(2015) ** 1/2 Pg
112 min. Walt Disney Studios Pictures. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Lily James.

/content/films/4777/1.jpgGive Disney this much: in revisiting Cinderella for a new live-action incarnation patterned after the 1950 animated film, the studio hasn't skimped. The reins of the pumpkin coach have been handed to Kenneth Branagh, under whom have been assembled two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (as the evil Stepmother), three-time Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti, and three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell. They don't disappoint: this Cinderella is a lavish, classy affair.

But while long on beauty, Branagh's film falls short on whimsy, coming across as a bit rote in retelling of how the country girl turned "ragged servant girl" turned princess (Lily James of Downton Abbey does the dismayingly tiny-waisted honors) turns the head of the dashing Prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones). Turn, turn, turn: Cinderella remains, unavoidably, a fashion show with a prototypical Barbie and Ken escaping an archetypical diva with some smashing costume changes of her own (perched strikingly on a staircase, Blanchett succeeds in conspiring with Branagh and Powell to evoke Joan Crawford's glamorous old-school intimidation factor).

As much as Branagh relishes the opportunity to celebrate Old Hollywood (as with his neo-noir Dead Again) and old-world pageantry (as with his Hamlet), the fact that he's been there and done that helps to explain why this Cinderella never quite graduates to urgent or compelling. The director's camera twirls and tracks and swoops, and one can easily play Easter-egg hunt for the colorful splashes of mid-20th century movie style: 1940s American movie palace, meet 19th century European palace. But it's telling that the film's most affecting emotional moments—a dying mother (Hayley Atwell) here, a dying father (Branagh's mentor Derek Jacobi) there—stand apart from the story's central conflict.

And what will it all mean to the 2015 audience? After the welcome rehabilitation of Disney princesses and the tiresome revisionism of so many unimaginative "reimaginings" (Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent...) there's something refreshing about Branagh's take-the-story-as-it-is approach, which seems to say, "Look, a trip to the ice-cream shop won't kill ya every once in a while." Of course, this Cinderella is careful not to lose sight of its heroine's class-divide triumph and pure-of-heart essence, pitched against the cruel villainess' hungry selfishness. Thankfully neither Branagh nor screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy) feels compelled to stick a sword in James' hand, and they waste no time pretending the story runs any deeper than the tag line they brand it with here: "Have courage and be kind."

Cinderella has just enough buoyant touches to keep it afloat: Helena Bonham Carter fleetingly getting her Johnny Depp on as a Fairy Godmother with oversized teeth, Blanchett's robust nasty laugh, bursts of girlish glee (a dizzy waltz) and boyish energy (a sudden infusion of courtly fencing), and the ball-bookending sequences of pixie-dust-by-the-pound magic. Ultimately, though, this version of the fairy tale isn’t joyful enough to supplant Disney’s first take, or sophisticated enough to surpass it in speaking to today’s girls. The 2015 Cinderella evokes nothing so much as the annual Oscars broadcast: a pretty but programmatic thankless task without much promise of staying power.

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 9/15/2015

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney sends Cinderella home in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD special edition. Tech specs can't be beat, with a gorgeously detailed image yielding considerable depth, palpable textures, and rich color. Contrast and black level are spot-on for a perfectly calibrated picture bereft of any discernable compression artifacts. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 likewise maximizes the possibilities of home theaters, ideally recreating the theatrical experience with robust LFE, full-bodied treatment of Patrick Doyle's musical score, discreet placement of effects within the surround sound field, and dialogue that's always prioritized for maximum discernment.

Bonus features kick off with four Featurettes: "The Fairy Tale Comes to Life" (9:24, HD) about the story and its evolution into its current incarnation, with comments from director Kenneth Branagh and his cast; "Costume Test Fun" (2:39, HD) comparing raw rehearsal footage of cast members in costume to finished film clips; "Staging the Ball" (11:26, HD) showcases production designer Dante Ferretti, who discusses his work from design to fruition; and "Ella's Furry Friends" (3:43) with animal trainers Guillaume Grange and Julie Tottman.

Also included are an interesting "Alternate Opening" (3:02, HD) labeled "Ella's Childhood" and introduced by Branagh.

Lastly, we get the coveted seven-minute short "Frozen Fever," a sequel to Disney's smash hit feature film Frozen.

Five additional "Deleted Scenes" are available through the Disney Movies Anywhere app, but it's maddening that they're not simply included for easy access on the Blu-ray disc itself. (Also, Branagh has reportedly referred to his original cut being roughly two and a half hours long, prompting some fans to clamor for an Extended Cut release of the film.) Furthermore, Target exclusive bonuses "Becoming the Prince" and "Something Magical" are also available through Disney Movie Rewards with an access code found in Target's specially marked packages. Obviously, these off-disc bonuses are less than ideal for die-hard Disney collectors, but at least the feature gets a spectacular home-video presentation with a handful of welcome video bonuses.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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