It’s time to continue the Disney Princess Movie Challenge with our next film: Cinderella.
When I was two-years-old, I apparently loved this movie so much I taught myself how to use the VCR so that I could torment my family by watching it over and over again. At 30, I’ve discovered that I no longer have any such impulse.
That being said, I definitely preferred Cinderella (both princess and film) to its predecessor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
There will be SPOILERS today, people. Assuming it’s even possible to spoil someone for Cinderella.
1. First, let’s begin with what’s most important: FIVE MINUTE COSPLAY!
If you’re curious: I’m wearing my junior prom dress, my sister’s little white gloves that she got for a clown costume, a blue headband around my head, and a black headband around my neck. The red shoes behind me are clearly not part of this cosplay, but we’ll just pretend they are and that I stole Dorothy Gale’s shoes, not having glass slippers or even a pair of clear plastic jellies from the 90’s to use. And I couldn’t figure out a way to add white to the dress without affixing pillows to my shoulders and hips, which, ultimately, I chose not to do.
In related news, I should either find myself a cheap selfie stick or else wait till my sister comes home from work before doing Five Minute Cosplays in the future. Getting that picture was a pain in the ass. It doesn’t look like it, but I am standing at an incredibly awkward angle just to get both my glove and half that dress in the shot.
2. Now, Cinderella. She’s frequently criticized as being bland and passive, and compared to more modern princesses, she absolutely is. But when I compare her to Snow White (or even Sleeping Beauty, who came along nine years later), I think Cinderella actually does have a small bit of backbone, some semblance of actual personality. She gets irritated at the clocktower for waking her up–I mean, mildly irritated, but still–and she totally snarks at her stepsisters’ music lesson. I know it’s not much, but even little moments like these easily give her more character than the other girls from the classic Disney trio.
Of course, according to IMDb trivia, Walt Disney apparently cut a scene where Cinderella laughs at her stepfamily for not knowing that she was at the ball, because he felt like that would make her seem too smug and mean-spirited, thereby losing the audience’s sympathy. Which, frankly, is just disheartening. A girl couldn’t even laugh at her abusive family without being perceived as a bitch? Come on, 1950. Get it together.
3. There are definitely some weird and potentially problematic things about Cinderella. What I’d like it to be is a story about a girl who manages to escape her shitty home life and find a new family that will love and appreciate her. Which, I guess, is kind of what happens, except . . .
A. Instead of agency, Cinderella has a terrible fairy godmother.
Cinderella’s plan to go to the ball has seemingly failed. She’s at her lowest point, openly weeping about how it’s no use anymore, she has nothing left to believe in, etc., etc., when the Fairy Godmother suddenly appears, weirdly materializing almost underneath Cinderella, so that the girl’s head is suddenly resting in the Fairy Godmother’s lap. (Cinderella only seems mildly surprised by this before just going with it; by contrast, I would absolutely be freaking the hell out if I was suddenly resting my head in the lap of a total stranger.) FG tells Cinderella that she couldn’t have appeared if our princess had completely given up hope, which is a common enough trope that, in this case, is a crock of shit: Cinderella is clearly at her most despondent right now, and the Fairy Godmother couldn’t be bothered to come before she hit her lowest point? What the hell is that? (The Fairy Godmother appears to be very absentminded in general, so I assume she’s just sort of forgotten about her charge. I’m not terribly convinced she’s much good at her job.)
It sort of feels like the moral of Cinderella is that if you’re patient and good, if you gracefully accept the torment you’ve suffered from your family, then someday you’ll be rewarded, someday your fairy godmother will rescue you–which, really, isn’t so very different from Snow White waiting for her prince to come, although there’s considerably more focus in this film on how crappy Cinderella has been treated by her family. But that’s kind of a crappy message, putting a lot of icky responsibility on Cinderella’s shoulders and making it about her behavior, not her stepfamily’s.
Not to mention . . .
B. Cinderella’s new found family includes a father-in-law who appears to be an evil tyrant.
The King is pretty terrible. He doesn’t even remotely care if his son is in love with the woman he marries so long as he does get married, which, admittedly, is pretty normal for the monarchy but still totally sucks for the Prince. More concerning is the fact that the King actually tries to murder the Grand Duke (who I just thought was a royal footman or something) for letting Cinderella “get away.” The scene is played for laughs but is really kind of horrifying when you think about it. We probably shouldn’t be trying to kill people because other people decide to leave parties. And what was the King’s plan here if Cinderella didn’t want to marry his son? Lock her up and force her into the marriage anyway? Probably, since the Grand Duke actually tries to shut the gates to lock her in. And when that doesn’t work, he sends what appear to be horses from HELL to chase her carriage down.
The King is also quite happy to exploit the loophole in his son’s romantic decree and fetch any woman whose foot fits into the glass slipper, so long as she’s got a properly functioning baby maker, obvi. You know, cause we’re all totally interchangeable like that. Presumably, the King doesn’t care much about that lady’s interest in marrying the Prince, either. I’m sure he’ll make an absolutely stellar father-in-law.
4. On the plus side, Cinderella’s Prince Charming is actually not a creeper prince!
No one is stalked, inappropriately touched, or surprised with weird serenades from total strangers, which, obviously, I find delightful. Of course, it’s entirely bizarre that Cinderella and Prince Charming have what is, at best, a three hour conversation and fall hopelessly in love with one another, but that’s still an improvement on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who apparently fall for their princes in literal minutes. (I was actually kind of amused that the Prince here was clearly not into this whole Find a Wife/Have Grandchildren party and was basically just insolently yawning at his old man.) Still, when Cinderella starts singing, “So, this is love,” I’m just like, “NO. No, it is not love, Cinderella. It is awesome first date. Learn the difference.”
5. Also, there are apparently people who classify Cinderella as a gold digger?
First off, it’s just flat out wrong. Cinderella doesn’t even realize that the man she’s spent all her time with is the Prince, so she clearly isn’t trying to seduce him for his power and riches. Not to mention she never once indicates that she went to the ball in hopes of winning the Prince’s affection and thus gaining access to the crown. In fact, she’s so utterly thrilled by the mere chance of having a whole four hours of happiness that it seems pretty clear that she’s just desperate for one night of fun to hold onto.
But, frankly, I kind of wish Cinderella was going to the ball in order to seduce the Prince. She has a stupidly miserable life–for Christ’s sake, her only friends are mice–and marriage is one of her only realistic ways of escaping it. If she went to the ball with the plan to catch a husband, that would actually make her a far more active heroine. Honestly, I would totally be into seeing that retelling. (Watching this movie has only given me more Cinderella story ideas, and never mind the fact that I’ve already written one. I had at least three different story ideas from this movie alone, and that’s not even including the less serious but totally awesome one where Cinderella gets her Willard powers on and wreaks devastating, rodent-fueled revenge. Has someone already done that? Someone needs to have done that.)
6. Speaking of our mice friends . . .
More unrealistic expectations, kids: mice will absolutely not help you make pretty clothing, no matter how busy you are with chores.
Like the dwarfs before them (and the drunk, swordfish-dueling kings after them), the mice are mostly around in Cinderella to stretch out the story. It’s kind of nice to see that I mostly still like scrappy Jaq, more than I like other childhood favorites such as Grumpy, Dopey, or the Green Fairy, anyway. Gus isn’t too terrible, either, although I’m always a little flummoxed when they give animals shirts but not pants. (I guess Jaq doesn’t have pants, either, but his jacket makes that a little less noticeable. Meanwhile, now I’m just thinking of Oz from BTVS and “I mock you with my monkey pants!” Man, Oz was the best.)
Anyway, the ongoing antagonism between the mice and the subtly named cat Lucifer is enjoyable enough; it just goes on for a lot longer than it needs to. Apparently, Prince Charming was originally supposed to have more scenes giving him actual character development, but Disney decided there wasn’t enough time to do so. And I’m like, “Um, guys, I only need to see Lucifer chasing Gus around one time, two times tops, before I understand the basic dynamic. There was absolutely time.”
7. And we should talk about Lucifer because, holy shit, that cat totally dies.
Apparently, Lucifer is still alive in the direct-to-video sequels that were made 50+ years after the first film, but that’s total bullshit and we all know it. The cat goes out the tower window, you guys. Lucifer is dead. Walt Disney straight up murdered a cat. Which is sad, really, because I actually kind of like Lucifer. Sure, he’s a little shit, especially with the ash paw prints and all, but if you’re a cat person, be honest: your cats are little shits, too. Mine certainly are. And yeah, Lucifer hunts the mice, but really, that’s what cats do, isn’t it? (Unless your cats are like mine, in which case they run over to their prey like they’re about to viciously slaughter them, only to ineffectually paw around them instead, thus letting them escape.)
8. I want this to be absolutely clear: a dream is not a wish your heart makes. I feel like I’ve made this point before, but it’s important enough that I feel comfortable making it again. What the hell kind of dreams do you have, Cinderella? I guess if they’re naughty, or at least semi-logical, that’d be cool, but personally my dreams are often less coherent and, with a few exceptions, not things I’d actually like to bring into reality. Sure, I enjoyed the one where I was playing Quidditch, or somehow traveled into a song. (In fairness, that was one of the most awesome dreams I’ve ever had.) I’ve also dreamt that I was an M&M who was sentenced to an eternal roller coaster ride in Hell. I don’t what the shit that was, but it’s definitely not a wish my heart made.
9. Continuing the Storybook Report . . .
Acceptable. I don’t know if I’d go so far as it to say it’s pretty, exactly, but it’s doable. I’d place this above the storybook in Sleeping Beauty, but not as good as the one in Snow White. (This is deeply important analyzation, people. This is the kind of work that’s going to finally get me noticed for my keen and insightful wit. Hugos will be won, you mark my words.)
10. Finally, some more random notes:
A. I’m slightly amused and slightly sad that Cinderella–originally just a mean nickname–is apparently our heroine’s actual name from birth. That’s another Cinderella story I’d like to see: where she goes back to using her original name, or chooses a whole new one for this new chapter in her life.
B. The Wicked Stepmother, voiced by the awesome Eleanor Audley, is enjoyable. Not to mention, she has the very best reaction faces.
Lady Tremaine is the brains of this evil operation; unfortunately, she clearly loves her miserable and charmless daughters, which, while making her a better parent (well, kind of), also makes her a worse mastermind. Can you imagine what Lady Tremaine could do if she actually loved (or at least pretended to love) the graceful and talented Cinderella? She could probably rule the whole kingdom by proxy.
C. Cinderella, unfortunately, makes use of one of my least favorite fairy tale tropes of all time: good is beautiful and evil is ugly.
In this case, evil also means untalented and annoying: the stepsisters are supposed to be unattractive, awkward, and shrill, with terrible singing voices and large (and presumably unfeminine) feet. This is a trope I would absolutely love to never, ever see again.
D. The ball is pretty much the worst party I’ve ever seen. No one’s actually doing anything; once the young ladies meet (and are summarily dismissed by) Prince Charming, everyone apparently just stands around, watching him dance with Cinderella. I’m curious if the guests finally get to dance themselves after the Prince leaves, or if they just have to stand around awkwardly waiting for him to return? I bet they don’t even have any chocolate covered strawberries. (All balls should, you know. If I was Queen, it’d be a godamn royal decree.)
E. I would like to know if all the animals who were transfigured into other animals or humans without their consent later suffered from depression, anxiety, or just any form of identity crisis. Seriously, you’d think the Fairy Godmother could at least ask the mice for their input on the matter, considering they can actually communicate and all.
F. Finally, unlike everything else that’s been bewitched, the glass slippers don’t turn back into normal shoes or otherwise vanish into thin air. Thoughtful souvenir from the Fairy Godmother or totally silly plot convenience: discuss.
Decent. Not my favorite by a long shot, but the romance–as it were–didn’t make my blood boil, so that’s nice, I guess.
Yeah, we’re just going to go with Eleanor Audley again. (I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to end up awarding MVP to the villains a lot this year.)
If you handle atrocious living situations with grace and dignity, eventually you’ll be rewarded? Ugh, that’s just too terrible. Maybe . . . cats don’t always land on their feet? Mice are a girl’s best friend? Okay, so maybe this movie is pretty grim after all.