Why I Liked Branagh’s Cinderella

I saw Cinderella last week as part of Hoyt’s ‘Girls’ Night Out’ promotion, which was rather perfect, really. It’s a very girly film! Is that a bad thing?

I’ve been fielding many questions from people about the film, about Disney princesses, about the anti-princess movement. I read Judy Berman’s post about the film on Flavorwire this morning. I read The Guardian on the film last week. There seems to be a consensus that Cinderella is a step back from the plucky, feisty, headstrong princesses Disney has been telling stories about.

And yes. Yes it is.

Is that bad? Cinderella is a love letter to its Disney animated source. I’ve always thought the 1950 heroine is undervalued. She is bright, optimistic, kind and graceful under pressure. She doesn’t storm, she doesn’t rant, hence she isn’t ‘plucky’ or ‘headstrong’ apparently. She in fact seems overtly passive, but there’s a twinkle in her eye and voice, a touch of sarcasm that reveals she knows her own worth and simply chooses to bide her time until a suitable opportunity presents itself. When she flips out her glass slipper and puts it on, you know she’s just not as meek as she has appeared. I like that Branagh brought forth these qualities and that he underlined how her position in the household is gradually eroded, with the growing tension between her faithfulness to being courageous and kind, and the reality of being simply used and abused. It is clear in the film – she in fact tells us – that she stays because she loves her home and will take care of it, even though it means weathering her vindictive stepfamily. She chooses not to leave. She controls her own reactions. She does have her moments though. She has enough and rides off into the woods, only to stop to help a stag, and stays because she meets an apprentice and sees a possible future for herself. She has enough and is ready to leave when her fairy godmother equips her to go to the ball. She’s not loud and shouty – one might even conclude she’s an introvert – and she doesn’t pick up a sword. She listens and observes and it’s not for nothing that she pauses to tell the King his son loves him, a move that underscores her diplomatic credentials. Cinderella’s agency is in her kindness. She is kind to people and to animals and they largely respond in kind. She’s thoughtful. She tries to make the world a little bit better. So often that is misread as self-sacrificing or selfless, yet she does want to go to the ball. She does have her desires. She does enjoy wearing that dress. She simply does put other considerations first, sometimes at her personal cost.

Incidentally, much has been made of her waistline. She is not the only princess with a tiny waistline, however, and she will not be the last. Indeed, Perrault’s tale originally remarks upon her sisters not eating before the ball and then lacing their waists to be as small as possible. It’s not unproblematic, but watching the film, I note that hardly anyone remarks that Cate Blanchett’s waist is also tiny. Corsetry itself is not anti-feminist and many feminists wear corsets. I know many. Providing Cinderella’s waist is not the only representation of a female waist, I think we’ll survive as a gender. Indeed, I think most of us looked at her and thought ‘pretty, but not worth it!’ as we ate our popcorn.

I like Cinderella because it is classic and beautiful. Berman writes about “[t]he movie’s achingly slow pace, mostly the result of Branagh’s insistence on lingering over every twirl of the dress,” but I actually loved that. I also loved Marie Antoinette (2006) for much the same reason. So sue me. I like gowns and shoes.

I didn’t like Maleficent (2014) because it made all men greedy horrors, turned the heroine of the tale into a cipher who sleeps for the blink of an eye, robbed the fairy godmothers of their power, and made only one woman powerful, with her actions driven by “the man who did her wrong.”

I wouldn’t want Cinderella to be the only representation of a Disney princess. There needs to be diversity. There needs to be louder, feistier heroines, too. This is also my point with the anti-princess movement. Yes, there is too much focus upon the Disney princess, but that is in part because there are so few alternative, feminine options for children, both male and female, to engage with. At least they have the Disney princesses. And if one princess is quiet, kind and graceful, if one princess doesn’t shout and rage at the world, is that so awful? Is she unfeminist simply because she wears a glass slipper?

To conclude, I’ll leave you with an epic rap battle featuring Buffy‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar as Cinderella.

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