One of the things I love most about movies is their wonderful ability to take me to another world entirely, and while I love movies that make me think and ponder deep issues, sometimes I need a movie that will just tell me that everything will be alright. Movies where after a long quest for what's right, the heroes live happily ever after, and the evildoers end up utterly embarrased and defeated. Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella delivers this in spades. There are no modern reinterpretations. There are no politcal or social themes explored. There is no ambiguity between right and wrong. There are the good guys and the bad guys, and in the end "courage and kindness" conquers all. This is what makes the film so brilliant and refreshing.
Hands down, one of the best things about the movie is its visual beauty. The costumes are a spectacle of every color you can imagine. Cinderella's costumes are always simple and elegant, with her ballgown being absolutely gorgeous. The stepsisters always appear in dresses that are gaudy and almost revolting. The moment the stepmother appears, her sleek black dress practically screams, "I'm freaking evil and you all need to run away right now." The scene at the ball is an expansive delight of colorful costumes. Essentially, the costume department spared no expense, and every costume adds to the magic and theme of every scene.
The movie is not only filled with beautiful costumes, it is quite honestly filled with beautiful people as well. The entire cast perfectly portrays their characters, simple though they may be. Lily James captures Cinderella's purity and innocence, but she never comes across as naive or idealistic. She knows there's crap in the world, and she clearly shows a person that hasn't had it easy in life. But at the same time, she holds to her mother's words and ideals. She is still kind, courageous, and forgiving. Richard Madden does quite well with a role that was only a nameless, speechless drawing in the original. He has the over the top charm that Cinderella's Prince had in Into the Woods, but he also takes on a masculine sense of strength and duty. He has the same heart that Cinderella has, so the two clearly are perfect for each other in this magical, fairytale world. I already mentioned the stepmother above, but Cate Blanchett takes evil here and runs with it. She is sinister, conniving, and just downright rotten, and Blanchett plays it perfectly. Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother is the biggest standout in this cast, despite a small role. She was definitely welcome to more appearance than she had, but her scene still came across short and sweet. She probably brings more change to her character than anyone else in the cast by making her quirky and a bit of a mess. However, these changes work great with the film. I also have to give a shout out to the guy that played the Lizard/Footman. For having to play a lizard that gets magically turned into a footman and manage to come across as a sincere character, he does pretty well. Overall, everyone else in this cast was good as well. With a movie whose main characters are fairly two-dimensional, the supporting characters become pretty forgettable.
Overall, the movie worked because it knew what it was, and it went all the way with that. It wasn't trying to be Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh already proved that he can do Shakespeare anyway). It wasn't meant to win Best Picture. It was even meant to have deep characters. It was meant to be a beautiful, magical fairytale, and everything from the script, to the costumes, to the acting did that all the way. Because of this, the movie was a stellar success.