Monday, April 6, 2015

A Tale of Two Cinder Girls - Looking at 1999's "Ever After" & 2015's "Cinderella"

If you're one of my long-time readers you are already well aware that fairy tales are my life. I believe that the concept of parables or fairy tales is the best and most interesting presentation truth and reality that stays with you for your entire life.

That being said, I was a little hesitant about Disney's upcoming Cinderella live-action remake. It just looked like the typical kind of crap we've been getting from Hollywood, though the visuals were enticing and it had a beautiful trailer and poster. I am happy to report that I've seen it twice and I think it's wonderful. It surprised me. There were a few things I was kind of put off by. Some of the moments were a little cheesy or too cutesy at times, and there's always that tired need to throw in juvenile humor with animals, but in the second viewing I found those things less bothersome. Overall the film was a beautiful, sumptuous feast of visuals and resonating messages that people will always really need to hear.

In my humble opinion, I still believe Ever After: A Cinderella Story to be the best Cinderella story ever told on screen. This may seem strange for people who know me simply because this version has none of the "magic" of other versions, at least on a fantastical level, but I find it infinitely more relatable and poignant than any other telling I've experienced.
I want to kind of compare/contrast the two Cinderella stories and discuss their themes and messages. Strap on in!

In both films we see two Cinderellas (Danielle and Ella) who are well read, kind, and spirited country girls who have strong attachment to their fathers and find themselves reaching adulthood as orphans with a step-mother and step-sisters as their only family. At the "financial ruin" of their fathers' deaths, their step-families name them the odd one out and the hired help of the home upon the economy of cutting out most or all of the servants.

What I love about 2015's Ella is that she represents an idea almost foreign now, that women can be strong and they don't need to be boyish and sword-wielding to be so. Ella is gentle, kind, feminine, sweet, and courageous. Her mantra handed down from her mother is "have courage and be kind" and she certainly lives up to that. Ella fights hard for her values with a spirit that doesn't break even under the cruelty and demeaning abuse of her step-family.

There's this stupid notion buzzing around our modern world that kindness makes you weak, traditional femininity makes you weak, and humility makes you weak. This couldn't be further from the truth. Ella is a young woman to be admired. She seeks no praise or recognition for who she is, she treats everyone with an open hand, and even in the face of abuse and loss remains true to her calling of courage and kindness. She runs her race well, yet all I seem to hear on the internet is criticism of her ridiculously tiny, corseted waist. Really?

Though I do understand that to a point. One of my other issues with Cinderella is that I find everyone to be a little overdone, soap opera-esque in appearance. Even Ella at her dirtiest looks ready for the runway. I'd like to see something a little grittier and truer to how hard life would really be for Cinderella, which brings me to...

Danielle de Barbarac. The feisty heroine of Ever After. Though Danielle was taught the art of swordplay and defense from her father, that isn't what you remember most about her. She reads, and reads, and reads! Danielle is incredibly intellectual and also built with the same resilience to face hard labor, emotional abuse, and rejection. Ever After's characters are generally more down to earth and relatable. They don't look like they're fresh off the red carpet, they look like real people would living in that period time.

I absolutely love that Ever After takes place during the Renaissance and that it's lead actress Drew Barrymore looks like she stepped right out of a Da Vinci painting. I guess that the filmmakers agreed because they wrote in Da Vinci as the fairy-godfather of sorts and had him paint her portrait in the film.

The two princess & their country girls in secret gardens. ♥

Ever After also does something no other Cinderella story does (except maybe Ella Enchanted) it shows the Prince and Cinderella developing a relationship over time. The two don't agree on everything, and their disagreements make for fantastic chemistry. The prince has never been resisted by anyone and Danielle challenges him from the moment she knocks him off of his horse by throwing an apple to the moment she tells the truth about who she is in front of the entire court at the ball. Their exchanges and interactions are filled with wit and sensuality. The text is intellectual banter, the subtext is smoldering passion.

This is something 2015's film tried to do, but I think because of the nature of the target audience and also this recent tendency to rush storytelling in films these days kind of ruined their chance of really making a juicy connection between Cinderella and her prince. They had good moments and I could tell the creators were trying to go for that same idea, but unfortunately the mission wasn't fully accomplished.

However,  Cinderella did share vitally important themes with us. The prince and Cinderella were kind of ashamed of who they were when they first met. They hid their identities from one another, afraid that if the other knew the truth they would judge them or see them differently. This is something we all do, and I think especially for young people in the middle of discovering who they are, this message is so important. One of the most beautiful moments in the film is the ending when Cinderella and the prince stand strong in who they are as individuals. We see them walking out to face the world side-by-side, the prince in his royal garb, and Cinderella in her peasant dress and messy braid. They accept each other as they are, and even more importantly they each accept themselves who they are as individuals.

This image is similar to the ending of Ever After, but different in theme. Ever After's identity crisis comes from an
I kneel before you not as a prince, but as a man in love...
escalated misunderstanding. Danielle pretends to be noble in order to save a friend from being sold into servitude across the sea. She never intended on meeting the prince and having to keep up a charade, and because of this she has to lie to him throughout the movie. When he does find out, he is so hurt and angry he rejects her. He does not reject her because of who she is, but because she betrayed his trust and by doing so he betrays her trust. In the end they too must accept each other for who they are, two imperfect people who are perfectly matched. Their moment of triumph comes when Prince Henry humbles himself to Danielle asking for forgiveness and repents for his wrongs. This is one of my most favorite moments in a movie ever. A picture of grace and forgiveness between two people because of love.

The last thing I want to delve into is the themes and representations of parental love and vice. In both films our Cinderellas are very close to their fathers and bonded by that love. This is a story concept most versions of the story have, but what I like about these two versions is that they don't leave the prince out of the narrative.

A son and his father.
In both films the princes have playfully quarrelsome relationships with their fathers who initially wish them to marry for advantage rather than love. I loved that Prince Kit in the 2015 film had a very loving relationship with his father whom we find out early on is dying. I think my favorite shot in the film is that of the king on his deathbed and his son, a grown man, curled up like a little boy at his side. I seriously choked up from this powerful image of the strength of love between parents and their children. This seems almost like an unmanly thing to do, but in my eyes it's the moment that really "made" him as a man and as a character.

The contrast to this parental love is found in the step-mothers. I am glad both of these films choose to show that there's more to them than just being the wicked step-mother. Though these women are abusive, manipulative, bitter, and unloving, there are moments that show you very clearly they are flesh and blood with truly beating hearts. Both Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent of Ever After and Lady Tremaine of Cinderella are women who have known grief and are forced to get by in times when women, especially widowed women, were pretty darn low on society's totem pole. Their drive to survive is completely understandable, even if their methods are inexcusable.
Tremaine wears green throughout the film to represent envy.

In both films there is a theme of jealousy and envy in the step-mothers. They are jealous of the qualities of goodness, kindness, and newness that both Danielle and Ella have. This is in addition to the hurt of never feeling a depth of love from their departed second husbands that they hoped for and always feeling second-place. These women have tasted despair and hardship. They've lost their first husbands whom they professed to love and then are left alone with two daughters in a very male dominated society in which they could not earn their own income to survive.

We can feel sorry for them, but only to a point. The lesson they teach us is that jealousy and envy are the root of wickedness and that we cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. These step-mothers could have loved their step-daughters as their own. They could have had happiness and worked together to make a life in their home after so much grief. Instead they abused and misused their step-daughters and because of this cruelty brought further despair to their houses. In our own circumstances we can choose be courageous and kind like Cinderella or we can be bitter and envious like the step-mother. 

The Cinderella story is one of the most beloved and common of all time, I believe expressly because of it's themes and morals. Dressing in rags and serving doesn't make you low, it is the heart on the inside that decides that. I highly recommend both of these films. Ever After still remains on my top favorite films of all time.

Have you seen them both? Which is your favorite? Or do you prefer another version? Let me know in the comments below!

Alexis xx


  1. Mmm, interesting. The trailers for Cinderella totally turned me off. It looked so girlishly cheesy and yuck! haha! But maybe I will give it a chance and wait for the DVD. The Drew Barrymore version is definitely my favorite! Also, that was in the film age when thinks were presented in a more realistic light and naturally...thus, why the new Cinderella's glossy, perfect, overly shiny look turns me off! haha I love all your character analysis, though. It's always nice to get a version that one can relate to beyond Disney's cartoon, hehe! Not that I didn't like the cartoon, but that it didn't give you much back story on Cinderella, the Prince, the stepmother, etc.

    1. Yes Erika, the animated film was more about being groundbreaking as far as telling a story through a full-length animated film. Disney's early works kind of lacked in story sometimes, but they told the audience a lot of things visually or through music and then evolved over time. I was turned off by the current Cinderella too, especially as Disney's last couple of live-action remakes have been kind of... meh. This one is pretty glossy and kind of overly sugary at parts (mainly the beginning, it gets better once her life really starts to suck LOL!) but it was still really well done and the characters were well-rounded and engaging.The opulent beauty was more for style than anything but I think it shares good lessons as any decent fairy tale should, which for me is most important! ;-)