Movie Review: Cinderella

In this new year, I’d like to write more.  I haven’t yet set a specific goal for myself – I probably need to work on that, since “write more” is such low hanging fruit and yet, totally unmeasurable! I’m hoping for at least one post per week. To help with that I’m going to do some movie reviews of the things our family has been watching. From time to time, I will have my kids offer their perspectives as well – they need writing practice too!!

First up – Cinderella, the original AND the newest release from Disney.

Cinderella – 1950

There are lots of things to love about the classic version. The animation is beautiful, the songs are lovely, and the animal sidekicks are fun.  Cinderella herself is sweet, kind, resilient and without bitterness. She lives every day with hopes and dreams even though her environment is the very definition of hostile.  Somehow within such an abusive situation, she finds ways to stay true to herself: seeking solace in her animal friends and finding small moments of joy in her chores, even looking for small victories over the one member of the household she has the power to subvert (Lucifer, the cat).

I’ve seen many internet memes, articles, editorials, etc. focused on girl empowerment with emphasis on self-rescue and a push back against the classic fairy tale versions of love at first sight and the prince rescuing the princess. Since I have three daughters, I am very open to messages that are all about girl power. My girls are extremely strong-willed and independent and could certainly rescue themselves in many situations. But, I see absolutely nothing wrong about a story that highlights kindness and encourages the magic of dreams and hope.

There are also plenty of times when it is reasonable (and brave, I might add) to acknowledge that you can’t do anything to change your situation and to cry out in despair for help. I love how the fairy godmother gives her a lovely night and Cinderella accepts the gift with an open heart and just goes for it.

The whole love at first sight thing makes me roll my eyes a bit, but I’m a romantic so I also kinda love it. The fanatical need of the Prince to find that girl is such a testament to Cinderella’s sparkling character.  That she was able to display it after living under such intense oppression is, in my opinion, just as magical as her carriage made from a pumpkin and her glass slippers. I have enjoyed several other versions of the Cinderella story that make it seem as if the prince and Cinderella had met before, but with animation, I’m much more wiling to suspend my disbelief and just be willing to enjoy the moment.

For me, the overall message of the animated feature is that hope can bring light to the darkest of days, and that sometimes you can’t just work or think yourself out of a bad situation.  It’s also a great movie for young kids or kids who can’t handle a lot of tension/drama. It’s one of the few Disney movies without an incredibly scary villain and the climax of the conflict where Cinderella is locked upstairs has just enough tension to keep the kids wondering, but not scared or overly anxious.

Cinderella – 2015

My girls love this version just as much as the original, although the youngest was most certainly more interested in the much anticipated Disney short, Frozen Fever… All the same positive elements are in this movie and there aren’t really any surprises or big variations from the story we all know.

There is, however, much more of an emphasis on Cinderella’s father and mother. Their deaths are quite emotional for the viewer.  In fact, all the stakes seem higher in this movie, perhaps because it’s live action instead of animated. The step mother and step sisters’ treatment of Cinderella is very hard to watch.  The emotional abuse is unrelenting and sometimes shocking. In the animated version, it seems charming that she has little mice and bird friends.  In the live version – it’s a bit of a rude awakening that a person would only have mice as an ally, and quite honestly disgusting to watch her “eat” with her friends.

The message of this movie is practically shouted about every 5 minutes – ‘Have courage and be kind.’ It was not exactly subtle, but hey – there are MUCH worse messages the entertainment industry could (and has) peddled to my kids, so I’m ok with it. My husband and I were both a little concerned though about how courage and kindness were portrayed. It definitely feels like Cinderella could have stood up for herself more.  There’s even a conversation in the film where Cinderella runs into one of her father’s former servants in the marketplace and the servant asks her why she doesn’t just leave? Cinderella basically answers that’s she’s staying because of the house; because she promised her father and mother to care for it as a symbol of their mutual love.  This strikes me as a lousy reason to endure abuse.

However, the tale of Cinderella does not take place in a particularly enlightened time.  There were not many safety nets for a person like her to fall into if she did decide to leave on her own.  So, given those realities, I get why she stayed.  My oldest daughter picked up on the theme of forgiveness as well and connected the ability to forgive with having courage. All around – a pretty great message to come away with.

On to other more shallow things – the actors are great. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy seeing Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy, a very plain kitchen maid, show up as one of the step-sisters who wears extremely extravagant and gaudy costumes.  I got a kick out of it for sure.  Cinderella is also played by a Downton actress –  Lily James (Lady Rose). Cate Blanchett obviously had fun being the wicked stepmother and it seemed that Helena Bonham Carter enjoyed playing a much less evil character than some of her recent roles.  I’ll admit it took me a second watching to be ok with Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter world embodying the place of benevolent fairy helper, but my girls, who haven’t seen the later HP movies, didn’t bat an eye.

Cinderella’s transformation scene and the ball are wonderful.  The family all laughed aloud multiple times while the garden and animals were turned into Cinderella’s entourage.  Everything about the ball was gorgeous – costumes, music, set – just really lovely and fun to watch.  When the prince and Cinderella dance, you’ll be tempted to immediately sign up your children for cotillion so they’ll know how to waltz effortlessly.

We love both versions. Thanks Disney for these fun, positive, beautiful films!