Posted on March 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence, tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: March 13, 2015
Date Released to DVD: September 14, 2015 ASIN: B00UI5CTE2
Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

Here’s what’s magical — a fairy tale told in 2015 that is true to the spirit of the classic story by Charles Perrault but is still fresh and real despite the dozens of re-imaginings and the seismic shifts in culture in more than a century since it was first published.

Director Sir Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have done just that, and the result is enchanting. Recent post-modern versions like Drew Barrymore’s “Ever After” and Anne Hathaway’s “Ella Enchanted,” deftly took on the question of why Cinderella stayed in a home that had become abusive and added a bit of “Shrek”-style post-modern air quotes. But as its title suggests, this version of “Cinderella” is fundamentally traditional, neither po- nor mo-, and entirely comfortable as a fairy tale.

They get a lot of help from the design team including triple-Oscar winners Sandy Powell on costumes and Dante Ferretti on the sets and overall look of the film. This is Disney at its Disney-rific best, a magical setting so arrestingly imaginative and comprehensively envisioned that it is easy to imagine that it is a peek into a gloriously gorgeous world that really exists, if we could just find out way to it. And Ella herself is a winning heroine, kind and wise.

For a fairy tale, though, the actual magic is pretty limited. In the early scenes, magic would be superfluous, as Ella lives a real-life happier and more filled with love than any wish could grant. Her doting parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin) make her feel cherished and understood. Her natural sweetness is enchantment enough, and the world around her seems safe and understandable.

But her mother becomes ill, and has just time to give Ella one piece of advice before she is gone: kindness and courage will bring her anything she needs. It is her natural generosity and her wish to obey her mother as well as her longing for family that lead her to stay with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), and simpering, mean girl stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), after her father’s death.

We get a brief glimpse of what is behind Lady Tremaine’s misery and why she takes it out on Ella, but this is no revisionist “Maleficent.” Lady Tremaine may be more angry and desperate than evil but she is all villain here as she insults and humiliates Ella and forces her to wait on her spoiled, arrogant stepsisters.

When her kindness is met with cruelty, Ella does not know what to do. And then, just when she is utterly devastated at being left behind on the night of the prince’s ball, her mother’s dress torn to shreds. Her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) appears just in time to transform the servant girl into a radiant princess. The special effects for the transformation are dazzling, especially the pumpkin coach and the lizards and mice who become her human attendants. No more magic is needed after that. She’s on the way to happily ever after.

Be sure to arrive on time as before the film there is a seven-minute mini-sequel to “Frozen,” complete with new song, and it is pure joy. I won’t spoil it; I’ll just say that when Elsa gets a cold, she has very funny frozen sneezes.

Parents should know that this film includes sad parental deaths and an abusive stepmother.

Family discussion: Why did Ella allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Why didn’t Ella’s fairy godmother come back to help her again? How can you show courage and kindness?

If you like this, try: other versions of the story including Disney’s animated “Cinderella,” “Ella Enchanted,” and “Ever After”

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