Really, though. Stop now if you’re the kind of person who goes breathless at “true love’s first kiss” and feels like you were a prince/ss in your previous life. Because I probably like you as a person and I don’t want you to hate me.
Now for the rest of you cynics, welcome to my next film critique.
Let me start off with some background information.
The Cinderella story really bothers me. Especially the Disney cartoon version. I’ve heard the argument that Cinderella is one of the best princess role models because she is so kind and patient. But I ask you, how do you know that? Yes, she puts up with extreme abuse from her step-family. But in that Disney version, I can gather no evidence that she’s putting up with it because she’s kind and patient. For all the background they give you, she could be putting up with it because she’s spineless, or because she’s not bright enough to realize she’s being treated wrongly, or because she’s been brainwashed/abused for so long she has disconnected from reality. Knowing that Katniss is my patronus, you could see why any of these options make her an unacceptable heroine to me.
There are two excellent versions of the Cinderella story that I’ve come across: the film Ever After, and the book Ella Enchanted.
These are excellent because in them, “Cinderella” makes active changes to her situation and overcomes her circumstances of her own volition, and not because a man who is essentially a stranger drops in and fills her head with enough dopamine that she plunges into a half-formed and half-acted decision.
So there’s the background. And yesterday I went to see Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella because I really, really wanted that fairy tale to be rectified. I really wanted it.
Let’s start with what was right.
- They gave Cinderella a background. We had the context of her very loving mother and father who both died tragically, and we can see how they influence Cinderella’s decision to stay in her father’s home despite the abuse, and her motivation to continually serve her step-family as her mother’s dying words were “Have courage and be kind.” This is a phenomenal mantra and I applaud it.
- They gave Lady Tremaine a background too. She came from a beautiful, loving marriage, just like Ella’s parents’ was, into a marriage essentially of convenience, where she hoped to find love as well, only to realize that so long as her new husband still had his daughter around, she, Lady Tremaine, would always be second and never be fully loved. Ouch. Not enough reason to abuse and degrade the poor girl, but considering how many wise decisions people make when they are in emotional pain, I’m not going to slap a “wicked” label on her.
- They gave the Prince a background, and a name. Thank goodness. It always drove me crazy that Cinderella’s prince was just “Prince Charming.” Now his name is Kit, which makes me feel like he’s a baby fox, but whatev, maybe he’ll become a sexy Robin Hood and everyone will be happy about that. And he was intelligent, gentle, motivated, and generous. He was pretty much my most favorite thing in the film. Okay, not pretty much, he was 100% my favorite thing in the film. Great work, Disney.
- Costume design. LOVED it. The costume was the best part of Helena Bonham’s fairy godmother. Also not at all concerned about the corset. This is a period piece, people, and that was the standard of the day. Even if it was totally horrific and unfair to women back then, nothing we can do about it now but learn, so let’s move on. Set design was also a delight.
- The addition of the black captain of the guard. I don’t even care if it was a token black man so politically conscious people wouldn’t complain about another white-washed fairy tale. His character was awesome, and would’ve been regardless of his skin color.
Now for the things that annoyed me beyond all reason.
- If you noticed in the picture above, Prince Kit’s eyes are astonishingly blue. Except the one entire scene where they were brown. #thedress, maybe? I almost lost it during that scene though. Color correction team, where were you?!
- The absolutely, entirely, and utterly unnecessary voiceover narration throughout the whole film. At the very beginning, I thought, okay, this is a common thing for fairy tale stories, so whatever. Then it came to a point where every time Helena Bonham’s bodiless voice came back on, I was begging it, please, give me some information that wasn’t just revealed or isn’t about the be revealed through the action or dialogue. Nope. Not once.
- Cinderella lied to Prince Kit. At the ball, they are getting to know each other, and she’s discovering who he really is, and he thinks she’s a mysterious princess. He’s completely opening up his heart in honesty to her, and he asks her for “no more surprises” about who they really are, aka, please be honest with me. She says, okay, no more surprises. And then doesn’t tell him that she’s not a princess. What? If I had been that prince, when I found out who she really was, I would’ve had a little chat with her that went something like, hey, why did you lie to me? And now we will need to date for a long time before we get married cause I need to know that that was out of character and not a habit that’s going to destroy our marriage, cause you know, I have a country to run here and I really don’t need that kind of drama distracting me.
- The diffusion of a theme. Because of Ella’s mother’s dying words and the way Ella repeated these words to herself every time the conflict against her increased, you’d think the theme was “have courage and be kind.” Which is what I think it was supposed to be. But right at the climax, when Ella is going to try on the shoe, she approaches Kit and the voiceover demurely reminds us, this is such a hard moment for Ella because she is going to have to be true to herself and vulnerable which is never easy (would’ve been easier had she not lied in the first place). Then of course, in the next sentence of dialogue, Ella says how hard this is for her but she needs to be her true self and please accept that Prince Kit. This is the climax, and suddenly we have an entirely new theme, one which I’m a big fan of, but I would’ve been a much bigger fan if they had infused it throughout the entire film and not just the last ten minutes, and I also would’ve appreciated them bringing back kindness and courage in that moment.
- Ella was not the active character in her own destiny. When the prince is roaming around trying shoes on everyone, she is locked up in her attic, and she decides that it’s better to never see the prince again than allow Lady Tremaine any more power (after Lady Tremaine tries to strike a bargain for Ella’s freedom). That’s great, way to go Cinderella. Then she just sits there and sings to herself for several minutes. It is her little micey friends that open the window so that the captain and the prince can hear her singing. Had the mice not been there, Cinderella would’ve remained a slave in her own home for the rest of her life. So once again, we have a Cinderella story in which she fails to be a real heroine. Just because she decided that she wasn’t going to let Lady Tremaine anywhere near the prince, didn’t mean she had to just sit there resigned to a fate of slavery. She could’ve found some legal ground to expel Lady Tremaine from her home, or poisoned her (that would be awesome). Something. But she sang instead, like a…not heroine. Ugh.
I’m not sure whether to blame Kenneth or the screenwriters or the producers for these heinous errors. (I’m leaning towards the producers and even the screenwriters, though, because Kenneth is pretty awesome). I guess it’s now up to me to write a Cinderella worth looking up to. Or we can keep Drew Barrymore’s version. That’s fine with me.