Lily James of "Downton Abbey" fame plays Cinderella.
The war for Hollywood's soul is lost. It was lost a long time ago.
Critics and audiences have griped for more than 20 years as sequels, remakes and franchise extensions proliferated, and today the global industry is more dependent than ever on familiar properties, familiar titles, familiar characters. When a live-action Cinderella emerges under the Disney banner, there's no point pounding our fists and asking why.
In theory, it's not a terrible notion that director Kenneth Branagh's version would be an earnest, straightforward retelling of the fairy tale. The screenplay is a bright, cheery interpretation, built around plucky Cinderella's determination to follow her mother's deathbed advice to "have courage and be kind."
Fidelity isn't inherently a problematic approach. The problem with this version is that it is faithful only to certain things at the expense of the things that would have brought the whole enterprise to life. This version is just about the humans: about Cinderella (Lily James) and her first meeting in the woods with a fellow who calls himself Kit (Richard Madden) but is in fact the crown prince; about Kit trying to convince his father, the king (Derek Jacobi), that he should be allowed to marry for love; about the courtship at the ball. It's almost entirely a nice, slow-build romance between two very nice people.
It is, therefore, almost entirely a huge bore. Those who remember Disney's animated Cinderella will recall that the amount of screen time actually devoted to the human characters is relatively small; the focus is on Cinderella's animal friends, like mice Jacques and Gus, trying to help her out. And when the focus is on the human characters, it's often accompanied by the lovely songs like "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," "So This Is Love" and "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo." CGI versions of the mice make brief appearances here -- not that anyone would be eager to see a more prominent role for CGI mice -- and the songs are entirely absent. In short, somebody thought it was a good idea to re-create a version of Disney's Cinderella lacking everything that gave it its charm.
We get a brief glimpse of what's wrong with the film when Helena Bonham Carter shows up as Cinderella's fairy godmother, goofing her way through prosthetic teeth to do the obligatory pumpkin-into-carriage and fancy-ballgown thing. Finally a sparks emerges to distract from the inexorable march toward happily ever after.