Of all the Cinderellas that Disney could have updated, how on Earth did they settle on this one?
This Kenneth Branagh version, scripted by Chris “About a Boy” Weitz, is stately and sumptuous, but dull and never, ever delightful.
The Disney instinct, spurred by Tim Burton’s blockbuster success with “Alice in Wonderland,” was sound, although following “Into the Woods” into theaters this closely is clumsy.
The studio ignored the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical from the 1950s and forgot its own mildly amusing cartoon musical from the same era in favor of a “Cinderella” full of back story and behind-the-scenes scheming. They gave the reigns to Branagh, and he treated it like his many Shakespeare adaptations. No expense was spared for amazing costumes and lush, baroque sets. He even found a part for his “Hamlet”/“Henry V”/“Much Ado About Nothing” good luck charm Derek Jacobi.
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But he’s delivered a lovely corpse of a fairytale, not helped by a blandly pretty lead (Lily James, of “Downton Abbey”) and even blander Prince Charming (Richard Madden, of “Game of Thrones”).
Cate Blanchett makes a vile but underplayed evil stepmother. The simpering stepsisters (Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger) barely register.
Things only perk up in this overly familiar story — which begins before “Ella” lost her mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) — when the Fairy Godmother shows up. Helena Bonham Carter threatens to energize this the way her Red Queen juiced “Alice in Wonderland.” But even she’s a “bippity boppity boo” short.
The look is always spot-on; the transformation effects, pumpkin-to-carriage, etc., are perfect. But the pre-teen girls this is intended for have a right to expect more laughs, broader villainy (Stellan Skarsgard is an adviser to the old king, played by Jacobi) and more fun.
This time out, the glass slipper doesn’t fit.