After celebrating public and feminist acclaim with its animated hits Tangled and Frozen, it seemed Disney was committing to the ideals and characteristics of a modern woman. There was feminine solidarity, gender equity, power, courage and the natural positioning of women in status roles above men. So what happened?
With what will only be remembered as yet another re-creation of a classic tale, Disney has disappointed by choosing to perpetuate the female diminutive rather than adapting the tale to changing cultural attitudes. It's time for Disney to write off the Cinderella tale.
Cinderella stands for all that the original story crafters in the 1600s namely Charles Perrault decided was good in a girl: beauty, innocence, kindness, love and temperance. They also instilled in her character the ever-sought and admirable traits of naiveté, fairness, passiveness, reliance on externality and lack of self-determination.
The newest release from Disney seems to agree on all counts, though it adds cleavage glitter, spray tanning and what had to be five-inch heels to the list.
Here, it should be stated that the film was highly magical and entertaining and communicated the primary conflict of the film efficiently to its intended audience. The acting of all but the ever-fluid and intent Cate Blanchett was cartoonish and exaggerated. The wide eyes and sweeping motions were augmented with dark tones in unnaturally lit environments and saturated, color-spruced fairytale landscapes. The children in AMC Quail Springs theater 13 gasped and cackled, delighting in a visual language they could understand.
They roared with laughter when unbelievably raucous scenes of horse racing, pumpkin expansion and carriage disassembling came between adolescent character interactions. The comedic high point came from a goose-turned-carriage master, who, upon the order to drive, aptly replied, I can't drive. I'm a goose!
It was splendid. It was easy to follow. It inspired dreams and possibilities. No one ever got hurt. It was all the things that made Cinderella of the 50s and on so potent and important. Dreams came true.
But this is what makes it so dangerous. Fallible expectations are delivered in the downy-swaddled veil of dreams.
It's well to teach young children to dream and aspire. It might be good to feel that they will be watched over and nurtured and that their innocence and naiveté will be rewarded. It reassures adults that our mistakes and shortcomings won't have permanently negative impacts. But life will teach many of those children differently.
They might believe so vividly in these lessons that, come early adulthood, those they love seem well-intentioned in conflict, even with violent or abusive evidence to the contrary. They might believe that in the face of hardship, the burden of inspiring them to overcome themselves rests on someone else. They might be so disillusioned with comparing themselves to Lily James' corseted waist that they self-harm, degrading their natural bodies to align with an admired actress. According to a March 6 USA Today article, James herself couldn't even eat food while wearing it.
Film critique cant disregard the cultural context in which the film exists. One can only hope that there will come a stroke of midnight when Disney abandons their 1950s female caricature, admits that their magic is as good as squash and reflects the new-world female ideal.
Whatever modern discourses reveal that to be, it is not Cinderella no matter the magic.