Watching Disney’s live action Cinderella was like a fun IMDB® game for me – so many familiar British actors! The kind you can kind of place but aren’t super famous enough to remember their actual names, even for me, whose brain houses all sorts of useless knowledge about movie trivia. For example, you have your Downton Abbey cast members in Cinderella (Lily James, aka Lady Rose), evil stepsister Dresilla (Sophie McShera, aka Daisy). Then you also have your Game of Thrones cast in the Prince (Robb Stark or in reality, Richard Madden) and the Captain (Nonso Anozie, a prince of Qarth). Oh and don’t forget Hayley Atwell as Cinderella’s mother (love her in Agent Carter!) and Ben Chaplin as her father (where has HE been?!)

Anyhow, I was quite proud of myself for recognizing everyone. Then of course there are all the powerhouse ACTORS, such as Cate Blanchett as the Stepmother, Helena Bonham-Carter as fairy godmother, Derek Jacobi as the King, and Stellan Skarsgård as the Duke. Quite impressive that Disney got all these serious actors to do a fairy tale and Kenneth Branagh to direct it (though I guess he’s forgone his Shakespearean films of late for big blockers like Thor).

About the movie itself? We are getting a preview of Disney’s plans for a series of live action films based on its animated versions and this is the first of those. Of course Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast is already much anticipated. I mistakenly thought Cinderella would also be a musical but aside from a bit of singing from the titular character, not much else. Not even Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo. Some disappointment on my part but I could tell that this was the darker moodier Cinderella story, if it’s even possible to make the ultimate fairy tale dark. Not really but Branagh did try. There was a definite effort to reduce the cheese factor but viewers will be pleased to know that like the animated version, Cinderella still has Gus Gus and the other mice as her only friends.

Before the audience even meets the Prince (his name isn’t Charming, it’s Kit) the movie gives a rather extensive back-story of how Ella became Cinderella. I didn’t really expect it but I kind of liked it because that’s one part of the tale that everyone knows but rarely sees unfold in any detail. I am pretty sure this is the only version where Cinderella’s mother has made a physical appearance. As she is dying, she tells Cinderella how she must always “be kind” and “have courage.” There’s the lesson of the movie for little girls everywhere! Ella and her father remain close after her mother’s death and it’s not until she is 16 years old before he remarries. Ella keeps her mother’s words close to heart as she loses her father and she rapidly becomes reduced to the role of housekeeper and servant in her father’s house. I don’t think I am the only one who was very tempted to tell Cinderella to grow a backbone and not stand for the bad treatment. It’s one thing to remain kind but another to be a complete pushover.

But at least, you get some sense of how Cinderella is trapped in her situation – she doesn’t want to leave her childhood home where she has many happy memories and she also has nowhere to go. Even though she is mainly optimistic, you do see how despondent she becomes at times. She never gets very angry but she also doesn’t just sing her worries away either. During one of these moments of frustration, she takes off with her horse and that’s when she runs into the Prince for the first time.

Since these days we really just cannot handle the idea of “love at first glance” or “dance”, the Prince does meet her before he dances with her at the ball. In fact he holds the ball just for her. There are some other attempts at additional character and plot twists by depicting the Prince’s close relationship with his father and the stepmother plotting with the Grand Duke against Cinderella. But don’t worry, despite Branagh’s efforts to add more gloom and depth, we’re still watching a fairy tale and we know how those end!

Lily James is undoubtedly pretty and sweet enough to be a good Cinderella. But I am sure Cate Blanchett had the best time as the Stepmother. This isn’t your grumpy old ugly Stepmother at all. This is an elegant and beautiful Stepmother who is as icy and manipulative as can be. She also had the most gorgeous outfits, much more so than the glowing blue of Cinderella’s ball gown or the comical colorful flounces of the stepsisters.

The special effects of today make the magical aspect of the story that much more “real.” The transformation scene is always the most fun and this one won’t disappoint you. I thought the glass slipper also looked like the result of digital altering but apparently, they were actually made from Swarovski crystals and only altered when pictured on Cinderella’s feet (since I guess you can’t wear crystal).

The entire movie captured that fairy tale feeling because it was so colorful, whether it was due to the costumes or the sets (Cinderella’s house pre-Stepmom sure looked like an idyllic country house out of a storybook).

Recommendation: really just for the girly girls, young and old (and guys who love girly movies)