One of Disney’s most iconic films is the beautiful and enchanting Cinderella. The very center of the Disney universe is Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, so it’s no surprise that the second animated classic they decided to recreate would be Cinderella.
The film opened on March 13, 2015 and starred Lily James in the title role, Richard Madden as Prince Charming, and Cate Blanchett as the wicked Lady Tremaine. The film, visually stunning, grossed $543 million and even received an Academy Award nomination for best costume design (understandably so).
It’s a story that we all know and love whether from the original fairy tale, the 1997 musical starring Brandy, or the Disney classic. With a remake, it’s important to stay true to the original story while breathing new life into it as well. After the disappointment that was Maleficent, Cinderella–while not perfect–does a much better job at remaking a classic for 21st Century fans.
Our Cinderella– or Ella as she is really known–has a blessed, happy life with her mother and father but that happiness is cut short when Ella’s mother falls ill and dies. On her deathbed, she tells Ella to “have courage and be kind” and when her father remarries, Ella finds that she needs all the courage and kindness she can find.
From here, we know the story: Ella’s stepmother and new stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, are as wicked as they come. When news arrives of Ella’s father’s death, she is forced to become a servant in her own home, taking on the name of Cinderella.
One day, when she’s nearly pushed to her breaking point, Ella runs away and meets a young man in the woods named Kit. Of course, we all know Kit is no ordinary young man…
A ball is announced for the prince to find a worthy bride and all ladies in the kingdom are invited. But Cinderella is left behind with a tattered dress and a broken heart when her fairy godmother appears. Carriage. Lovely dress. Glass slippers.
Ella dances the night away with her Mr. Kit and when she vanishes at the stroke of midnight, Kit uses that fabulous glass slipper to find Ella and take her away from her wicked stepmother.
And, of course, they all live Happily Ever After!
As remakes go, this was pretty spot on–it had gorgeous sets and costumes, re-imagined those iconic characters, and gave off the feel of a fairy tale–even if it lacked the feel of a Disney remake. All of the characters that made the 1950 Cinderella so iconic–Jaq and Gus–are almost eliminated entirely along with songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and, of course, the magic words “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!” The only things that told anyone that this is a Disney remake are the names of the stepmother and the stepsisters and the fairy godmother very quickly muttering “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!” It really just ends up being another Cinderella movie and not Disney’s Cinderella; all of the “magic” from the original Disney film just isn’t there.
That being said, there were a lot of changes brought to this new universe that definitely helped elevate Cinderella into the hearts of 21st Century audiences.
The biggest change that came to the 2015 remake was the larger presence of Prince Charming. With only a handful of lines in the original, he has always been one of the more forgettable Disney princes… yet the 2015 film was able to build on his character more than ever before. Firstly, he has a name–Kit! We meet him on a hunt in the forest where he runs into Ella. They have a connection and a foundation between the two of them is established so when they meet again at the ball, it isn’t love at first sight. They know each other. They respect each other. They admire each other. And from there, they learn to love each other. The prince is a much larger role in this tale and his love for Ella is so much more believable because it’s based on something more than love at first sight.
To add even further character development, we also get to learn a bit more about Ella’s stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and what makes her so wicked. We see Tremaine’s arrival in Ella’s life when she marries Ella’s father. In the short time Tremaine is with Ella’s father, he’s always talking about how Ella is the most important person in the world to him and how Ella’s mother will always be the love of his life. Hearing this enough makes her bitter and jealous of Ella and when she can take her revenge, she does. Instead of her just being a stereotypical villain, with no motive behind her wicked ways, we can see why she acts so horrid to Ella, even if it doesn’t justify it. She’s a believable villain–a real life villain, which makes her far more frightening. No magic powers, only the power of hatred and jealousy.
And Lady Tremaine has every reason to be jealous of Ella–she’s a kind, sweet girl, everyone seems to love her, she’s beautiful, and she’s got a dress to die for!
A little bit of Disney trivia for you: one of Walt Disney’s favorite animation sequences (quite possibly his favorite of all time) was Cinderella’s transformation from her tattered pink dress into her sparkling silver ballgown. It’s a beautiful work of art by anyone’s standards (especially when you remember it was all hand drawn)… And I think Uncle Walt would be just as proud of the 2015 transformation sequence as he was of the 1950 one.
And, for the most part, I think fans of the original film will enjoy the remake and appreciate the changes that have been made. While I’m not a huge Cinderella fan, as a whole, I really enjoyed this film and there was really only one thing that I didn’t love about it:
For a film that really tried to update itself and tried to make Cinderella seem more like a 21st Century heroine, Ella really fell flat for me. In the original film, Cinderella is orphaned as a child and then Tremaine’s abuse begins–she is conditioned and brainwashed all through her childhood. In the remake, Ella is already a grown woman by the time Tremaine enters her life. She isn’t conditioned into a servant over the years–she just rolls over and takes endless abuse from her step-family. And she’s always so pleasant, despite the abuse she suffers. In the original, Cinderella accepts her place, but she doesn’t like it. You see her sigh, roll her eyes, and come pretty close to beating her stepmother’s cat, Lucifer. She takes the abuse by biting her lip–you see her struggle to keep it bottled up–so when she does finally breakdown, it’s so much more impactful. Ella takes everything with a smile, comes up with excuses for her family’s wickedness, and she’s running away and crying so much that her “breakdown” that summons the fairy godmother is not nearly as heart wrenching or meaningful as it was in the cartoon. I could go on about how Cinderella kicks and screams and tries to escape when her stepmother locks her away in the attic and Ella, instead of fighting back, ends up sitting down and singing until she happens to be rescued. But I digress.
In their attempt to update Cinderella, the filmmakers managed to recreate everyone in an interesting way… except for Cinderella. They took an abused young woman that had finally had enough and turned her into something flawless. It’s a shame that they managed to make characters like the prince and Lady Tremaine so relatable and yet Cinderella–someone that could have been a role model for new fans–seems fake with her perfection and her sweetness seems unattainable.
Have courage and be kind is a wonderful thing to teach people–both young and old. But to put up with endless abuse is something that we should never normalize even if it is in a fairy tale.
It’s sad that the very character of Ella in Cinderella is really the only downfall in an otherwise flawless remake.
We’ve only got one more review of the new Disney remakes before Beauty and the Beast hits theaters next week! What movie would you love to see Disney remake into a live action film? It’s definitely Peter Pan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for me! Let us know in the comments below.
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Amanda Woomer-Limpert is The Geekiverse’s enthusiastic Disney expert. You can check in with her on Instagram.
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