Cinderella delivers Disney magic

Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella isn’t as heavy-handed as last year’s Maleficent and more smoothly executed than the screen version of Into the Woods. This Cinderella may not be a classic, but it upholds the studio’s tradition of providing family entertainment that all ages can enjoy. It’s a playful movie, a nice movie.

Wisely, director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz don’t belabor a story that most everyone in the Western world – and probably the Eastern world, as well – is already well familiar with. This version doesn’t condescend to its intended audience, and its moments of comedy and send-up are done in a gentle and friendly way that doesn’t besmirch the original tale.

Lily James makes for a wistful Cinderella, Richard Madden is every bit a Prince Charming, Ben Chaplin and a blonde Hayley Atwell play Cinderella’s loving but luckless parents, Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera deliciously overplay her bratty stepsisters, Stellan Skarsgard provides smarmy sneakiness (replete with twirled mustache) as the Grand Duke, Nonso Anozie exudes strength and good humor as the Captain of the Guard, Rob Brydon pops in for a bit of comic relief, and long-time Branagh favorite Derek Jacobi is properly dignified as the King.

Best of all are Cate Blanchett, in full “Grand Dame” mode, as the wicked stepmother. Clad in Sandy Powell’s eye-popping costumes (which deserve to be remembered come Oscar time), the two-time Oscar winner is clearly having the time of her life playing bad, and Helena Bonham Carter, looking absolutely terrific by the way, has a show-stopping turn as a dotty Fairy Godmother.

Branagh judiciously balances the cast’s charms with the required barrage of CGI special effects, which are appropriately spectacular but never overwhelm the story, which is rendered in simple, confident, compassionate fashion – just as it should be. !