'Cinderella': The new live-action version of the fairy tale never soars

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Cinderella' stars Lily James and Richard Madden are charming without being bland, but the movie is more of an illustrated storybook of a cherished classic than a living thing in its own right.

Jonathan Olley/Disney/AP
'Cinderella' stars Lily James.

Not only is Disney’s “Cinderella” not animated, but, in this digital era, it was also shot on actual film. Hurray! In many ways, the movie is pleasantly old-school, even if this material is beyond familiar.

When it comes to fairy tales, familiarity is, of course, the point. The trick is to make enough tweaks in the story line to provoke surprise without going all modernist on us. Unless, of course, you’re Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine creating “Into the Woods,” for which the revamping is the whole raison d’être.

“Cinderella,” directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Chris Weitz, has nowhere near the dark inventiveness of “Into the Woods,” which was recently and triumphantly made into a movie, but it has its traditional pleasures. As Cinderella, Lily James (from “Downton Abbey”) is charming without being bland, not easy to do. Ditto her prince (Richard Madden). Some of the supporting players, most resplendently Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother and Derek Jacobi as the ailing king, are very fine. The film never soars, though, and the result is more of an illustrated storybook of a cherished classic than a living thing in its own right. Grade: B- (Rated PG for mild thematic elements.)

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