Six Cinderellas

Above: an image from Georges Melies’ 1899 Cinderella, probably the first film adaptation of the fairy tale ever made.  My boyfriend and I have been talking about the Cinderella story a lot lately, having recently watched the most recent film version together (which we both found disappointing).  He’s convinced that the story is, inherently, a dud; I maintain that, when done well, film versions of “Cinderella” deliver romance and drama, a compelling heroine, and durable supporting characters.  Here are five more Cinderellas, all of which are superior to Kenneth Branagh’s. 

A classic family film in Europe (where I’m told it runs on television at Christmas), Vaclav Vorlicek’s Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973) is slightly cheesy and thoroughly charming.  This Czech Cinderella (Libuse Safrankova) is something of a tomboy, having been taught to shoot and ride by her late father, but her assertiveness doesn’t feel like a calculation on the part of the filmmakers.  In place of a fairy godmother, she’s helped by three magic hazelnuts and a pet owl named Rosie.  Highly recommended.       

I’m especially fond of the 1985 version shot for Showtime’s Faerie Tale Theatre, which stars Jennifer Beals as Cinderella, Matthew Broderick as the Prince, and Maureen Stapleton as a winsome, Southern-fried Fairy Godmother.  Beals is immensely appealing, and her chemistry with both Broderick and Stapleton is lovely—this “Cinderella” is rich in warmth and humor.  Eve Arden makes an appropriately bitchy stepmother, and Edie McClurg and Jane Alden are delightfully obnoxious as the stepsisters.   

Tom Davenport’s Ashpet (1990) is, like his Snow White re-telling Willa, sadly underseen.  It moves the story to rural Virginia c. 1942, where instead of a ball Ashpet (Cinderella) attends a town dance for departing G.I.s.  The Internet’s social justice contingent would no doubt condemn Louise Anderson’s “Dark Sally” as “problematic”—a variation of the Magical Negro stereotype.  But she’s unquestionably the best thing about the film, a fairy godmother like none other.  

Like many children born in the television age, I grew up on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella musical, which has been filmed for TV three times.  I have fond memories of the 1965 version starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon.  Re-watching this recently for the first time in probably twenty-four years I was surprised by how adorably cheap it looked, and surprised by how funny Pat Carroll was as the burlier and more hoydenish of the stepsisters.  The songs, too, remain fine, especially “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”

Disney’s 1950 animated film remains the best-known and most divisive adaptation.  Most of its critics complain that this Cinderella is too chirpy and passive; my issues have more to do with the animation of the human characters (which looks too obviously Rotoscoped) and the preponderance of Looney-Tunes style comic gags (parodied hilariously in Tex Avery's The Peachy Cobbler).  The settings, however, are beautifully evoked: Cinderella’s house is drenched in Gothic shadows, and the middle sequences of the film sparkle with lush 1950s glamour.  And, as always with Disney, it’s got a villain who will haunt your dreams long into adulthood.       

No comments:

Post a Comment