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Kenneth Branagh Directs Live-Action Version Of 'Cinderella' For Disney


Well, let's talk about Disney then. This weekend, it's looking to cast a spell with a new live-action version of its classic "Cinderella."


LILY JAMES: (As Cinderella) (Singing) A dream is a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep.

MONTAGNE: The studio's dream is that "Cinderella" sweeps the box office just like the live-action "Alice" and "Maleficent" did before her. Disney is aiming to make $100 million at the global box office over its opening weekend. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, it's yet another effort to capitalize on the popularity of princesses.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Once upon a time in 1950, Disney made a "Cinderella" classic. Its new version has many of the same elements. Two mean stepsisters - check.


SOPHIE MCSHERA: (As Drisella) Cinderwench.

HOLLIDAY GRAINGER: (As Anastasia) Dirty Ella (laughter).

MCSHERA: (As Drisella) Cinderella, that's what we'll call you.

DEL BARCO: A wicked stepmother - check.


CATE BLANCHETT: (As Stepmother) You shall not go to the ball.

DEL BARCO: A fairy godmother - check.


HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Fairy Godmother) Bippity, boppity, boo.

DEL BARCO: And, of course, there's the blue gown, the glass slipper, the handsome prince, the ball, the getting back before midnight - check, check, check, check, check. Director Kenneth Branagh says he wanted his live-action "Cinderella" to stay true to the spirit of Disney's cartoon.

KENNETH BRANAGH: Which meant we would continue to be flamboyant and sumptuous. We'd be very colorful. We would create castles and forests and picnics and balls in as vibrant as way as possible. But the real reason to do it again was to find in "Cinderella" a heroine who might speak a little more directly for and to the 21st century.


HAYLEY ATWELL: (As Cinderella's mother) Have courage and be kind.

DEL BARCO: That is the mantra of this new movie, whose characters have back stories explaining why they are the way they are, much like other recent fairytale retellings. Branagh says his "Cinderella" is neither a damsel in distress nor a pushover.

BRANAGH: It seemed to me that if you could find a way to make kindness and goodness a kind of superpower and still intelligent and witty and sexy and fun and all the things that you hope other people can be as well then you'd have a Cinderella who is new and different.

DEL BARCO: The "Cinderella" fairytale goes back to at least the 17th century. On the big screen, her story's been told dozens of times, portrayed more recently by Drew Barrymore, Hillary Duff, Selena Gomez and Anna Kendrick. In 1997, Disney cast R&B Brandy Norwood as the princess with pop diva Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother.

PEGGY ORENSTEIN: Back then, they were pitching it as this new era of multicultural Disney.

DEL BARCO: Peggy Orenstein is the author of the best-selling book "Cinderella Ate My Daughter."

ORENSTEIN: It's been roughly 20 years and the hoopla about the first black Disney princess is long over. And look, we're back to that same old white, skinny, blonde, blue-eyed girl.

DEL BARCO: Orenstein rails against the company's merchandising machine, which now includes a plastic glass slipper for $24.95, a $200 Cinderella tea set, limited edition costumes, makeup and fashion dolls. It's a sort of consumerism and obsession with princesses that prompted Orenstein to write her book.

ORENSTEIN: The kind of massive attempt to sell, you know, whatever they can slap Cinderella onto - it's just the brainwashing level of merchandise.

DEL BARCO: Visit most school playgrounds, like Marvin Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, and you'll see girls wearing princess T-shirts, accessories and backpacks and singing along with Disney's heroines. Here, 9-year-old Leila Hernandez says she has high hopes for the new "Cinderella."

LEILA: She is so pretty, like sparkling star.

DEL BARCO: You think it's going to be like "Frozen."

LEILA: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: Or better than "Frozen."

LEILA: Better than "Frozen."

DEL BARCO: Beating the Oscar-winning musical cartoon is a tall order. And in fact, before each screening of "Cinderella," Disney is playing its new "Frozen" featurette. This week, the studio announced it's making "Frozen 2." It's also rebooting "Beauty And The Beast." If they can sell enough tickets and tiaras, they'll all live happily ever after.


JAMES: (As Cinderella) (Singing) The dream that you wish will come true.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition,, and
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