This post originally appeared on my personal blog. After some prodding, I decided to repost it here.
I am not a fan of Cinderella. I never have been, and probably never will be, but the reasons for that distaste seem to be changing as I grow older, and reflect on my early opinions.
Yes, I reflect on fairy tales. If you haven’t figured out the strangeness of my thought processes yet, you haven’t been paying attention.
But back to Cinderella …
When I was a kid, watching the original Disney film, I had a lot of trouble identifying with the story, the situations, and yes, with Cinderella herself. I thought for a very long time that this was because the movie is anti-feminist, but it really isn’t. Sure it’s not as obviously feminist as recent films like Brave or Frozen, but for a film that came out at the start of women’s lib, it has plenty of messages about making your own decisions, and having agency over your life.
Cinderella is actually surprisingly feminist herself. She defies her step-mother’s authority on multiple occasions, is enterprising enough to make a dress (with some help from the household pests), she views all creatures as equal, making clothes for the new mice and introducing them to the rest of her little brood, and when she gets the chance to wish for anything, she knows exactly what she wants, isn’t afraid to ask for it, and then follows her dreams even though it could be dangerous. I think that’s more than most of us could say.
So the question remains: why don’t I like Cinderella? Why did I never want to be a princess as a kid, never want to find my Prince Charming, or to get dressed up and go to a ball, or to meet my fairy godmother who could help lift me out of my personal Purgatory? Why, even though I’ve spent my life in love with fantasy stories did I feel nothing for what many consider one of the most magical films Disney has created? I think the answer is simple. There are different kinds of happy endings, and this isn’t mine. In fact, the happy ending is the part I care least about.
I prefer the stories of Beauty and the Beast or Tangled. Stories where, if they have magic, that magic is secondary to the driving force of adventure and daring. Cinderella has always lacked that idea of adventure for adventure’s sake. Cinderella needs to escape her life just as much as those heroines, but she isn’t bored of her existence like Belle or Rapunzel, she’s suffocated and abused by it. Love is her adventure, and it’s enough for her to find that, and to find release than to have a grand story to tell.
All this serves as a long preamble to what I’m really here to discuss, which is the new film, the handful of changes they seem to have made to the story, and why I’m actually a little excited for Cinderella for the first time since I was 5.
First thing’s first, let’s talk trailers, because this is where I noticed the change. The first trailer they released for the film framed it as a straight live-action retelling of the original Disney film. There were added bits (all the stuff with her mom, played by a blonde Hayley Atwell), and minor updates, but for the most part, it was Disney’s Cinderella 60 years later. Then they released the newest trailer, and suddenly things changed. Let’s compare. Here’s a look at both:
I will protect the Prince ….
Let’s start with the obvious “girl power” change from the original story: Cinderella’s vow to “protect the Prince” from her step-mother, no matter what it means for her. This is actually the change that is least interesting to me, because it feels like the least they could do. It’s very easy to inject this kind of feminist approach, because it’s just a line of dialogue, and one that other retellings of the same fairy tale have already used. It’s actually the actions that precede and prompt this defense of the prince that interest me most.
Everyone likes a good villain, and Cinderella’s step-mother has always had the potential to be a great one, she just lacked real threat. While she’s obviously supposed to be the villain of the original Disney movie, she’s mostly just mean. Sure, she’s power hungry, and she’s on a mission to get herself and her family more power by marrying her daughter, but they stop shy of really making her a formidable villain.
This new film, at least from the looks of things, seems to be taking it a step further. She’s not just power hungry but manipulative and conniving. They add into the mix whatever advisor-type character Stellan Skarsgard is playing to act as a coconspirator, and the combination creates a real feeling of menace. I’m actually intrigued by the character, and the kind of threat she could turn out to be. After all, Cinderella vows to protect the Prince from her.
Prince with a Story
Speaking of Prince Charming, this one looks like he’ll be more than just a set piece. He’s got a story! It’s odd to say that a movie becomes more interesting when the main male character gets more agency, but in this case that’s very true. The original film offered us no reason to care about the Prince, no reason to want he and Cinderella to be together beyond his ability to get her out of her situation. By giving the Prince a story and a circumstance of his own to escape, you actually add not just to his character, but to hers. Gone (hopefully) is the idea that the moral of the story is to marry rich, and highlighted is the idea of love sneaking up on you when you aren’t looking for it.
The Cinderella of early Disney is defiant, but also defeatist. She wants to break the rules, but she gives up easily. She sneaks around, but never really stands up to anyone. I think it’s pretty apparent that that Cinderella is gone, and the new one isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if she does need a little fairy godmother assist to get her out the door. The Prince seems to fall in love with her because she’s challenging, not just beautiful.
This one is probably just a good promotional campaign doing its job, but one of the things that struck me most about the second trailer was the tonal shift. In the first, you get the standard look at the magic of the Cinderella’s story. It’s the romantic kind of magic. The sweep you off your feet excitement of a fairy godmother and a beautiful ball and a handsome Prince looking at no one but you. That overarching theme is, as I said previously, part of the reason I never cared for Cinderella growing up.
The second trailer though introduces a new kind of magic. The magic that comes along with dastardly villains, a full and complete world with its own politics and threats, and a sense of daring and adventure that comes along with breaking the rules. That drive to do something others tell you not to is exactly what makes the second trailer so captivating. Even the music gives the entire thing a feeling of mystery and danger that was missing from the original story, even if that danger did, in fact, exist.