Cinderella

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2015)

There are no surprises in this sweet, stately and straight-forward fairytale which Disney intends to be universally accepted the definitive version.

A non-revisionist extension of the Disney brand, it begins with once upon a time and ends happily ever after.

Unlike Disney’s earlier folklore forage this year Into The Woods or last year’s Maleficent which added a different perspective to European fairytales, Cinderella adds nothing new. Renaming Prince Charming as Kit is as far as reinvention goes.

Instead it’s determinedly old-fashioned, resolutely traditional telling of the tale; majestic, confident, warm and enchanting. At it’s centre is a message of how important it is to have courage and be kind.

With the magical assistance of her fairy godmother, the put-upon Cinderella is saved from an unjust life of drudgery by her handsome Prince Charming.

From cast to costumes to carriages, it is astonishingly beautiful, taking sumptuous pleasure in the smallest detail and director Brannagh keeps the pace steady enough to enjoy them.

Following the death of her wealthy father, Cinderella (Lily James) is left at the mercy of her icy stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and spoilt step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera).

Tremaine is a black-hearted widow who is deeply disappointed with life, as wasp-tongued as Cinders is wasp-waisted,

Our heroine is forced to sleep in attic and performs all the household chores. Her only friends are four animated cute and charming mice.

While out riding she meets the dashing Prince Kit (Richard Madden) and both pretend to be other than they are. Both are smitten but called away to their duties.

The dying King (Derek Jacobi) orders Kit to find a wife to provide an heir and protect the future of the Kingdom. So Kit holds a fabulous ball and demands attendance of all the maidens in the land, noble or common.

Barred from attending by her step-mother, Cinder’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) appears.

She turns a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses and lizards into footmen. Cinders dons a pair of glass slippers and is off to the ball – but of course only until midnight when the magic will wear off.

Meeting each other on the dance floor, Kit and Cinderella are a handsome pair, not wildly exciting but pleasant with graceful dance moves – expect copycat routines on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Cinderella’s race to return home is the most fun part of the film. It’s an exciting, energetic and humorous race against time.

Bonham Carter has fun as the fairy godmother and Jacobi adds acting gravitas as the King.

Rob Brydon appears briefly and manages to be funny and outstay his welcome, neatly encapsulating his entire career in a cameo.

Production Designer Dante Ferretti provides an astonishing wealth of detail amid glorious sets, extravagant furnishings giving texture to the fairytale world.

Costume Designer Sandy Powell dresses the cast in fabulous clothes and uniforms. Their heightened colours offer a promise of magic.

With many gasps, groans, giggles and growls padding out the vocal performances, the dialogue is far less imaginative than the design. It’s regularly abandoned in favour of the music of composer Patrick Boyle.

While his orchestral score swells and falls like Cinderella’s corseted bosom, Branagh delivers a series of sweeping camera moves that reveal yet more opulent design.

Dubbing for international markets seem to at the forefront of the film’s construction which opens and begins with a voice over.

The actors finish their lines with open mouths and the editing and direction provide an unusual amount of speaking off-camera. It’s a wonder they didn’t go full Leone and put cigars in everyones mouths to disguise the lip movement.

Disney of course have their own 1950 animated version which the script acknowledges with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo as the Fairy Godmother casts her spells.

But this is not just a movie, it’s an irresistible cavalry charge of cultural colonisation. The House of Mouse have mobilised their creative heavy armaments to annex the world of Cinderella and indisputably incorporate it as part of the Disney Empire. Having claimed forever the rich, fertile and lucrative source material, they’ll sweat the asset in due course.

It’s no surprise Cinderella’s mice play a pivotal role in the finale.

Preceded by a short featuring the characters from Frozen which is either utterly amazing or annoyingly entertaining depending on your view of that massively successful film.

The end of Cinderella shows the newly wed royal couple being presented on a snowy balcony to an adoring public with snow-clad mountains in the background.

Unless I’ve missed a memo and this is old news, it seems as if Disney are tying the two films together in a continuous universe, not unlike Disney’s rmega-franchises; Marvel and Star Wars, with Kit and Cinderella the parents of Elsa and Anna.

This lends Frozen some of Cinderella’s folklore resonance and makes the more staid Cinderella more palatable to the little ones.

As strong and monumental as this film is, even in playful homage it’s always dangerous to reference your cinematic betters – as Cinderella does with a throwaway ‘As you wish.’

Into The Woods

Director: Rob Marshall (2014)

Disney embraces the dark side in this dazzling big budget live-action adaption of the award-winning magical musical fairytale.

Based on the stories of the Brothers Grimm, the wicked lyrics of songwriting maestro Stephen Sondheim are performed by an all-star cast on top form.

Plus as great sets and costumes boost the sometimes uninspired direction, it all makes for a spooky and frequently funny fantasy.

Once upon a time, a baby-stealing witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed the house of a poor baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) so they cannot conceive a baby.

Corden and Blunt share a bickering chemistry and play commendably straight which allows the more fantastical characters to showboat.

Streep indulges herself with may a shriek and cackle as the witch who is also under a spell, forcing the couple to help her before she will lift their curse.

They must go into the woods to find a white cow, a golden slipper, a red cape and some yellow hair before the full moon in three days’ time.

On the way, they meet familiar characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, played by an astonishingly confident and scene-stealing teenage Lilla Crawford.

She is of course preyed upon by the big bad wolf, an excellent Johnny Depp in an extended cameo.

There’s also Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), Jack of the beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) giants, ghosts and some golden eggs, Anna Kendrick is pitch perfect as Cinderella.

She is pursued by a a philandering Prince (Chris Pine). He’s wonderfully vain, self-centred and thoroughly enjoys himself delivering the funniest song and the best line.

Proving you should be careful what you wish for there are betrayals, mutilations and deaths as well as some unpardonably poor parenting.

As greed is punished and bravery and honesty win out, you won’t fail to be charmed by this wonderful tale’s dark magic.

★★★★☆