So how did things go? Well, let me preface to say this: it takes quite a bit for a movie to make me cry (though I find it gets easier and easier as time goes on). It has to hit a certain emotional spot. Even the last Harry Potter didn’t make me full out cry (though I did dry sob when I saw Lupin and Tonks).
Guys, I cried during Cinderella not once but twice. And the second time they were tears of joy, if you can believe that, right at the end. It was just so satisfying and validating and beautiful that I got really moved.
But for all this sappy emotion, you’re all wondering: did it meet my prior expectations?
1. Confronting the Stepmother (literally and symbolically)
The confrontation scene satisfied beyond my imagination! I loved that the stepmother didn’t go the simple route of yelling and tearing her down as she had before, or locking her in the attic so one of her daughters could wed the Prince. No. What the stepmother did this time was very interesting indeed.
She decided to use Ella’s connection to her advantage.
It’s incredibly smart of the stepmother. She realizes her daughters could never sway the Prince now, but refuses to give Ella the “satisfaction” (her thoughts, not the truth) of making it out. She preys on Ella’s low prospects to insert herself into a position of power, saying that Ella will never be believed as the princess unless she is accompanied by a person of influence. And once inside, she will turn the head of the Prince, the same way she turned Ella into Cinderella.
And even though Ella has the chance to take her happiness with no fuss from her stepmother, she decides she can’t let Kit be manipulated for his resources like her father was. She refuses to give her stepmother any more power over her and people she cares about, even if she must sacrifice her last chance at happiness. Elements of this have been done in other adaptations (mainly thinking of Ella Enchanted), I’ll admit, but that doesn’t mean this one is any less powerful.
On a symbolic level, it is through this confrontation that she finds the strength to face Kit as her true self, which is acknowledged as a terribly difficult thing to do. And Kit, as predicted, does stand proudly beside her, even acknowledging his own faults. Ella definitely gets to confront the stepmother, and succeeds with flying colors.
2. Make it clear why she had to stay in her stepmother’s care – and maybe the early days of that life.
This one is a little bit more tricky, especially because Ella is a good deal older when her father remarries than in the original, giving her more agency from the off (though not much).
Ella does tell a former servant from her household the reason she stays with her stepfamily. But the reason is not economic, as I had thought. It is purely sentimental – she doesn’t want the stepfamily to destroy her house, the one her parents cherished and the one that centers in all her happy childhood memories. And that is a legitimate reason to stay.
But if she hadn’t had that, would her prospects to leave have been any better? When I talked to my mom afterwards, she argued that the best Ella could hope for was to be taken in by one of her old servants, serve in another household that may not have treated her any better. Since she was so beautiful and had no dowry, it’s very possible if there were men in the household, they would have even used her in… well, ways that wouldn’t be put on screen in a G-rated, or even PG-rated film. Or, as I said last week, she might have eventually been forced into prostitution. (This is all assuming that such behaviors exist within the realm of the film, and I realize they wouldn’t be able to acknowledge a lot of what I’ve described in a film for a wide audience. Still, might have been interesting to hint at it).
But boy, was I satisfied in seeing the early days of her life under her stepfamily! Ella was never willful, but that slow, subtle manipulation of her kindness was so well done. The family didn’t even have to order her around at first – she just treated them kindly and they came to expect such treatment, without giving anything in return. They turned her strength into a weakness, until she could barely recognize herself. It felt very true to life, sadly enough.
3. Show her spirit!
We don’t get any of the moments I referenced in the original article, surprisingly, but Ella certainly does have spirit in this film! She knows that just because something is done, doesn’t mean that it’s right, an attitude which influences the prince and the king alike. And when she gives that cold glare to her stepmother, declaring, “You never have been…and you never will be, my mother” in front of a royal guard?
Boom. That is how it’s done.
4. Have the fairy godmother’s appearance be connected to Cinderella’s mother.
Well, the fairy godmother was connected to Ella’s mother in that it was her mother who encouraged her to believe in fairy godmothers in the first place. The fairy godmother seemed to have kept a watchful eye over Ella and her mother both, so perhaps she’s been in the family a long time. And when the godmother creates Ella’s ball gown from her mother’s old dress, Ella declares with joy that her mother would have loved it. Not quite a deep a connection as I had in mind, but I’m satisfied!
5. A glimpse at Cinderella’s dreams.
The nature of Ella’s dreams went in a different direction than I envisioned. It isn’t like Tiana’s dream of owning a restaurant, or Rapunzel’s dream of seeing the lights, which I think was what I had in mind when I wrote the article last week. Essentially, she doesn’t dream of where she’s going, probably because she doesn’t have much of an idea herself.
But she does dream of a better world, not just for herself, but for everyone — for her animal friends, who she feels a deep connection with; for Kit and the kingdom; even, I think, for her stepfamily. She dreams of magic, and the power of time to heal all wounds. And it is through this that she is able to grieve and move on from losing her mother, her father, even from potentially losing Kit. Considering what happened to her stepmother, who maybe wasn’t too different from Ella before she lost her first husband, Ella’s dreams essentially saved her grieving heart from growing bitter. And by standing up for her dreams, no matter how odd they seemed, she would come to influence an entire kingdom as their queen. And that is so much more beautiful than what I had in mind, so bravo to this excellent film for helping me to understand (or perhaps rediscover?) the power of that kind of dream.
So, that’s how my expectations panned out, but in the end it was the elements of the film I wasn’t expecting that blew me away. It was Kit and Ella’s warm sincerity, the love of Ella’s mother and father, the relationship between Kit and his ailing father, the stepmother’s grief and disappointment, the serious weight given to economic concerns and royal duties without feeling shoehorned in*, and the power imbued in acts of kindness and selflessness that made this film stand out to me.
Even more, it was how relateable I found Ella to be. I’ve mentioned my relationship to Snow White before, and I’ve certainly always rooted for Cinderella. But I don’t think I ever really related to her before this film. Her imagination, her childlike wonder, the way she is considered odd by those around her — the second the narrator described Ella as someone who didn’t always see the world as it was, my mom looked over at me, smiling.
Yeah. I think that says it all. So brava, my dear Cinderella, for pretty much surpassing my dreams.
(And PS – Frozen Fever was awesome, just for the record. I’ve been listening to the song on repeat most of the day XD).
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Until next time,
NOTE: Due to a shortage of appropriate gifs and images related to the movie currently, I may update the images in this post as I see fit. Sorry in advance for any confusion!
*I’m referring to the Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein Cinderella with this, since it also tried to incorporate royal politics and economic concerns into an older story. While I loved this production for the cast (Santino Fontana!) and the singing and the costumes and such, the plot… it felt cobbled together. The modern elements did not gel with the rest of the show, though I admire that they even tried.