Cinderella is my least favorite Disney princess. I always held a steadfast disapproval toward her, along with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, for her “someday my prince will come” attitude. In a time of kickass princesses like warrior Mulan, stubborn Ariel, and clever Belle, I could not find the appeal of a pretty girl sitting at home waiting for a man- or a fairy godmother- to come and rescue her. The only thing Cinderella ever did was look pretty and cry until, by the flick of a magic wand, all her dreams came true.
Ella’s story is heartbreaking, sure: two loving and devoted parents dying young and leaving her with a resentful stepmother and two bratty stepsisters. But Ella never once resisted their mistreatment of her, carrying out all the household duties and taking daily abuse without argument. If she was so miserable, why didn’t she just leave? Why did she sleep in the cinders and live on table scraps for people who weren’t even her family? Why shouldn’t a nice ,beautiful girl with endless possibilities go make a life for herself?
The 2015 revamp of Cinderella answered my inquiries. Ella was brave, but in a more subtle way that doesn’t strike us like a daughter taking her father’s place in battle or a sheltered princess running away to the poverty-stricken streets. One of the recurring lines in the film was Ella’s mother’s dying words to her daughter: “Have courage and be kind.” Ella demonstrated courage not by slapping her bitter stepmother or useless stepsisters back, but by doing exactly the opposite. By taking the constant abuse and answering with a smile, by staying kind and good even while being beaten down constantly. This was an example of courage that is not emphasized often enough, in a time when quick-witted heroines who can shoot a gun (and look good doing it) are the representatives for strong females. Cinderella made it quite clear that kind women can be strong without roundhouse kicking out all their problems.
Lily James was flawless as Ella, and it was amusing to see her in a role alongside fellow Downton Abbey cast member Sophie McShera, who played her stepsister, Drizella. Helena Bonham Carter didn’t disappoint as the slightly scatterbrained fairy godmother in the entertaining transformation scene that altered a pumpkin into a carriage, lizards into footmen, and mice into horses. (Then again, when has Helena Bonham Carter ever disappointed?) The real star of the show, however, was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother. In a role that can easily be interpreted as a caricature of evil and cruelty, Blanchett managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of making Lady Tremaine human. One scene reveals the origins of the stepmother’s hate towards Ella, and Blanchett played it with an air of grace and tact.
Cinematography-wise, Cinderella was breathtaking, with vibrant colors and whimsical sets reminiscent of those of Nanny McPhee. The scene at the royal ball was spectacular, perfectly choreographed and full of stunning dresses. There was one shot of Ella and Kit (Prince Charming, played by Richard Madden) while they were dancing that had the camera going in a circular pan around them as the music crescendoed. Chills.
Costuming was also extraordinary, featuring fashions that could almost be described as gaudy; the unbelievably over the top dresses that stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia squeeze themselves into for the ball even elicited laughs from the audience. Ella’s iconic blue dress was upgraded for this remake, with a shockingly vivid shade that could only be accomplished through CGI. It looked perfect in the ballroom scene, prominent even among hundreds of other colorful dresses.
The interesting thing about the Cinderella remake, however, is the fact that it’s not really a remake. Of course, the live actors and computer generated mice make it feel a little more modern, but I find it fascinating that while dozens of adaptations are being made of fairy tales with new twists, this movie adhered absolutely to the classic animated Disney storyline from 1950. We’ve all seen the examples of “modern day” Cinderella, flicks like Another Cinderella Story featuring Selena Gomez losing her MP3 player rather than a glass slipper. But Cinderella proved that sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. Cinderella has been a treasured Disney princess for 65 years now, and no amount of hip hop remakes will reshape the vision of a beautiful girl in a blue dress fleeing a palace as the clock strikes midnight.
I should note that there was a little girl in the theater wearing a full Cinderella costume, complete from the blue dress to sparkly plastic shoes, generations after the first Cinderella film was released. There’s something to be said for a princess who can be that important to a five or six year old even today, when all of us are spoon-fed the ideal that girl power means being tough and never crying. Not all of us will be charging into battle against the Huns, but we can all learn to have courage, and be kind.