CINDERELLA Proof that Cate Blanchett can make absolutely anything interesting.

OF ALL THE DISNEY PRINCESSES, Cinderella is the most problematic. While a regular woman may need a man like a fish needs a bicycle, Cinderella not only needs magic to extricate herself from a terrible situation—but a prince as well. That said, the original 1950 Disney animated version is occasionally funny and romantic. It's princess porn for sure, but not without entertainment value.

However, there's no getting around the central failing of the story: If Cinderella's evil stepfamily are such biznatches, why is she so... NICE?

The live-action version of Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh (!), attempts to answer that question while providing the princess porn Disney Corp. demands. There are no huge storyline changes—the major shift comes from the overwhelming number of dead parents. The film begins with Cinderella's dying mother invoking the necessity of being "kind and courageous." When her father perishes as well (and later, Prince Charming's dad, too??) "being kind" becomes a grieving mechanism—a tribute and a promise to her fallen parents.

It's an interesting approach, especially when Cinderella's kindness runs headlong into a delightfully cold Lady Tremaine (a brilliant Cate Blanchett) and her ditzy daughters. The interest level wanes when Cinderella meets her fairy godmother (the increasingly annoying Helena Bonham Carter) and attends the royal ball. But watching animals turn into footmen and a coach driver is fun, Cinderella (Lily James) is bright-eyed and winsome, and Prince Charming (Richard Madden) is hot. It may not be suitable reparations for the animated version, but Cinderella does take baby steps toward restoring humanity to the character. (Plus, when all those parents die? There won't be a single child who isn't openly sobbing.)