'Cinderella' remake offers some of that old Disney magic, reviews say

Reviews say Kenneth Branagh's live-action 'Cinderella' is an old-school Disney delight

Following in the footsteps of the revisionist fantasy "Maleficent," Disney's new "Cinderella" movie has arrived — clad in glass slippers, of course — as the studio's latest live-action fairy tale.

But while "Maleficent" turned "Sleeping Beauty" on its head by telling the villainess' side of the story, director Kenneth Branagh's take on "Cinderella" is perhaps most radical for its heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity. Reviews say the movie is unabashedly old-fashioned (with a few contemporary touches), and overall it's a ball.

The Times' own Betsy Sharkey writes: "As pure of heart as its heroine, 'Cinderella' floats across the screen like a gossamer confection, full of elegant beauty and quiet grace. No sly asides, no double entendres and nary a hint of modern-day gender politics dilute this poetically, if not prophetically, imagined storybook fable embraced in toto by director Kenneth Branagh. If you can content yourself with a little enchantment and little enlightenment, 'Cinderella' succeeds."

Sharkey adds that "Downton Abbey" star Lily James gives Cinderella an "inner glow," Cate Blanchett is "wonderfully wicked as her evil stepmother, and Branagh "is the wizard in charge of all this magic, and he uses his wand judiciously."

USA Today's Claudia Puig says the movie "almost makes you believe in magic. The oft-told story has a surprisingly fresh exuberance. Nearly everything … is charmingly conveyed, while still faithful to the 1950 animated classic. Most of all, it's a visual treat."

If the film "doesn't have the catchy songs of 'Enchanted' or the witty dialogue of 'The Princess Bride,'" Puig says, it nonetheless "enthralls with its ravishing style and timeless message of resilience, decency and kindness triumphing over evil."

The Associated Press' Jocelyn Noveck agrees that the movie is an old-school charmer. She writes, "In this age of revisionist, modernized Disney fairytales, … the striking thing about the studio's sumptuous new live-action 'Cinderella' may not be what it is, but what it isn't. It isn't revisionist. It isn't modernized." What it is, though, is "touching, visually stunning, and very satisfying."

Branagh, Noveck says, "sticks to tried-and-true narrative formula, and infuses it with wit and style. If the glass slipper ain't broke, he seems to be saying, why fix it?"

The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips finds the new "Cinderella" to be "refreshingly free of all snark" and declares costume designer Sandy Powell "the real star of this project." But Phillips has plenty of kudos to go around: James and Weitz were both "first-rate" choices, Derek Jacobi's supporting turn as the king is the movie's "secret weapon," and Branagh is "terrific with actors."

Phillips adds, "It's pleasing to come away from a movie such as 'Cinderella' having felt something for, and with, the archetypes on the screen."

Some critics have proved resistant to "Cinderella's" spell, however. Among them is the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, who says the movie "spares nothing in the way of color, texture and rich visual value, but rarely manages to quicken its own pulse or that of the audience."

In spite of its "gossamer, gauze, filigree and refinement," Hornaday says, "'Cinderella' drags when it should skip as lightly as its title character when she's late getting home from the ball."

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