Oh, Cinderella, we just can’t get enough of you.
For more than 500 years, children of all ages have cherished your magical story of finding true love thanks to the generosity of your fairy godmother, a team of friendly mice and a host of other animals and vegetables. Your story reached new audiences with the animated version from Walt Disney in 1950 followed by the musical adaptation for television by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1957. And, last year, you sang an appearance in the movie version of Into the Woods.
Now you get the widescreen, live-action treatment in a lovely new movie, again from the Disney magicians. But how could moviemakers breathe new life into your story? Just like at a wedding, the creative storytellers bring something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue to this new interpretation of your tale.
The something old is, actually, the narrative itself. The various interpretations on screen – from Mary Pickford’s silent version in 1914 to a little-remembered musical The Slipper and the Rose in 1976 – tell the story of a young lady who is mistreated by her stepmother, seeks solace in her corner with her animal friends, and wishes for a miracle to escape her humdrum life. The new film adds something new by starting the story earlier when “Ella” is a young girl who adores her parents and thrives in her life in the woods. When her mother dies, and her father remarries a bitter woman, we sense that tough times may be ahead, especially when we first hear the giggles of the obnoxious step sisters. By adding backstory to the film, screenwriter Chris Weitz helps us understand how the renamed Cinderella could stay so positive on her grim days.
The new film also borrows elements that worked in the past. While these friendly mice don’t sing and dance – as they do in the 1950 Disney version – they are just about as animated in their computer-generated movements and expressions. And while any chance to watch Cate Blanchett chew scenery is welcome – especially in her smashing wardrobe by the great Sandy Powell – her wicked stepmother seems more influenced by the late Joan Crawford than the words of the Brothers Grimm. But who can quibble with all the fun this double Oscar winner brings to the screen? And the lovely Lily James – so memorable in Downtun Abbey – creates a fresh view of the heroine especially when she attends the ball in a lovely blue gown that the fun Helena Bonham Carter creates in a rich cameo as the fairy godmother.
By offering just enough of what we expect – and the right amount of new material to stretch our experience – the new Cinderella helps us appreciate a familiar story in a new way. And, like the best of Disney, it inspires us to believe in the possibilities of happy endings. But, Cinderella, I did find myself wanting to hear you and your stepmother sing. So many interpretations of your story include songs that I hoped Blanchett would deliver a show-stopping 11 o’clock number. Maybe next time.
4 Popcorn Buckets
“Film Nutritional Value”: Cinderella
- Content: High. No matter how familiar we may be with this fairy tale, the Disney people bring new dimensions to the popular story.
- Entertainment: High. With its strong production values, fast space, touching dialogue and fun performances, the film is surprisingly refreshing.
- Message: Medium. We could say the film reminds us to believe in happy endings but perhaps that’s too sappy a thought.
- Relevance: High. Any opportunity to share movie time as a family is always relevant.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. You may enjoy talking about how this interpretation of the story compares to others you have shared.
(Cinderella is rated PG for “mild thematic elements”. The film runs 105 minutes.)
Behind the Screen: Reel Moments With Cinderella
As they did last year with Malificent – a new interpretation of Sleeping Beauty – the creative folks at the Disney studios offer fresh views of what’s behind a young lady’s hopes for a happy ending in the new version of Cinderella. This fairy tale – first told by Giambattista Basile and made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 – is a popular story for movie makers who love to package hope for the screen.
Perhaps the most famous rendition of the story – until now – also comes from Disney. The feature-length animated version from 1950 remains a screen classic for its clarity of story, creativity of character, and moments of stunning visual imagination. What’s most fun about this telling is what Disney does with the animals who populate Cinderella’s world. His detailing of the mice – who make such a difference to the young lady – is great fun as is his rendition of the fairy godmother who gets to sing the Oscar-nominated song, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo. While Cinderella may be the least developed character, what we don’t learn from her in this version we bring from other tellings of the story. And the animation remains a delight.
We learn a great deal about what Cinderella hopes in life in the musical version of the story created in 1957 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II. While this version was never shown in movie theaters it can be seen, on DVD, in multiple variations. For those who love Julie Andrews, a black-and-white kinescope of the the original television production – broadcast live to more than 100 million people on March 31, 1957 – is a fabulous journey to a different moment in show business. Fresh from her Broadway triumph in My Fair Lady, the 22-year-old Andrews – years before she hit movie screens in Mary Poppins – captivates as the young girl who loves to spend time in her “own little corner”. Watch how the special effects and scene changes are handled in this “live” production as you to listen to the glorious Andrews sing the lovely score.
For a slightly more polished version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, check out the DVD of the 1965 production. Because it was videotaped in color for television – with some production values of a feature film – the creators use the production freedom to enhance the locations, embellish the special effects and add quiet moments to the telling. While Lesley Ann Warren is a charming Cinderella, she is no Andrews, and her vocal performance is lacking. But the supporting cast is wonderful, from a delightful Celeste Holm as the fairy godmother to Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon as the King and Queen and, especially, Jo Van Fleet as the stepmother and Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick as the stepsisters. They make The Stepsister’s Lament the highlight of the show.
As if these interpretations by Rodgers and Hammerstein were not enough for fans of a musical Cinderella, the Brothers Sherman – Richard M. and Robert B. – created their own approach to the story in the 1976 film, The Slipper and the Rose. I remember seeing this version at Radio City Music Hall during its last months showing feature films. With Richard Chamberlain as the Prince and Gemma Craven as Cinderella, the story adds depth to the development of their relationship with additional backstory of political stress in the kingdom and turbulence in the relationship between the prince and his parents. While the songs may be less than what we expect from the creators of Mary Poppins, Chamberlain is a convincing price, and the film looks great.
Beyond these musical interpreations, the story of Cinderella has also appeared on film in other renditions. The lovely Leslie Caron – fresh from her appearances in An American in Paris and Lili – starred in The Glass Slipper in 1955 while Drew Barrymore, in 1998, starred in a contemporary telling called Ever After. Hillary Duff appeared in A Cinderella Story in 2004 and Ashlee Hewitt starred in Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale in 2010. And, most recently, Anna Kendrick was a lovely Cinderella in the movie version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in 2014.
So chances are, no matter how popular this rendition may be, this will not be the last time Cinderella appears on screen. Audiences love her too much.
And that’s what’s happening at the movies.