Mar 13, 2015

Cinderella? More like Seen-it-derella!

This weekend, we welcome the latest in a long series of Cinderella movies: Disney's Cinderella, a live-action adaptation of the 1950 Disney film of the same name. Like most film adaptations of this classic tale, this newest Cinderella boasts an impressive cast and a substantial budget. Also, like most adaptations, it exists for no reason.

The tale of Cinderella has been told and retold countless times through generations, passing through oral tradition and written word for centuries. The story shifts and changes depending on who is telling it (and what message they want to impart), with the Brothers Grimm favoring a three three-day ball, a magical tree, and feet mutilation and Perrault favoring a glass slipper and fairy godmother. The core of the story is about a young girl being misunderstood, abused, and unwanted despite her many attempts to be anything but, and the prince who finally sees her for who she really is. It's a pretty simple tale, which makes it easy to adapt. Need to make it a morality play about the joys of being dutiful and subservient? Cinderella's got you covered. Want it to be a story about making your own decisions and self-empowerment? Cinderella's your gal. 

So many movies have been made with Cinderella at the center, but which adaptation is the best?  Let's take a look. For this incredibly scientific study, I'll be focusing on Disney's Cinderella (1950), Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1997), Ever After (1998), A Cinderella Story (2004), Ella Enchanted (2004), and Sondheim's Into the Woods (2014), because they're the ones I like. Sorry, CinderFella.

Based On:
Disney's Cinderella (DC): Perrault
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (RHC): Perrault, mostly, and the original version, which starred Julie Andrews in the title role.
Ever After (EA): Perrault, again, but The Brothers Grimm make an in-movie appearance. Also, there's a lot less magic (if you don't include on-screen chemistry)
A Cinderella Story (ACS): Perrault, loosely
Ella Enchanted (EE): Perrault, super loosely, and Ella Enchanted: The Book
Into The Woods (ItW): The Brothers Grimm
POINTS TO: Ever After, for literary mixing, and to Into The Woods, for shirking the glass slippers for golden ones and ditching the Fairy Godmother altogether.

Takes Place In:
DC: Magical Old-Time Castle Land
RHC: A Magical Kingdom where a black queen (Whoopi) and a white, gay king (Victor Garber) can give birth to a Filipino prince. A racially harmonious Utopia!
EA: Renaissance-Era France
ACS: 2004, when people still used email instead of texts and meeting in "chat-rooms."
EE: The Kingdom of Kyrria
ItW: The Woods!
POINT TO: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Cinderella's Name Is:
DC: Cinderella
RHC: Cinderella (Played by Brandy)
EA: Danielle de Barbarac (Played by Drew Barrymore)
ACS: Samantha Montgomery (Played by Hilary Duff)
EE: Ella of Frell (Played by Anne Hathaway)
ItW: Cinderella (Played by Anna Kendrick)
POINT TO: A Cinderella Story, for refusing to give the protagonist an 'Ella' name.

Major Actors:
Brandy makes a beautiful but boring
DC: Not a ton, but the voice of Cinderella's step-mother, Lady Tremaine, is also the voice of Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty
RHC: A TON! Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Brandy, Jason Alexander, and Whitney Freaking Houston, among them.
EA: Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Melanie Lynskey, and Dougray Scott
ACS: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, and Regina King
EE: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Steve Coogan, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley, Minnie Driver, and Lucy Punch.
ItW: The cast is expansive, but, for the Cinderella storyline, it's Christine Baranski, Chris Pine, and Anna Kendrick
POINTS TO: Ever After and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella – It's the double power of Houston and Huston.

People of Color:
DC: Zero. This movie is Snow-White-levels of Caucasian
RHC: A Bunch!
EA: Zero. Even the Gypsies are white.
ACS: 1! Regina King kills it.
EE: 3, and it's the only movie on this list to incorporate Indians. Parminder Nagra!!!!
ItW: Zero.
POINT TO: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Go on with your inclusive self.

Cinderella's Father is:
DC/RHC/ACS:  Dead. And a poor judge of character, wife-wise
EA: Dead, but alive long enough to instill in Cinderella a fierce independence and a love of literature.
EE/ItW: Alive, but ineffectual
POINT TO: Ever After. It's the only movie listed where the father actually imparts wisdom in his daughter in some way.

Cinderella's Step-Mother and Step-Sisters Are:
DC: Generally horrible and vain people
RHC: Vain and manipulative, but a hoot and a half. Bernadette Peters is great.
EA: A mixed bag. Anjelica Huston's stepmother and one of the step-sisters are horrible people. Still, Melanie Lynskey's Jacqueline is quite nice, considering.
ACS: Sam's step-mother (Jennifer Coolidge) is a horrible, garbage woman
EE: Ella's step-sister (Lucy Punch) actually gets to be the worst human in this movie. And considering Cary Elwes is a fratriciding sociopath, that's saying something
ItW: Pretty terrible, but barely around. And blinded by the Second Act.
POINT TO: Ever After – Melanie Lynskey is a treasure

Cinderella's Guardian Angel is:
DC: Her Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Booing Fairy Godmother
RHC: Her Fairy Godmother, WHITNEY HOUSTON! Who gets to sing the best song in the musical.
EA:  Leonardo da Vinci. "Then I shall have to make you wings."
ACS: Sam's coworker (Regina King), who happens to have an unused wedding dress laying around.
EE: Vivica A. Fox's Lucinda, who curses Ella with obedience. Also, Ella's kindly house fairy, played by Minnie Driver.
ItW: Cinderella's dead mother, who's spirit resides in a willow tree in the woods.
POINTS TO: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Ever After, and Into The Woods, for Whitney Houston (!!!!), having a kick-ass inventor build you wings, and originality, respectively.

The Prince and Cinderella Meet:
DC: at the ball. And dance once.
RHC: in the market, when Cinderella is being treated like a slave and the Prince is trying to escape his responsibilities by roaming incognito among the commoners.
EA: when Danielle attacks him (it's warranted) and then again when she pretends to be a baroness and free a servant.
ACS: Online in a Princeton chat room. And then in-person at the Halloween Homecoming dance. This movie is weird.
EE: At a statue unveiling at a local mall, I think?
ItW: at the ball. For three consecutive nights.
POINT TO: Ella Enchanted, because it's honestly one of the strangest scenes I've ever seen in a movie.

The Prince is:
DC: dull and uncomplicated.
RHC: basically Jasmine from Aladdin.
EA: played by Dougray Scott and is stir-crazy, unwilling to wed a Spanish Princess, and very susceptible to learning life lessons from fun and quirky baronesses.
ACS: A jock (played by Chad Michael Murray) who secretly wants to be a writer, but his dad doesn't GET IT.
EE: basically the dumbest person alive, and unknowingly a party to the slavery and rampant racism that populates this kingdom. He's also played by Mr. Claire Danes, AKA Hugh Dancy AKA The Fanciest Dancy.
ItW: vain, but charming. And played by Chris Pine
POINT TO:  Chris Pine is probably the best thing in Into The Woods, but I'm still giving the win to Ella Enchanted. That Prince Charmont really goes on a journey.

At Midnight:
DC: the spell will be broken
RHC: the spell will be broken
EA: the Prince must choose a bride of his own or be wedded to his Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa.
ACS: Sam's step-mother will pick her up at the diner, so she better be there.
EE: Ella has to murder Prince Charmont with a dagger.
ItW: N/A
POINT TO: Ella Enchanted. Sh*t just got real. Man, Ella Enchanted is on a roll.

Cinderella's biggest character trait:
Danielle is sassy af
DC: She's crazy. She straight-up talks to mice and birds. Also, she loses footwear three times in the movie. Her feet are so tiny, even the tiniest shoes slip off of them.
RHC: She's super low-key. Brandy infuses Cinderella with a general, lackadaisical ennui.
EA: She's opinionated and unwilling to compromise her values, even when it's super inappropriate.
ACS: She's basically Lizzie Maguire, which means she's loyal, opinionated, and easily exasperated.
EE: Despite having to do everything people command her to do, she still has strong opinions and is a constant advocate for the down-trodden.
ItW: Indecisive, and willing to do things without really figuring out if she wants to do them.
POINT TO: Ever After. This movie is so good, you guys.

Fun fact:
DC: This movie basically saved Disney from financial ruin after they had floundered after WWII and Fantasia.
RHC: I was in a version of this musical in high school (I played Jason Alexander's part), and it stands today as one of the more stressful experiences of my life. So much behind-the-scenes drama. My friends and I sometimes still talk about it.
EA: At the end of the movie, you can see regular cars in some parking lots by the castle.
ACS: Jennifer Coolidge is allergic to glue
EE: Hugh Dancy's singing voice is actually Jesse McCartney. Anne Hathaway obviously did her own singing.
ItW: Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine got lost on set and had to be rescued by crew-members.
POINT TO: Disney's Cinderella. It may not be a perfect movie, but, without it, we likely never would have seen the many amazing films that Disney put out after. No Sleeping Beauty, no Beauty and the Beast, no The Lion King. And every 5-12-year-old would never know the joy of belting out "Let it Go" over and over during an interminably long car ride.

Best Song:
EA: There aren't really any songs, but at one point Danielle's step-sisters eat like a dance.
ACS: Hilary and Hailey Duff provide the majority of the vocals on the soundtrack, but the incongruous "Our Lips are Sealed" is probably the best.
EE: "Somebody to Love", which Ella sings after being ordered to. In retrospect, this movie is pretty icky.
POINTS TO: Pretty much all of these songs are winners, but I'm giving a tie to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and Into The Woods.

DC: Stay quiet, be pretty, collect shoes.
RHC: Impossible things are happening every day.
EA: Don't wait for a Prince to save you. Save yourself!
ACS: I dunno? Be yourself, I guess.
EE: Sometimes the only person who can save you... is you!
ItW: Fairy tale endings aren't all they're cracked up to be. Also, be careful what you wish for.
POINTS TO: Ever After and Into The Woods. It's impressive how many of these movies can take an extremely sexist source material and turn it into a tale of female empowerment and self-determination. Really, other than Disney's Cinderella, all these movies tackle gender norms, class issues, and societal pressure head on. Points to all the movies!

Rodgers and Hammerstein's
Ever After
Ella Enchanted
A Cinderella Story
Into The Woods

Well, that pretty much confirms it. While every film has its merits, Ever After is, so far, the best film adaptation of the Cinderella story to date. Of course, that could all change with the release of Cinderella today. But I doubt it. If Whitney Houston couldn't unseat Ever After from the throne, I don't think Helena Bonham Carter has a chance.

Sorry, HBC. I love you. Don't hate me.

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