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.
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.
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.