“Have courage and be kind" is the mantra from the latest Disney incarnation of Cinderella, adapted by actor/director Kenneth Branagh. The words are not a far stretch from the universal golden rule, but they have nothing to do with catching a prince, despite the fact that that's where we wind up in the end. Yes, your cheese meter will go off while watching the new live-action version of the 1950’s Disney classic, but the message of the film is undeniably heartwarming all the same. It has been said that Cinderella is a passive heroine, but I feel like the message and moral that can be gleaned from the film is a positive twist for young girls who want to believe that anyone can go from rags to riches.
Lily James gives a beautiful performance and offers a new option for young girls who often find themselves looking to a princess as a role model. True, compared to the Disney princess-warriors of Brave, Mulan and, most recently, Frozen, Cinderella is not a fighter. Her strength lies in her steadfast kindness and her quiet resilience. A lot can be said for standing up for what you believe in. Is violence and aggression the only way to teach our younger generations to stand up for themselves?
Writer Chris Weitz (who directed About a Boy and The Twilight Saga: New Moon) penned some new additions to the story, making it hard to ignore the fact that the Cinderella depicted through the lens and pens of mainstream entertainment has come a long way. Let's take a walk in Cindy's glass slippers for a minute.
In the original iteration, Cinderella hears about the ball from a royal announcement and wants to attend simply because she likes the sound of it—an event including all walks of life in the kingdom. "Why not? After all, I’m still a member of the family. It says every eligible maiden is to attend.” Great, who doesn’t like the sound of an all-access pass to a VIP party?
When the Prince lays eyes on her for the first time, Cinderella has already had the “Bippity Boppity Boo” treatment from her Fairy Godmother and is disguised as a princess. The prince falls in love with her at first sight. How romantic. But not really. Cinderella runs away before he learns who she really is and although he learns the truth in the end…she hasn’t really done much in the way of earning his love and, more importantly, neither has the prince.
In 1998’s Ever After, Drew Barrymore plays an actively heroic Cinderella, challenging the prince on his philosophies throughout the film and quoting literature while doing it. Although this prince also met her while she was disguised as a countess, this Cinderella continues to woo him with her brain. “It is your mouth that has me hypnotized,” he tells her in one scene by the fire, after she apologizes for talking so much. I suppose that sounds a little naughty out of context, but he’s talking about her mind.
The 2015 rendition redeems itself, considering the fact that Cinderella has met a new “friend” in the woods who she is intrigued by. She has no idea that Kit, the man from the woods, is indeed a prince and when he meets Cinderella, she is dressed as herself, a peasant. It is this realization that causes him to invite “every maiden in the land” to the ball so Cinderella will be included. In addition, it is her kindness that transfixes him and her strength that keeps her from smacking her stepmother, played by the relentless Cate Blanchett, in the face.
I’m all for a heroine who fights her own battles physically and who doesn’t need a prince to rescue her, but if kindness and virtue present an alternate role model for young girls, I’m not going to complain.