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'Cinderella' review: Cast enlivens a gorgeous romance for tweens

Richard Madden as the prince and Lily James

Richard Madden as the prince and Lily James as Cinderella in Disney's 2015 retelling of the classic fairytale. Credit: Disney / Jonathan Olley

Walt Disney's animated "Cinderella" from 1950 has come to define not only the age-old fairy tale but the entire Disney brand. It's Cinderella (and Sleeping Beauty's) castle, after all, that graces Walt Disney World and appears at the start of every Walt Disney Pictures production. For many generations, "Cinderella" is one of those special movies that defines childhood itself.

The hand-painted classic is now a live-action remake, and another noticeable difference between the two films is their target audience. Where the original appealed to children, the new version appeals to preteen girls. Its focus is less on cute critters and more on worldly concerns, namely love and interpersonal relationships. What "Cinderella" sacrifices in innocent charm, however, it makes up for with romance, magic and grandeur.

"Cinderella" is brought to life by its cast, led by a radiant Lily James as Ella and a terrific Cate Blanchett as Stepmother (her only appellation), whose eyes dance with catlike cruelty. Sophie McShera (like James, a "Downton Abbey" alumna) and Holliday Grainger play the stepsisters Drisella and Anastasia -- high-school bullies in bustles. The Prince, nicknamed Kit and played by Richard Madden, makes for a likable trophy.

Kenneth Branagh directs like an old master from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and he reaches his peak when the story does, at the Prince's ball. It's a gorgeous sequence, full of swirling gowns and pirouetting camerawork, all of it kicked off by a lovely close-up: the prince's gloved hand sliding around Ella's waist. It's a small detail, enhanced by just the whisper of touching fabrics, and it crackles with intimacy and anticipation.

The new "Cinderella" puts away some childish things. There's little time for Ella to play with twittering birdies and chattering mousies (although the hefty rodent Gus-Gus does get his moment). The musical numbers are gone, too, acknowledged by a few "bibbidi-bobbidi-boos" from Helena Bonham Carter as the kooky Fairy Godmother. The king is no longer a bouncy blusterer but an ailing patriarch, poignantly played by Derek Jacobi. Stellan Skarsgård's Grand Duke adds a bit of high-court intrigue.

Beautifully written by Chris Weitz ("About a Boy"), "Cinderella" isn't just a re-enactment of the original film but an enrichment. For Disney fans, it could be another treasure worth cherishing.

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