Once pegged as the successor to Laurence Olivier, destined to direct and star in Shakespearean adaptations galore, Kenneth Branagh has turned into a director of studio properties. He acquitted himself adequately with Marvel’s “Thor,” and now his remake of Disney’s “Cinderella” has premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. And by most accounts, it is…fine.
“Cinderella” follows the classic fairytale (or at least the Disney version) faithfully, turning in a charming, old-fashioned princess fantasy. Some critics are a bit annoyed that Disney, who will make millions from the film no matter what the content is, didn’t update it to make Cinderella more active in her story, especially after “Frozen” gave its leads a bit more agency and tried to be a bit more feminist in its approach. Still, most reviews praise the film’s handing of Lady Tremaine (played with wicked, Bette Davis-like zeal by Cate Blanchett), who’s fleshed out enough to make her more than just a standard-issue evil stepmother.
“Cinderella” arrives in theaters March 15.
Cath Clarke, Time Out London
Enough with the feminism. Disney has clearly had enough of these uppity princesses getting all empowered and messing with their fairytales. After “Frozen,” and “Into the Woods,” it’s back to the basics of being a princess in director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, sappily sweet version of “Cinderella.” That means microscopic waists, swooning bosoms and a happily-ever-after ending for this Cinderella (Lily James, the naughty cousin from ‘Downton’), or just plain Ella – the ‘Cinders’ bit comes later. Read more.
Peter Debruge, Variety
In Disney’s new live-action “Cinderella,” four mice are ballooned into elegant white horses, two lizards are forced to serve as makeshift footmen, and an oblivious old goose gets zapped into driving a pumpkin carriage. But as the American Humane Assn. can attest, no animals were harmed in the making of this delightful if overly safe update of the gold-standard toon classic. More importantly, the underlying property emerges untarnished, as director Kenneth Branagh reverently reimagines Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tale for a new generation the world over, spelling countless opportunities to exploit fresh interest in the story throughout the Disney universe. Read more.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
“Have courage and be kind” she repeatedly reminds herself, but the courage mentioned is rarely evidenced, and in addition to “having” and “being,” it’d be nice to see Cinders “doing.” In fact the same passivity issues face “Cinderella” as they do all of the story’s many derivatives, including a certain BDSM, Rated-18 soon-to-be-blockbuster, that will reportedly have attached to it the trailer for, you guessed itl “Cinderella.” Seeing them so close together it’s impossible not to draw parallels as a pure, sweet-natured, largely passive female is “rescued” from ordinariness by a handsome prince/sadomasochistic billionaire. But “Cinderella” does not try to be transgressive, or even progressive, and unashamedly sells itself as the old-fashioned wish-fulfillment little-girl fantasy that “Fifty Shades” tries to whip its way out of. A more honest film in that regard, it’s also more romantic, and just a whole hell of a lot better. Read more.
Guy Lodge, The Guardian
Alas, its focus does occasionally drift to Cinderella herself, winsomely embodied by “Downton Abbey’s” Lily James, but rather wanly conceived in Chris Weitz’s script. One might have expected the co-creator of “American Pie” to give Cinders a little more spunk, so to speak, but she’s relentlessly ingenuous, spouting her late mother’s Pollyanna-ish mantra – “Have courage and be kind” – at every given opportunity, and plenty of unpresented ones besides. Not that Charles Perrault’s woebegone servant girl has ever been the most courageous heroine in the fairytale library: she’s not exactly exhibiting nerves of steel when she flees the palace ball at the stroke of midnight, fearful that her besotted prince might be irretrievably turned off by the sight of her in daywear. Branagh and Weitz stick lovingly to the legend throughout; and while it might have been nice to see the new-model Cinderella follow “Frozen’s” progressive, quasi-feminist lead, the film’s naff, preserved-in-amber romanticism is its very charm. Read more.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
Blanchett pulls off a superb balancing act, making the stepmother archly amusing with her world-weary imperiousness, but also giving her a tang of desperation and tiny hints of a less refined woman beneath all the manufactured poise. While her mission is to secure her daughters’ future along with her own, her barely disguised disdain for those idiotic brats lends additional underlying pathos to her malice. If there’s a nagging oversight in Weitz’s screenplay it’s the failure to justify how a man as sensitive as Ella’s father would open himself up to such a patently venal new mate, with her preening vanity and extravagant flamboyance. But hey, it’s a fairy tale, right? Read more.