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DISNEY PRESENTS LILY JAMES & CATE BLANCHETT IN CINDERELLA

Year: 2015 Grade: B–
By the time one of Cinderella’s stepsisters comes up with her nickname… Ella combined with the cinder dust from the attic where she resides… our pretty little heroine hadn’t gone through the mill; she never really does. And this entire live-action adaptation of CINDERELLA plays it sweet and gentle for the famously abused title character.

While not given MALEFICENT treatment wherein the antagonist is turned sympathetic, the wicked Stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett, doesn't completely sink her venomous teeth into the matter. A negative description of an actor or actress going overboard is referred to as “chewing the scenery." But in this case, the scenery needed chewing. 

Bathed in an opulent period-piece glow with lush countrysides and dreamy visuals, director Kenneth Branagh sums up the handsome prince falling for a "commoner" within one quick scene: the opposites bonding on horseback. And while both leads, Lily James and Richard Badden, share a kindhearted chemistry, and the attraction is completely believable, there’s never very much to lose for anyone, at any time.

A last-minute political deal struck between Stepmother and a conniving (tacked-on) middleman, aimed to see the Prince marry right, is ditched before Blanchett can play her cards. Meanwhile, the stepsisters are more bratty than vicious and formidable. Yet the family's interaction, including her real mom and dad, feels very genuine. In fact, during the superior first half, director Branagh establishes such earthy realism that the fantastical elements, like mice morphing into horses and a Fairy Godmother, don't fit like they should in a CINDERELLA adaptation.  
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