Reed writes. He also calls Blanchett's performance "sinister and captivating." In the end, he says, "There's a refreshing surprise. Cinderella suspends kindness and courage, the two talismen she lives by, for a resolution that may shock you. Everyone in a fairy tale no longer lives happily ever after."
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