Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review: "Disney's 2015 Cinderella: A Safe Story but the Shoe Does not Fit" by Jennifer Culver

Disney's 2015 Cinderella: A Safe Story but the Shoe Does not Fit
Review by Jennifer Culver 

Cinderella opened  amidst controversy about Cinderella’s waist. Was her waist slimmer via CGI? Does this impossibly thin waist continue to send messages to young women about unattainable standards of beauty? With the clamor regarding Lily James’s waist, an interesting tidbit went largely unnoticed: Cinderella’s shoe did not fit. Costume designer Sandy Powell admitted that the glass shoe designed for the film fit no one, including Lily James. Like the shoe, much about Cinderella’s character does not fit her surroundings, which could actually be a good thing. 

But don't expect a whole lot from the "quiet revolution" Branagh claims he's making with this film. He presents a safe retelling that sticks close to it's source, the 1950 animated Disney film. There are subtle changes that do make a difference, for instance how diverse the ballroom scene is in terms of ethnicities, but for the most part, the story is the same; the talking animals used for comic effect, the bumbling Fairy Godmother, even Cinderella meeting her Prince ahead of time isn't "new". The portrayal of Cinderella as “underdog survivor,” a trait Zipes notes* regarding Cinderella retellings since 1899, and a prince who has “more democratic” leanings, meeting Cinderella earlier in the film, these are things we, for the most part, expect to see.

With The Walt Disney Company having already created two popular direct-to-video animated sequels that portray Cinderella as a far more rounded out character, while still being the same girl, this film seems even more conservative in many ways. 

A standout difference, however, is the portrayal of the stepmother, played dramatically by Cate Blanchett. She eavesdrops on conversations, blackmails dukes, and appears omniscient at times. When she delivers her backstory, told in the style of a fairy tale, her desperation to survive and secure a decent future for her daughters overwhelms all other, crueler aspects, yet the film does not fall into the trap of excusing them.

Throughout the film, Cinderella finds herself uneasy yet she remains in her subservient situation in order to “cherish” the home her parents loved. When confronted with the chance to claim a future with the prince, the narrator tells the audience that coming down the stairs means Cinderella takes one of the biggest risks any of us can take, “to be seen as we truly are.” 

Maybe Cinderella does not fit because of her outlook. She sees the world “not as it was but possibly could be, with a little bit of magic.” Sure, Cinderella still needs help to escape her situation, but she does not need help to improve her outlook. Fueled by the promise to her mother to have courage and be kind, Cinderella lives on her own terms no matter the dress she wears, an attitude that can fit any movie-goer of any shoe size. 

Branagh intends to be subtle and show strength through kindness, something that should endear Cinderella to us even more, but one has to wonder if this message isn't a little lost amidst the stronger impressions handed to us by the very marketing campaign pushing us to see it in the first place.

* Zipes, Jack. The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy Tale Films. New York: Routledge, 2011. Book.

Jennifer Culver works as a Digital Learning Specialist while finishing her dissertation. Her study focuses on the rhetoric within fairy tale adaptations in film. She enjoys continuing the tradition of sharing fairy tales with her children and godchildren.

1 comment:

  1. Do you think this new film is better or worse than its 1950 animated ancestor?