'Cinderella': What the Critics Are Saying

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Disney's live-action retelling stars Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter.

Cinderella is the latest Walt Disney animated classic to get a live-action retelling, following 2014's box-office hit Maleficent and preceding Beauty and the Beast in 2016.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the adaptation of Charles Perrault's fairy tale stars Downton Abbey breakout Lily James as the title character opposite Game of Thrones' Richard Madden as Prince Charming, Cate Blanchett as stepmother Lady Tremaine and Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. The film is expected to dance past $65 million in its opening weekend.

See what top critics are saying about Cinderella:

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney says, "The color, vibrancy and unabashedly romantic heart explode off the screen," and "the studio's opulent update is enhanced by sumptuous physical craftsmanship as well as the limitless possibilities of what CG technology can achieve. Screenwriter Chris Weitz embraces both the magic and the humanity of the classic fairy tale. ... Branagh at times forces the humor with a heavy pantomime hand," and "the stepsisters' oafish comic antics can wear a bit thin. But the playfulness generally pays off, particularly in the quaint, quintessentially Disney touches." James "plays the title character with unaffected sweetness" while Blanchett "reinvigorates the textbook villainess both with her delicious cruelty and her gnawing resentment. ... [She] 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."

Additionally, "what's perhaps more impressive, however, are the lovingly detailed craft contributions, notably maestro Dante Ferretti's eye-popping sets ... while Haris Zambarloukos' gliding camera stops just short of going into swooning overdrive. The movie looks dazzling, shot on actual film in anamorphic widescreen. Sandy Powell's mixed-period costumes, with their astonishing range and inventive design flourishes, are up there with Ferretti's work creating a visual orgy. ... Pacing might be a tad leisurely for the youngest audience members here and there, but adults will appreciate the grace and wit of this adaptation. Patrick Doyle's lush score augments the excitement, sadness or romance as required."

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane writes, "There is barely a frame of Branagh's film that would cause Uncle Walt to finger his mustache with disquiet. ... At a time when that deconstructive urge is the norm, and in an area of fiction — the fairy tale — that has been trampled by critical theory, Branagh has delivered a construction project so solid, so naive, and so rigorously stripped of irony that it borders on the heroic." Weitz's screenplay "will leave [audiences] feeling more badgered than convinced" — and the accompanying animated short Frozen Fever "struck me as sickly and confused" — but "what crowns the movie, flourishing the fullness of its purpose, is color." Plus, "the movie is granted a broader racial range; the king presides over a multi-ethnic land, and his son's black sidekick (Nonso Anozie) proves crucial to uniting the lovers. ... As for the costumes, I imagine that the Academy Award already has Powell's name on it, and has been shoved in a drawer until she can swing by and pick it up next year."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls it "satisfying" and "refreshingly free of all snark," as it "reveals Branagh to be a workmanlike wrangler of digitized fantasy. The big transformations, notably the pumpkin coach routine, carry some nice details, such as the humanoid goose's reluctance to take the reins. ('I can't drive. I'm a goose.') Yet the effects are routine. I'd like to see a live-action Disney fairy tale with a little less of that business and a little more practical magic." Composer Doyle "delivers a persistent dribbling stream of forgettable mood music, and that's too bad; most of the scenes are acted so well, you don't want anything competing with them." Yet James is "a first-rate choice, ... the rare young performer who can make consistent goodness interesting."

The New York Observer's Rex Reed writes, "Let's be honest. There is no denying the fact that this is the best Cinderella of them all." Of the cast, "the cherry on top of the cake [is] a sinister and captivating Blanchett as the first malevolent stepmother in history (thanks to the Weitz script) who is also totally three-dimensional. ... Scheming, sultry and seductive, her Lady Tremaine shows why she's disillusioned — widowed by two husbands while still young and left to raise a pair of dumb daughters she doesn't even like, her resentment of Ella's beauty and sweetness is only natural. And in the end, there's a refreshing surprise."

The Guardian's Guy Lodge notes, "Blanchett is certainly the best thing in Branagh's perky, pretty, lavender-scented cupcake of a fairy-tale adaptation." Cinderella is "winsomely embodied by James, but rather wanly conceived in Weitz's script. ... 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."

Cinderella hits theaters March 13.

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