RATING |

PRINCESSES.

Women run companies. Run for president. Yet the market for magical rags-to-royalty stories about distressed damsels in gowns grows and grows.

For this, we can thank Disney. The Mouse long ago put the princess on a pedestal - then took it to the bank.

With "Cinderella," the studio continues to cash in. Their live-action fairy tale sells to its loyal, tiara-wearing audience. This time, it also offers relief to those of us exhausted of Elsa and her electric-blue onslaught.

Plot's the same. Director Kenneth Branagh's cast, other than Helena Bonham Carter as Fairy Godmother and savvy princely sidekick Nonso Anozie, basically doubles for that of the 1950 animated film.

The message, too, is practically identical: "Have courage, and be kind."

The difference? The look.

The live-action fairytale offers a lush, idyllic, almost Impressionistic setting, a verdant magical kingdom that's a little bit "Downton Abbey," a little bit "Hunger Games." The wallpaper alone provides spa-like escape from cartoon buffoonery.

(Then again, the seven-minute "Frozen Fever" precedes each showing of "Cinderella." The short is cute. Still, the appearance of new dresses for the Arendelle sisters and dozens of subtly malevolent snowmen stuffies will make parental wallets constrict in fear.)

Lily James (Cousin Rose in "Downton Abbey") and Richard Madden (Robb Stark in "Game of Thrones") believably, nobly dominate the moral high ground. James reveals her dulcet singing voice once or twice. ("Downton" fans take note: the ever-caroling Lady Mary would be miffed.)

Madden flashes deep-sea baby blues and teeth whiter than his tights. He also hugs his dad.

Stepmother Cate Blanchett steals each scene, not just because she has the best clothes and absolutely sculptural ginger hair. It's because the camera lingers on her, squeezing out every ounce of experience and credibility from the veteran actor. We get it, Branagh. She's a good one.

Mostly, though, the tale's two hours of visual pleasures, include tweedle-y dumb and dumber stepdaughters (one is Sophie McShera, "Daisy" of "Downton"), friendly farm animals (Gus, the mouse, included), slightly horrifying iridescent heels and a massive, glittering sky blue ball gown to match.

Naturally, Disney Stores sell the dresses in child sizes for $199 a pop. As for those heels, Jimmy Choo's interpretations (adult sizes only) go for $4,595 a pair.

 
On Twitter: @LaMcCutch