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'Cinderella' movie review -- 3.5 stars

Lily James stars in

Lily James stars in "Cinderella." Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley

It's clear that Disney is now in the business of taking all of its animated classics and turning them into live-action films.

Following last year's mediocre "Sleeping Beauty" riff, "Maleficent," comes director Kenneth Branagh's excellent take on "Cinderella." And in coming year's you'll be getting "Beauty and the Beast" with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens and "Dumbo" from director Tim Burton. If "Cinderella" is any indicator of what's possible, count me in.

The story here is pretty much the same as the 1950 cartoon -- sans the songs -- with a few adjustments that shouldn't rustle any feathers with serious fans. A young girl is left to live with her wicked stepmother and horrible stepsisters, and with the help of her fairy godmother, gets a fancy dress, a glass slipper and meets the prince. You know all this, right?

With any costume period drama, there's always a chance it will be, let's be honest, boring. They can often get mired in dense language or excessive world building shown over slow tracking shots. It can all get in the way of storytelling.

With a brisk script from Chris Weitz ("About a Boy") and well-paced direction by Branagh, "Cinderella" is a wonderful family film with some excellent performances, including Lily James ("Downton Abbey") in the title role and Cate Blanchett as her stepmother.

The film is incredibly playful, from Cinderella's interaction with her mice friends to the magical Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) turning the animals and squash in the backyard into a glorious golden chariot with a little bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.

And the movie has heart. James is a lovely lead, imparting sincere warmth and an unflappable nature to Cinderella. Blanchett's Stepmother, meanwhile, is pure, delicious evil.

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