Friday, September 17, 2021

The Girl-Power of Cinderella

Cinderella, especially the French version by Charles Perrault, might be the most popular fairytale of all time. I think we all respond—especially if we’re female—to the story of a poor girl who rises above adversity to capture the heart of a prince. In the world of Cinderella, it all seems so simple. If you’re both pretty and virtuous, you can escape your dysfunctional family, improve your wardrobe, and live happily ever after.

 Walt Disney, of course, became a major Hollywood player in 1937when he released a full-length animated version of another classic tale, Snow White. This Disney heroine was practically unique in that she (in accord with the template introduced by the Brothers Grimm) had dark hair, “as black as night.” But by the time the Disney folks got around to Cinderella in 1950, they had reverted to the familiar image of a light-haired heroine, one who eventually switched from rags to a magical azure gown at the wave of her Fairy Godmother’s wand. This animated Disney Cinderella was a major international hit, one that pulled the Disney company out of its post-war doldrums and provided an visual image (the Cinderella castle) that still serves as the company’s logo.

 Naturally, the Disney version tempered the romantic story with comic sidekicks and cute animals, including two talking mice who serve as the heroine’s pals. There was also music; both sappy ballads (“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”) and lively character songs (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”). But the most appealing musical version of the Cinderella story is probably that which debuted on live television in 1957, with Julie Andrews in the title role and a full score’s worth of classic tunes (“A Lovely Night,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” “In My Own Little Corner”). A black-and-white kinescope is all that survives of this big TV event, but the show was revived with Lesley Ann Warren in 1965. Over thirty years later, it re-emerged in a racially diverse version, starring Brandy, Whitney Houston (as the fairy godmother), Bernadette Peters (as the stepmother), and Whoopi Goldberg (as the queen). In 2013, Broadway finally came calling, and Cinderella was re-launched as a stage show with a brand-new book that emphasized her kindness as well as her beauty. It also gave her a meet-cute with the prince, disguised as a commoner, so that their love would seem more organic and less the result of his exalted status. Everything came full circle with a Kenneth Branagh extravaganza (2015), starring Lily James in long blonde tresses and a gorgeous blue gown.

 Leave it to Amazon Studio to launch its own musical Cinderella, which has just appeared on Amazon Prime. It’s written and directed by Kay Cannon of the Pitch Perfect movies, and seems to be directed toward tweens who believe in grrrl-power as well as romance. There’s some funk in the score, and this Cinderella (despite her quasi-medieval surroundings) is looking for a career as well as for love. Lots of dance and music fill the screen, though many of the songs are familiar pop standards. Like the stepmother, explaining why she expects her girls to marry for money, belting out Madonna’s “Material Girl.”

 Pop star Camila Cabello is a sassy Ella, and the racially-diverse cast includes Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan. Minnie Driver, James Corden (who also produced), and Billy Porter as a thoroughly swishy fairy godperson wearing a fabulous golden coat. Clearly this a production for girls who dream of being loved but also want to run kingdoms and start their own clothing lines. The upshot: Cinderella as the first influencer? 





  1. I’ve been watching Cinderella since the ‘50’s and always thought it was OK. I’m getting newer versions by “Grandpa’ing” my 4 granddaughters, which is cool. But I still have one problem (that I DO NOT discuss with the girls), the prince! Why is this guy always such a catch, especially if you don’t consider his wealth (I think the only guy who got them right was Sondheim). All real princes in real life-you can start Ranier or Charles-have been crumb buns. I thinks girls are going to be disappointed as time goes on-NOT happily ever after. Bob

  2. Thanks for bringing up Sondheim (of course you mean Into the Woods), Bob. I think Disney folks have come to agree with you, which is why recent flicks like Frozen do NOT have the heroine rescued by Prince Charming. So lovely that you're involved with your granddaughters!

  3. Beverly, I agree, Frozen, which I’ve seen at least 44 times, DOES end the run of “Prince Charming,” good observation. I have 3 daughters. I have 4 granddaughters. There ain’t a baseball mitt to be found; such is life. Bob. PS. I am reading ALL of your movie commentaries, started at the beginning, I’m up to August, 2013. Man, do you know your stuff-great perceptions and analyses. Can’t wait to read on. Bob.

  4. Bob, you are rapidly becoming one of my favorite people!