Cinderella: Back to Basics

I’ll be honest here; I did not have high expectations going into Cinderella (2015). After seeing bomb (Alice in Wonderland) after bomb (Oz, the Great and Powerful) after bomb (Maleficent) in theatres, I was ready to give up on the live action branch of Walt Disney Pictures. Every movie was the same: shoddy and cartoonish CG, an insulting spinoff of a well-known and well-loved work, and cringe-worthy writing. But this post isn’t about those sad, half-baked movies; this is about Cinderella and how Disney may finally start to redeem itself.

To start, Cinderella actually sets up the main meat of the movie with her childhood and her mother teaching her to “have courage and be kind.” I was impressed with this throwback to the Grimm fairytale, as the animated movie made no hint that Cinderella ever even had parents (as well as making her look positively middle-aged rather than a glowing teenager). However, one thing that I wish they also had kept was the “mother tree”, which they hinted at but didn’t actually include. For those of you who haven’t read the Grimm version of the tale, Cinderella asks her father to bring her the first twig to brush his shoulder on his journey, after his death she plants the twig at her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears. If you saw Into the Woods, you’ll remember this tree as the one Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella prayed to. In the live-action Cinderella (2015), there is a brief shot of the supposed tree, but in this version the tree isn’t involved in granting Cinderella her wishes. The rest of the movie, as well as the original animated film, is based on the much more morally appropriate, sanitized Perrault version of Cinderella — the one where the sisters don’t get their eyes picked out.

As for her little animal friends, Cinderella managed to keep the movie a little more realistic than the animated 1950 film. It’s implied that the mice and the animals understand her, but they don’t actually talk back nor help in any considerable manner. I’m thankful to Disney for this, as having them play a bigger part would mean more awful CG rather than, say, character development or plot. (Though it drags on a bit long, the dress-transformation scene IS fantastically gorgeous and absolutely worth watching.) The CG of the animals as horses and footmen is less well done, but it’s a mercifully short sequence compared to past CG-heavy films like the Alice in Wonderland remake.

Speaking of character development, both Cinderella and Charming, Prince get a lot more of it in this film. Cinderella is shown as generous and kind, yet adventurous and flirty. We see that she does struggle and break down at times, but still chooses to remain optimistic. Charming gets a little character development as well, as we see his strained but loving relationship with his sick father, making the King’s mandate for his son to marry that much more urgent and necessary. Finally, even the wicked Stepmother reveals her motivations and reasons for hating Cinderella, though in a rather expository confrontation at the climax of the film. There are a lot of articles online on why the Cinderella story is positive OR problematic for survivors of abuse, a topic I am not qualified nor comfortable commenting on, but it’s important to mention that this analysis exists.

In conclusion; is this a perfect Cinderella adaptation? Frankly, no. I would venture to say that the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella (The Brandy Cinderella) is still a far superior film adaptation, with its multi-ethnic cast, stunning musical performances, and Bernadette Peters. Nevertheless, it’s a decently written and gorgeously shot movie with an updated moral that will appeal to fairytale aficionados, kids, and children-at-heart alike.