Cinderella is a live action retelling of Cinderella (1950) directed by Kenneth Branagh, and starring Lily James as Cinderella and Richard Madden as Prince Charming. The movie starts by showing Ella’s happy childhood on her idyllic family farm. Her mother suddenly contracts a fatal disease, and her last words to Ella are, “Have courage and be kind.” Ella grows up with her father, who is often away working as a merchant. Her father eventually remarries, bringing Lady Tremaine and her two daughters into the house. Ella’s father dies unexpectedly while traveling, leaving Ella in the care of her stepmother and two stepsisters, who begin to treat her like a servant, rather than their equal.
In retelling a fairytale, Branagh decided to stay true to the original story, rather than change key plot points. To update Cinderella, the characters are developed more, and parts are added that may have been glossed over in the original 1950 telling. The makers of this Cinderella faced significant challenges in adding substance to the live action version, and also pleasing the critics of Disney Princesses. Disney Princesses have often been called poor role models. The focus of the story is often on their beauty alone, and they are often passive characters, waiting for their hero to save them instead of taking action themselves. More recent Disney princesses have been more active (Rapunzel in Tangled, Tiana in Princess and the Frog), and have achieved their goals without a man in the picture (Elsa in Frozen). The 2015 Cinderella is updated and has added depth, but still suffers from classic Disney problems, including passiveness, and a focus on appearance.
In this Cinderella remake, the focus is drawn not the Cinderella’s beauty (although that’s still mentioned) but to her kindness and inner strength. The motto she follows, “Have courage and be kind” is often repeated as she tries to make the best of her situation, and remain happy despite the mistreatment she receives at home. This focus on a quieter kind of strength and resistance is different than what you think of when you picture a “strong female character”. Cinderella doesn’t actively fight her stepmother, instead she quietly resists by remaining true to herself, and staying kind and happy where others would have turned bitter and cynical. Although this representation of Cinderella is an improvement from the bland 1950 version, it still exemplifies a passiveness that is characteristic of the Princesses. Cinderella never tries to leave her home or change her situation. At one point in the movie her friend asks her why she stays, and she replies that she can’t leave the house her parents raised her in, it has too many happy memories. This excuse seems flimsy to me. Those memories won’t disappear because she leaves the house, and escaping an abusive situation seems like a good reason to leave the family property, even if it is special to you. I do recognize however, that having Cinderella act in this way would significantly change the story. In order to stay true to the original Disney film, Cinderella has to exhibit a certain amount of passiveness.
The characteristics of postfeminism are apparent in Cinderella. The stepmother exemplifies the discipline and self-surveillance. She always appears perfectly put together. In addition, we never see her “getting ready”. Her appearance appears effortless, even if we know it took time and effort to look that way. The narration even points this out at one point, “She too had known grief but she wore it wonderfully well” Even in the midst of her grieving, Lady Tremaine has an immaculate appearance.
Cinderella also embodies this characteristic. Her beauty is literally effortless, as her fairy godmother casts a spell on her that transforms her dress, gives her new shoes, and does her hair and makeup. In addition, this scene is indicative of a makeover paradigm. Gill states that the make-over paradigm requires, “…first, that they or their life is lacking or flawed in some way; second, that it is amenable to reinvention or transformation by following the advice of relationship, design, or lifestyle experts…” (Gill, 156). Clearly Cinderella thinks her life is flawed, and it is. Now Cinderella herself doesn’t necessarily believe that the make-over will fix all of her problems. However, the story is set up to that the audience is led to believe that Cinderella’s makeover led to her life improving. Cinderella’s transformation is the turning point of the story. Once she is able to go to the ball, the story is set for her to meet the prince, marry him, and escape her horrible life. This turning point is brought about by her getting a new dress, not by Cinderella actively bringing about change.
The surveillance of women’s bodies can also be seen in the discussion about the film. The movie producers were accused of digitally altering Lily James’ appearance by shrinking her waist in some scenes.
James has stated that the shots are unaltered, and that she just has a small frame, which is emphasized by the corset and flared skirt. The argument itself is pretty insignificant, but it emphasizes that women, and especially celebrities’ bodies are constantly watched and criticized.
The end of the movie is ultimately a rejection of postfeminist appearance standards. Cinderella is back in her servant garb, erasing the make-over she received earlier. She also demands that the prince “take her as she is” without the discipline and self-surveillance she had before. Finally, the take-away message rejects the idea as the body as the primary source of female power. Post feminism altered the view of female power. Female power was, “…defined as a bodily property rather than a social, structural, or psychological one.” (Gill 149) Cinderella’s source of power strength of character and her kindness, not her beauty.
Personally, I enjoyed the film. Cinderella was never my favorite movie as a kid, I always thought it was boring, especially compared to Mulan (which was my favorite movie). The 2015 version added enough depth and enough background to the story to keep my attention. I did find myself frustrated with Cinderella’s lack of action. She just accepted the mistreatment, and never tried to change it. I knew this was part of the story, so it didn’t stop me from enjoying the film, but it was still frustrating.
Public Cinema Experience
Few people were in the theater at the time we went. The audience seemed to be all college aged people, who were with friends or on a date. There was no interaction between the groups, and everyone sat rather far apart.
We saw the movie at the St Anthony Main Theater. The theater was relatively clean, and the hallways outside the theaters were filled with comfortable chairs and couches, with windows overlooking Main St, and the Mississippi River. The lobby seemed empty. There was a lot of available space with only a small concession stand occupying it. Other theaters I’ve been to fill this space with cardboard cutouts of movie characters, or arcade style games. The theater was in the St Anthony Main area, about a mile west of Dinkytown. The area right by the river is set up to be picturesque, with benches, cafes, and a brick walkway along the river.
The tickets we purchased were $6.00 each using a student discount. We weren’t explicitly encouraged to buy concessions, but the concessions were prominently displayed, and you had to walk past them to get to the movie.
The Collective Film Watching Experience
I went to the movie with my boyfriend on a Saturday night. Very few people were in the theater, both because Cinderella has been showing since March 13th and because it was the last showing of the day (9:45pm). The audience didn’t noticeably react to the movie, and I don’t think watching the film in theaters changed my reactions to the film.