Pure of heart and wildly entertaining

It was not without a bit of understandable trepidation that I went into this live-action version of one of Disney’s prototypical princess pictures (the 1950 animation), and I was shocked, I tell you, shocked—to find myself enjoying it. It’s a simple story, well told, and quite lovely.

The colorful cinematography is a delight to behold. Ditto the costume and production design. The excellent special effects, aside from the one dazzling, almost mandatory pumpkin-to-coach sequence, serve to support the story. And best of all: no songs! Or pop culture in-jokes!

Downton Abbey’s Lily James does the title honors with guilelessness and intelligence. Opposite her, Richard Madden is suitably valorous and, um, charming. Good chemistry. A major casting plus playing the wicked stepmother is Cate Blanchett, who can express worlds with one raised eyebrow. Also Derek Jacobi, Stellan Scarsgard and an underused Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother.

Shakespearean director Kenneth Branagh (okay, he also did Thor), strikes a nice balance between fantasy and reality, creating something old yet new, more a revitalization rather than a reimagining (like Maleficient or Into the Woods). Pure of heart, unabashedly sincere and wildly entertaining. Uncle Walt would approve. (105 min)