I don’t write about films that often–I’m much more of a reader than a film watcher, after all–but how can I resist telling you about Disney’s new Cinderella? What can be better than a good and beautiful girl, a handsome and noble prince, and a happy ending?
Visually, it’s stunning. Of course. Disney, I think it’s safe to assume, has the money to do what they want in that area. The palace, the dresses, the magic–gorgeous.
As for the storyline, the joy is that they’ve kept it classic. They haven’t made it darker. They haven’t made it inappropriate. In short, they’ve been wise enough to know that if something’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. Rather than changing a much-loved tale, they’ve concentrated on telling it well.
I particularly appreciated how well-nuanced the characters are. Here, perhaps, they’ve made a few alterations, but if so, it’s for the better. Cinderella herself is as sweet and innocent as you’d expect her to be, and yet–without in any way making her some sort of fairytale feminist–they’ve also ensured that she’s not a doormat. She doesn’t stay with her horrid step-family because she’s content to be abused. She stays–however hard it is–because she promised her parents she would care for her home. She’s sweet, but underneath that sweetness is strength, not weakness. And that’s admirable.
In this version, Cinderella and the prince accidentally meet in the woods prior to the ball, when he’s hunting. The prince tells Ella he’s an apprentice (“an apprentice king”, he has to clarify later at the ball–ah yes, that does make a bit of a difference…..), which means, as a review I read pointed out, that Ella doesn’t fall in love with him for mercenary reasons, since she gets a chance to meet him when she thought he was just an ordinary guy (though really, Ella dear, what apprentice dresses like that?)
That same scene also gives the prince a more substantial reason to love Ella than merely her breathtaking beauty at the ball. He sees something of her kindness and her courage, and that attracts him too. I’m so glad they did it that way.
As for the prince himself, he’s more substantial too. We see him mature in the course of the film. I love his words to Ella when they finally find each other after soldiers have been shoving her glass slipper on the feet of women all over the country: “Will you take me as I am,” she asks, “an honest country girl who loves you?”, to which he replies, “If you will take me as I am: an apprentice still learning his trade.”
I was also impressed by the way the wicked stepmother was portrayed. She’s certainly a nasty woman, but we know why she’s the way she is, and can even–gasp–feel sorry for her. And that’s important, because people act the way they act for a reason. That doesn’t excuse wrong behaviour, but it makes it more understandable, and it narrows the gap between us and “the baddies”. We’re not as different from them as we’d like to think.
In this post-modern culture, it’s a delight to see a film that portrays a world where there is real good and evil and where goodness–courage and kindness–does win in the end. A world that does contain sadness, but also a world that believes in happy endings. And a world where the heroine’s parting words to the villain are “I forgive you.”
I get two opposite feelings after encountering something like Cinderella. The world isn’t really like that, I remind myself. You’re not beautiful. You’re not going to be the belle of any ball or the sweetheart of any prince. Your life is dull and drab compared to that world. And in a sense, that’s absolutely true. Let’s be realistic here: I’m an ordinary girl living a fairly ordinary life and if I marry, it will be to an ordinary guy.
But then I remind myself that in another sense, our world is much more like the world of Cinderella than I give it credit for. It is full of beauty and wonder. Goodness will win the day. And every good fairytale is only a reflection of the incredible story God is writing, with the ultimate happy ending. It’s hard to believe that when I turn from the glamour of the screen to the frustrations of daily life. But Ella had her burdens too, and they only enriched her happy ending. Indeed, her happy ending would not have been possible without them.
So, yes: I loved it. So much so that SJ is going to humour me by accompanying me for–ahem–my second viewing later this week….