Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz (screenplay)
Stars: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Long before it hit theatres, Disney’s live action Cinderella came under fire. There was some focus on Lily James’ waistline in her princess dress. There were concerns about the damsel in distress that goes against the feminist ideals of self-rescuing princesses and the abused woman who greets her oppressors every morning with a smile until the prince whisks her away.
Personally speaking, instead of a remake, I’d have preferred a Cinderella movie that focused on the villain, like Maleficent, which is a favourite in our household. Well, maybe not just another re-envisioning where we learn the villain’s story and realise she might not be so bad after all. Actually, I’d rather have seen a badass version of Cinderella 3: A Twist In Time, where Lady Tremaine—played by Cate Blanchett—has an epic showdown with Helena Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother, steals the magic wand, and bippity boppity boos away Cinderella’s happily ever after. Or maybe even a version that calls back to the darker origins of the fairy tales Disney has been plundering all these years.
What I got was an update to Disney’s 1950s fairy tale of a downtrodden young woman who sings gaily while scrubbing the marble floors, and the knowledge that Disney has earned that much more of my money.
In the new version, following the death her mom, Agent Carter, Ella’s house is invaded by Galadriel—who is obviously under the spell of the One Ring—and her daughters, Lucrezia Borgia and Daisy Mason. Ella’s dad fails to return from a trip to Africa, leaving Ella to suffer at the whims of her scornful step-mom and petty step-sisters. While galloping bareback through the forest, Ella rescues a Baratheon stag from Robb Stark who is immediately smitten with the proud and confident young woman who refuses to give him her name. Determined to see her again, the King in the North defies the advice of Professor Selvig and invites everyone, including commoners, to his royal ball where he will choose a bride. But Galadriel, conspiring with Professor Selvig, turns the dance floor red with blood. Only Captain Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Bellatrix Lestrange can save everyone from the certain doom of what will undoubtedly come to be known as “The Red Ball.”
At least, that’s how it all went in my head. But seriously. The truth is that I enjoyed this movie.
I was pleased to see that the movie didn’t forget that there are other kinds of people in the world, and offered me crowds filled with colour. Yes, the leads remain all white, but it’s still a far cry from some fantasy stories that insist on telling me that dragons and fairies can exist in this European-based world, but people of colour are just too unrealistic.
And those ballgowns. No, I’m not worried about my daughters aspiring to inappropriate waist-size ideals due to corseted designs. I’m the one who loves Gone With the Wind, counts The White Queen in her original Hellfire Club glory as one of my comic book idols, and owns corsets (one of which has a Bat symbol on it). I would love to go for a spin in one of those gorgeous gowns designed by Sam Powell, while my daughters could care less since they’ve long since moved on from their princess phase. I didn’t care much for Ella’s gown initially, finding it a bit too plain in comparison to the others, until the story gives it more meaning. Ella still wants to wear her mother’s dress, so rather than the Fairy Godmother replacing the ruined dress, she forms the new gown out of it, respecting Ella’s wish to have this piece of her mother attend the ball with her.
The more obvious moral of the story is beaten into our heads from early on: have courage and be kind. These are the words Ella’s dying mother leaves her with, but Ella reveals a few other ideals as the story progresses, such as cherishing memories of loved ones lost by treasuring and caring for the things they loved. She doesn’t simply stiff upper lip and grin and bear all the suffering she has to deal with as her step-mother and step-sisters grow ever more cruel. I appreciated that this Cinderella reacted to the cruelty instead of just singing it away. This Cinderella cries when she is hurt by them, she confronts her step-mother for her wicked ways, and then chooses to forgive her in the end. She also teaches the prince—whom she meets well before the ball and actually gets to interact with as more than just a mooning, singing, lovestruck teen—the value of not simply doing a thing just because that’s how it’s always been done. And the most important lesson she offers is the demand that the prince accept her as she is, which Disney clearly got from this episode of Super Why.
We also get to see a lot of the relationship between Ella and Kit, the prince, from his side. After their initial encounter in the forest, he begins to question some of his father’s rules, particularly when it comes to whom he should marry, and he reveals that his affection for commoners extends beyond the woman he’s mooning over.
But the thing is, my opinion doesn’t really matter here, because this movie wasn’t made for me. It was made for my kids, aged nine and six, and for the just-turned-four-year-old that befriended me in the theatre and did her best to stay awake since the movie cut right into her nap time. I can set aside my judgment and my desires and just enjoy the memory of their smiles and their laughter. My daughters both thought the movie was good, and my eldest’s only complaint was about the number of deaths in the film:
“Why are so many people dying in this? What are they trying to do to us? We’re only kids. They’re messing with our brains?”
As a parent, should I be concerned with the messages the film presents? Of course I should. Should I demand better of Disney? Of course I should. But the onus isn’t entirely on Disney to get it right. It’s also my job as a parent to identify what aspects of the film mean the most to my children and to discuss with them the areas where I have concerns in a way that allows them to form their own opinions.
And it’s my job as a parent to buy the new Funko POP! Gus Gus in Slipper toy. For my kids.