Friday Features: 'Cinderella (2015)' review

The new "Cinderella" movie is hands down one of the best Disney films I've seen in a long time and does what this megastudio does best: Create a simple fairy tale that will enchant children and adults alike. "Cinderella" takes me back to my childhood with animated Disney films like "Aladdin," "The Lion King," and many more amazing stories. But this time, it's live-action in full force and with a refreshingly sweet message, "Have courage and be kind."

"Cinderella" features a slightly lesser-known, but incredible cast, a fittingly heavy dose of playful humor, wonderfully enjoyable production/costume design and special effects, and the kind of enchanting, magical story audiences have been waiting a long time to see once again.

Yes, there have been a variety of adaptations of the Cinderella story over the years, from operas and ballets, to theatre, film, and television. Silent films, stage performances, animation, musicals and more -- it's all been done. But this time, Disney brings one of its beloved animated childhood stories to a full-length, live-action film. In this non-musical version of Cinderella, the movie combines Charles Perrault's origin story with Walt Disney's 1950 animated musical, with a few character changes and plot twists along the way.

Unlike other versions I've seen, this film begins with a backstory and look into Cinderella's childhood, a time when she was first called Ella and greatly loved by her parents. Later in the story, Cinderella comes into contact with Prince "Kit" Charming before the actual ball, yet another change. Similarly, the Grand Duke and Cinderella's stepmother later plot to keep Cinderella hidden from the prince who is searching for the mystery girl with the glass slipper. Aside from the fact that it is not a musical or fully animated, among a few lesser changes, most of the story is similar to the Disney adaptation audiences have come to love.

From the emotion, sentimental moments, and themes such as love, courage, loss, resilience, and more, "Cinderella" has many elements that tug at your heartstrings and really makes you feel for certain characters. After losing her parents, Cinderella is basically enslaved by her cruel stepmother and shallow, dim-witted stepsisters. She is forced to clean, cook, and lives in the attic of the house. But every time Cinderella gets knocked down, she always gets back up and puts on a smile.

As far as actors go, the casting is terrific. There are a few recognizable faces, such as Cate Blanchett, who plays the magnificently dressed Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's evil stepmother (who has a cat named Lucifer). Blanchett portrays her character perfectly with just enough wickedness to not frighten the field mice away. Then there is Stellan Skarsgard, playing the scheming Grand Duke and advisor to the King/Prince. Helena Bonham Carter, who narrates the story, also fills the role of the Fairy Godmother, and while I would have liked to seen more of her "Bippity-Boppity-Boo," she knocks her performance out of the park. Richard Madden plays the Prince, and it's safe to say he is handsome, charming, and strong, like any Disney prince should be.

An unknown face to me, actress Lily James plays Cinderella and gives a spectacular performance. She is extremely pretty and captivating to watch, and in keeping with Walt Disney's image of her character, James plays her as a headstrong and independent young lady, who is ever so kind. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera play Anastasia and Drizella, Cinderella's stepsisters. They are entertaining and play off each other very well. Other supporting cast include Derek Jacobi, playing the King, Hayley Atwell, who plays Cinderella's mother, Ben Chaplin, as Cinderella's father, and Nonso Anozie, Captain to the King and Prince.

What strikes me even more than the character performances by these actors is their physical likenesses and wardrobes to their animated counterparts. Like Cinderella, James is a classic beauty. From her strawberry-blonde curls, to her flawless skin, tiny waist, and piercing blue eyes, Walt Disney could not have drawn her better in his animated version. And of course there is Madden, the blue-eyed, dashing prince whose looks combined with James makes this one strikingly-attractive couple. Their chemistry is enchanting. Even Gus and Jaq, Cinderella's mice friends, are absolutely adorable and reminiscent of the animated version. And of course there is Cinderella's exquisite sparkling blue ball gown, which glitters and shines with pure magic.

Overall, the best special effects come from the parts involving magic, such as when the Fairy Godmother transforms a pumpkin into a carriage, turns mice, lizards, and a goose into Cinderella's helpers, and creates an amazing dress and shoes for Cinderella to wear to the ball. Similarly, the unraveling of these things at the stroke of midnight is great as well. These types of effects were very impressive and will - without a doubt - entertain younger audiences, among others. There are a few shots of the kingdom, palace, or nearby countryside that is obviously computer-generated, but something like this in a Disney fairy tale of sorts is more than acceptable.

Another notable element of this film is the heavy level of comedy presented throughout. From the dialogue to certain characters, there is more than enough laugh-out-loud moments. Most of these usually stem from a humorous line, a clumsy or playful character running into something or falling down (similar to slapstick comedy), or the personalities of characters like the stepsisters or the quirky Fairy Godmother. The sisters are constantly fighting and competing with each other and wear an eccentric, ridiculous, and colorful wardrobe.

I thoroughly enjoyed and was very captivated by "Cinderella." I grew up loving the animated Disney stories and felt very nostalgic seeing this film. It's not far off to say this movie is close to perfect, depending on whom you ask. Like most films, "Cinderella" will make some viewers want to choke on all its sweetness, but I'm a sap for the charming and magical type of movies like this and am confident that many audiences will feel the same. It didn't bother me that this was not a musical; on the contrary, I liked that this film set itself apart from previous versions. One element that did not change was the ultimate theme of Cinderella: Dreams really can come true.

As a bonus, viewings of "Cinderella" are accompanied by Disney's much-talked-about short film, "Frozen Fever," based on the recent movie "Frozen." While I wasn't as big a fan of "Frozen" as some, this animated short was very funny, musical, and enjoyable to see before the film began.

Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

"Cinderella" is rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment writer out of Dallas. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and when he is not reviewing movies, Hayden works in film production. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are simple and straightforward. Don't like what he has to say. Let him know at hpittman87@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt. Enjoy the movies!


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