It’s been many long years since I last saw a movie on opening night, but somehow I managed to catch Cinderella on Friday, and I think I’m still dancing. Disney has taken the best parts of the old classic and improved upon it in exactly the ways it needed to be improved–by giving depth to the characters, articulating beautiful themes, and eliminating the heavy-handed sexism of the original cartoon.
And there is also the little matter of the costumes. Is it wrong that I wouldn’t mind being wicked, as long as I could have Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe?
Prince Charming has a name now (Kit – how un-royal), and more than three lines, and the courage to stand up to his father and say, in effect, “I will not be forced to marry a princess just for power. The girl I love is more than good enough to be our queen.” Cinderella is everything she was always supposed to be, only now her goodness is front and center. There is no subtlety here: Cinderella’s dying mother implores her to always, “Be kind. Have courage,” and this line is repeated regularly throughout the film. Cinderella allows herself to be made into a servant because she loves her family and her home; there is a sense here, rarely present in other versions, that she has a choice, and she chooses self-sacrifice. In fact, (spoiler alert!), her stepmother, having realized that Cinderella is the girl with the glass slipper, offers to allow her to go marry the prince as long as she (the stepmother) will be able to become the power-behind-the-throne. Cinderella gives up her chance at true love to spare the prince, and the kingdom, that fate.
Is there any doubt why Prince Kit loves her? I am willing to overlook the fact that his baby-blue eyes turned brown for one scene (could he not cry with the contacts in?!) because–for once –a star-struck lover actually means it when he says, “She is a pretty girl, but she is more than that.”
There is plenty of cartoonish buffoonery of the kind Walt Disney loved, most of it centered around the wicked stepsisters; it is a children’s movie, and a Disney movie, after all. However, this is one you can take your kids to see knowing that they will get their fill of cotton-candy princess glamour, but also a healthy serving of the kind of moral nourishment fairy tales have always been meant to supply.