Here at DG, we like to give our thoughts on new releases that are important to our readers. This week, we’re gonna take a look at a cinematic fairy tale – one that is stirring up quite a few discussions among the internet. So what did the Geekettes think of Disney’s latest live-action adaptation, Cinderella? Well, get a hold of your glass slippers and let’s take a look:
“Spirit of the Age” – Liz’s Thoughts:
In her wonderful study of fairy tales – Twice Upon A Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale – Elizabeth Harries writes that there are two kinds of stories: compact and complex. Compact fairy tales are the ones that we normally think of, the ones that we’ve grown up with: simple, void of psychological depth, clear dichotomies of good and evil, relatively short. These are the Grimm stories, the tales reserved for teaching children lessons about morality. But this conception of fairy tales is woefully incomplete, and is largely based on collections – like the Grimm’s – that were written after complex fairy tales, or fairy tales that are “convoluted…and full of sly psychological observations.” The best examples of these complex fairy tales are those that were written by female, French authors, known as conteuses, and they’re full of intrigue and interesting women doing really interesting things – not women reduced either to angels or witches by a short, archetypal mode of storytelling.
It’s a fascinating read, and it reveals a lot about fairy tales that we’ve taken for granted. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, however, is a very clear example of an attempt to return to the “roots” of the fairy tale by embracing the simplicity and chasteness of the compact form. But not only does the “predictable structure” of this compact tale, as Harries notes, “make gender inequalities and family structures also seem inevitable,” it also continues the myth that this is the structure that fairy tales have always had, and that these are the characters and the stories they have always told.
Indeed, Cinderella screenwriter Chris Weitz unknowingly explains this thinking quite clearly in his description of the motivation for the film: “Irony is definitely the spirit of the age…we didn’t want to be winking at the audience or undervaluing the appeal of old-fashioned virtues.” But, irony isn’t just the spirit of our age – it’s the spirit of most of the ages in which fairy tales (complex fairy tales, that is, the ones that existed before the Grimms and Perrault came on the scene) were written. And “winking at the audience” is what many of the female storytellers of fairy tales purposefully aimed to do, by adding multiple frames to their narratives and hinting at connections to other stories.
What it all comes down to is this: the simplicity of Branagh’s Cinderella isn’t just an anti-feminist touch, in the sense that it strips the titular character of much of her agency, it’s an anti-fairy tale touch, one that betrays the very “old-fashioned” roots to which Branagh and Weitz were trying to return. Re-envisioning fairy tales in our fantasy-laden culture shouldn’t just be a matter of reworking the old tales into new, subversive forms; it should be a matter of questioning the stories we think are the originals; of questioning the often-degrading simplicity we have so long assumed to be foundational to the art form. Fairy tales may seem overdone nowadays, but they still have so much to tell us about ourselves, our culture, and our past. It just might take a little reeducation to understand that making Cinderella simple isn’t a refreshing embrace of the past; it’s a capitulation to the compact, rather than a return to the complex.
“Your Rainbow Will Come Smiling Through” – Dalin’s Thoughts:
There have been many reviews thus far for Disney’s latest release, Cinderella. Many of them have discussed the charms of the film, the colorful costumes, and the beautiful and timeless performances of its cast, along with many other praises. But somehow, many of them are seeming to ignore one of the more interesting aspects that the film presents, one that I feel needs to be respected in some way.
I grew up in the 90’s, with the 1997 Brandy Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella being the definitive version that impacted my childhood. I loved that this was a fairy tale world closer to that of the one outside my door, where anyone could be a princess or prince, and have their dreams could come true. So when the trailers for Disney’s new live action version was released, I was a little worried that this was going to be yet another white fest, with nothing new to add to the story. But, it turns out that wasn’t the case.
In fact, this new Cinderella, though not as impressive as the 1997 re-telling, has a community with tons of life and diversity all around. The most noticeable moment comes during the ballroom scene, where a beautiful array of princesses from far and wide are presented to the court. Each of these royals is dressed in culturally specific garb, and unlike some pop culture princesses of the past, these ladies embrace their heritage, from hair to toe. Granted, most of them are not given a ton of screen time, but the fact that such attention to detail like this even happened brought a smile to me and my movie going pals.
Another princess also gets some time in the spotlight, aside from the glass slipper heroine herself. A royal of Spanish descent, Princess Chelina of Zaragosa (Jana Perez) is not just any regal lady, but one that is considered to be the best choice for Prince “Charming” Kitt to marry. With a stunning gown and aura about her, Chelina could have easily been the typical brunette of Hollywood’s unfortunate history. But instead, Chelina is a fantastic, real, authentic beauty, full of confidence and strength within her cultural roots. Though we, of course, know who Charming ends up with, it is nice to see that the higher ups in the kingdom don’t want just any girl to be the Queen in this land. PS: Disney, I want my Chelina doll, pronto.
With the casting of Nonso Anozie as The Captain of the Guard and the inclusion of one particularly rich and beautiful family during the “Trying on The Shoe” segment, Branagh’s Cinderella might not be the game changer in the Fantasy genre we’ve been waiting for (in terms of casting), but it is definitely the sign of a positive evolution taking place, especially within Disney. And until we get a feature length version of Todrick Hall’s CinderFella and the Lea Salonga musical production, I’ll comfortably appreciate the attention to detail in this adaptation, and clutch my VHS copy of Brandy’s version to my heart.
So what are your thoughts on Disney’s new version of Cinderella? Are you a fan or not so much? Comment below and tell us your thoughts on the movie.