Emilie Kefalas | Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Once upon a time, upon a time, upon a time there lived a young maiden — no — a young girl — wait, no — a beautiful, small-footed, motherless and occasionally fatherless female protagonist. Despite the cruelty and abuse inflicted upon her by her father’s controlling new wife and taunting stepdaughters, this kind-hearted female protagonist somehow remains good and pure in all her thoughts and actions. Her only Achilles’ heel is midnight, the unanimously decreed magic hour in fairytale democracy. Everyone knows fantasy neglects the simple concept of time management.
Cinder-faced Ella was long ago transformed into Cinderella without the help of any storybook fairy godmother or magical-tree-bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Her European-folklore roots gifted her with multiple names and story alterations adapted from different languages, but her archetype is and always will appeal to the universe as the persecuted heroine, Cinderella. Even covered in ashes and filth, she’s beauty and goodness incarnate. The meaning and story of her name itself has evolved into both an analogy and a complex, similar to the sociological “syndrome” nameplates attached to the prognostics of her fellow fantasy friends “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
And let me tell you, Cindy certainly gets around. In a span of less than six months, little princess wannabe’s across the continental fanbase were exposed to not one but two cinematic doses of enchanted footwear, interspecies human/animal relationships and far-off castles inhabited by charming, royal bachelors.
Pop culture has never been as transfixed by Cinderella than it has during these past several months, largely due to the Walt Disney Studio’s recent duo of Cindy-centered cinematic releases, including Rob Marshall’s screen adaptation of Stephan Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” and Kenneth Branagh’s newly-released live-action version, “Cinderella.” Both have refueled the spirit of an already iconic princess, but they portray her in slightly different fits, and I’m not just talking about a green vs. a blue poofy dress.
Perhaps this is as a most opportune time as any to resurface a couple memorable encounters with Cinderella on the big and small screens. Her story has seen its share of screen adaptations, reboots and cosplays, but before we watch her transform from Anna Kendrick to Lily James, let’s examine some of Cindy’s acclaimed roles in show business.
Walt Disney’s “Cinderella” (1950)
“Cinderella, you’re as lovely as your name … in the sweetest story ever told.” Before the trend of reinventing storybook staples into dark character analysis, there was the simple magic of this classic portrait only made possible by Disney imagination and animation. Made on the cusp between the classic “Golden Age” Disney animations of the 1930s and 1940s and the less critically-acclaimed productions of the 1950s, this “Cinderella” is representative of both eras. In this adaptation, she is the much-loved child of a widowed aristocrat. After remarrying so as to provide his beloved daughter a mother, Cinderella’s father dies unexpectedly, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and her stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella.
It is not an exaggeration to state that Disney’s 1950s release of “Cinderella” saved the Walt Disney Company from financial crisis, proving itself one of Walt’s most successful films since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Beloved by many a princess-wannabe and Disnerd, this classy and chic Cinderella was actually not Walt’s first. Prior to making a full-length animated film version of Cinderella’s story, Walt made a short film titled “Cinderella” in 1922 as the last of his Laugh-O-Gram series. This “Cinderella” was set entirely in the Roaring ’20s, complete with a flapper dress instead of a ballgown and a swanky car in place of a coach.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” (1957)
Once upon a time, the woman immortalized as “Mary Poppins” and Maria in another Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music,” was the first Cinderella to declare, “In my own little corner, I can be whatever I want to be, on the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere, and the world will open its arms to me.”
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s version of “Cinderella” is the first and only formatted for television by the legendary musical team, with music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. “Cinderella” was originally broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957, as a vehicle for Julie Andrews. The story followed a similar outline as the Disney version, though audiences now had two sets of scores to please their palates. The broadcast was viewed by more than 100 million people and has since been remade for television twice, in 1965 and 1997.
If my own midnight were not approaching, I would dare continue to recall Cindy’s countless other variations and developments in the movies and beyond. Cinderella is hardly running away from the ball she’s having right now with a new movie, market and merchandise for her diverse fanbase. She lives throughout multimedia as a lesson, setting an extraordinary example of hope and goodness withstanding the anguish of life’s long, dark tunnels.
The beauty of Cinderella is not simply in her face or her breathtaking ballgown. You want her patience and virtue to prevail, no matter how many times you’ve watched her happily-ever-after. She is neither a helpless victim of pity nor a product of her treatment. Her outlook is a model of faith and trust in the goodness of others. We should all have faith in our dreams and in the dreams of others, because someday, “your rainbow will come smiling through.”