Cinderella [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (22nd September 2015).
The Film

Although lushly mounted with Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair and a script by About a Boy's Chris Weitz, the live action version of Cinderella probably will not have the same shelf life as the 1950 original. Lily James and Richard Madden are attractive and give it their best shot, but are just cogs in an overly-familiar tale with no sense of their actions being determined by anything but the plot. Better showcased are the supporting cast (particularly Cate Blanchett's wicked stepmother and Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger as the stepsisters), the visuals, and the typically excellent Disney CGI from the pumpkin carriage (which expands beyond the confines of the greenhouse and actually incorporates the shattered glass and splintered metal) to the mouse-eared horses, humanoid goose coachman, and the creepy lizard footmen, as well as the seamless matching of practical sets with digital additions. Some additional intrigue is added into this version with the stepmother suspicious of Ella's reactions to the story of the mystery princess, discovering the slipper, and plotting with the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård). Although it really has no bearing on the trajectory of the story, the fleshing out of the stepmother's bitterness for first marrying for love and then remarrying for the sake of her daughters gives her a sense of humanity even as Blanchett looks the Disney villainess to the hilt in terms of make-up, hairstyling, wardrobe, and even the theatrical arching of her lithe figure (presumably no one thought there would be any Maleficent-esque story focusing on the stepmother, but Blanchett could pull it off if anyone could). Although the film hammers home the virtues of courage and kindness, Cinderella is still more beautiful and graceful (even dirty, in rags, and without perfectly-coiffed hair) than the stepsisters and passive when it is time for her rescue (which occurs through another character but at the prince's order). The only genuine surprise (or shock), and I'm not sure if it was intentional, is the way in which Madden's prince looks strikingly like Ella's father (Ben Chaplin) for just a moment before his final kiss with Ella before the camera cranes away.

Blanchett and Skarsgaard (in a role that Branagh himself probably would have played on a lower budget) have more chemistry in a single scene and a handful of shared glances than the two leads while Helena Bonham Carter's Fairy Godmother (who also narrates) is a disappointing, Tim Burton-esque caricature (à la Johnny Depp in Into the Woods) and Derek Jacobi manages to come across well in the least developed character. The real reason for anyone not brain dead to watch this Disney film is for its look. The production design of Dante Ferretti is gorgeous from the modest elegance of Ella's country home to the baroque palace which looks as impressive as anything Disney could animate. The costumes of Sandy Powell are also dependably gorgeous, but Cinderella's dress somehow manages to be a letdown amidst all of the flashier designs even though the simpler dress (though festooned with hundreds of Swarovski crystals) should be a standout in contrast. The sweeping cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos (who also lensed Branagh's Thor) is actually at its most impressive within Ella's household with its more intimate framing and elegant lighting rather than when rushing around the palace or swirling around the leads during their first dance. Although by no means badly-made, Disney's live-action Cinderella has a "been there, done that" air of the company reminding audiences who owns this classic fairy tale – it even has Bonham-Carter's fairy godmother uttering "Bippity Boppity Boo" – before some other company thinks to put their own spin on it.
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Video

As expected, Cinderella looks spectacular on Disney's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 encode thanks as much to their state-of-the-art encoding and authoring as the digitally-augmented "every blade of grass must be perfect" cinematography and color correction. Shot on 35mm with Panavision lenses, the image occasionally evokes classic Technicolor and makes purposeful use of barrel distortion with the floorboards of Ella's attic room, characters crossing the frame, and some camera pans and tracking shots, as well as emphasized focus breathing as the focus shifts from background to foreground in a number of shots.
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Audio

Audio comes in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. The 7.1 track is vivid from the very start as a bird swoops across the frame during the opening crane and tilt down from the sky. The surround track is alive throughout with nature sounds, the squeaks of Ella's mouse family lurking throughout the house, and rumble of her transforming coach after midnight. The French dub is of interest because the scene in which Ella demonstrates her fluency in French to her stepmother and pretentious stepsisters is in Italian here, and Drisella's "I speak French, not Italian!" becomes "I speak Italian, not Spanish!" An English Descriptive Audio track is also included in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.
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Extras

In "A Fairy Tale Comes to Life" (9:24), Branagh, the cast, and writer discuss the many iterations of the Cinderella story in different cultures including the primary Western sources (the Brothers Grimm story, the Charles Perrault telling, and the original Disney animated film) and how it is most relatable since anyone can have an inner fortitude and kindness in the story is a sort of superpower. The "Costume Test Fun" (2:39) is a montage of footage with the actors testing movement in the clothes and some light-hearted moments on the set. "Staging the Ball" featurette (11:26) looks at the construction of Ferretti's ballroom set on the 007 sound stage and its illumination by 2,500 real candles, Powell's costumes further augmented by hundreds of pieces of real jewelry from the Swarovski archive, the make-up and hair of the four hundred extras by fifty make-up artists and fifty hairstylists, as well as the dance and camera choreography. "Ella's Furry Friends" (3:43) looks at the live animals used in the film, including the goose, Lucifer the cat, and the mouse family which are real in many shots and CGI in others. James and Madden are also seen practicing their horse-riding. "Ella's Childhood" (3:02) is an alternate opening with an introduction by Branagh in which he explains that additional childhood scenes turned out to be unnecessary (the digital download version is supposed to feature another twelve minutes of additional scenes).
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"Frozen Fever" is an animated short (7:56) unrelated to the main feature (and I did not watch it lest there be the possibility of hearing "Let It Go" again). The DVD side of the package contains only the animals featurette and the short film.

Overall

If viewers can shut off their brains, there is much to savor visually in this expensive but not-particularly-memorable Disney blockbuster attempt.
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