"Cinderella" Redo Deals Glass Slippers, Glassier Eyes

Maybe the redundancy of Disney’s new live-action take on “Cinderella” is preferable to the garish makeover applied to “Alice In Wonderland” in 2010. Perhaps its painfully straightforward direction from Shakespearean authority Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) should be commended instead of criticized. And maybe its screenplay – penned by “American Pie” writer-director Chris Weitz – should be lauded for avoiding anachronism.

But doing nothing wrong is about the only thing “Cinderella” 2015 does right. It’s a tap-in of a film, a base on balls, an extra point, or just about any other dull sports analogy that could be thrown its away – and just as exciting to watch.

Lily James (BBC’s “Downton Abbey”) stars as the title character, the down-on-her-luck handmaiden we all know from the European fairy tale of the same name. Embellishments are made, fleshing out Cinderella’s backstory to enhance her misery, but the film is, through and through, familiar to the end.

But familiarity isn’t the only hitch. The story – a very particular blend of wish fulfillment and morality play – doesn’t work nearly as well in live action, losing the buffer zone of disbelief inherent in Disney’s classic animated version.

A goose and a lizard are turned into animal-human hybrids, mice chatter away in high-pitched gibberish, and a pumpkin is inevitably transformed into a carriage. But outside of a few brief scenes, magic doesn’t seem to be a part of the film’s otherwise ordinary world. The whole thing seems stuck between fairy tale and Jane Austen costume drama, unwilling to commit to either.

Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) might have made an agreeably wicked stepmother had she been given anything interesting to do or say, and the same can be said of Helena Bonham Carter (“Fight Club”) as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. The two characters are essential to the story but don’t appear to have much effect on the world around them outside of their interactions with the title character.

The movie is also exceptionally talky, often without purpose. Lily James’ version of Cinderella is sweet and reassuring and dignified – traits shared with her late mother, played by Hayley Atwell (“Captain America – The First Avenger”) in a brief appearance – but the screenplay is deathly afraid of letting her soak in her sadness. She’s a chatterbox even when she has no one to talk to or nothing to talk about. It’s not as myopic as Weitz’s take on the story’s other female characters, but close.

While the film is frequently well photographed and manages to wring out most of the fairy tale’s antiquated sexual politics, it also lacks a single distinguishing mark. Richard Madden (HBO’s “Game Of Thrones”) is a thundering bore as Prince Charming and the timeless songs from the animated version are sorely missed.

But all is not lost. If Disney continues the trend of remaking their animated classics, they’re likely to find the right balance between the shrieking ugliness of Tim Burton’s “Alice” and the shoulder shrug that is “Cinderella.” Even if it’s just by accident.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: March 13, 2015
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)