This fairytale needed less tale and more fairy dust. Directed (by Kenneth Branagh) with the kind of British stodginess you get from Masterpiece Theatre, the movie takes forever to get going, has a couple of bang-up scenes along the way, and ends happily ever after… after taking small children (presumably one of the target audiences) and the rest of us through the deaths of three separate parents, two of them lingering. Talky and slow, it also asks much of the lead actress, whose physical affect on screen falls short in both external beauty and inner glow. We are asked to believe that Lily James would not only make the toothpaste-ad-handsome Prince (another problematic casting) fall in love with her at first sight — but also that she would strike a ballroom filled with hundreds if not a thousand revelers into shocked silence by her ostensibly ravishing entrance. (Admittedly, the gown is lovely.) Evil Stepmother Cate Blanchette chews the scenery, or what’s left of it after her ugly daughters get their fill. Fairy Godmother Helena Bonham Carter is more captivating as an old crone prior to her transformation into a ditsy, unfunny spell caster. In fact, a sense of humor, or at least playfulness, may be what’s most missed in this retelling. And only in the two relatively brief carriage sequences do we get what we love these stories for: pure magic. Changing a pumpkin into a coach, a goose into its driver, lizards into footmen and mice into horses had me finally sit up and enjoy myself. Even more so when the clock strikes midnight — as the finery turns back into animals and plant. Otherwise, it’s just a dutiful ticking off of Cinderella’s story points, with sumptuous if stuffy sets and process shots that reminded me of the Storybook ride at Disneyland. For the most part, the movie avoids the by-now-obligatory feminism of Disney’s animated heroines; it’s pretty straightforward. But where’s the sense of wonder? — Jeff Schultz

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