Despite this truly adorable Halloween costume, Cinderella was never my favorite Disney movie. As a child, I thought it was boring, and as an adult, I know why: Cinderella is the most passive of the Disney Princesses.
You can hardly blame her. Cinderella is a victim from the start thanks to her wicked stepmother, and her story is set during a nebulous time when women were not proactive. Things just happen to them, and they are expected to suffer through them. That’s what makes them so virtuous, you see.
You can’t even really blame Disney for continuing that narrative in 1950, because it still existed in real life. Just look at your grandmother or great-grandmothers. Were they, like mine, people-pleasers who put the needs of others (particularly their husbands) in front of their own to the point that it chipped away at their health, slowly and then all at once? That’s the patriarchy for you, and Cinderella fits squarely into it.
When I was 4 years old, I had Ariel and Belle and Jasmine before I had Cinderella, and some part of me must have clued in on the difference between Classic Disney Princesses and Golden Age Disney Princesses that early because the classic ones just weren’t interesting. A girl with no agency, who endures her stepfamily’s abuse and cleans up after them without complaint, who only becomes a princess when a cardboard cut-out prince rescues her, was not the kind of girl I wanted to be. Sure, she had a pretty dress, some nice songs and a cadre of extremely annoying animal friends, but compared to dreamy, determined Ariel? Brave, bookish Belle and tenacious, outspoken Jasmine? No, thank you.
(Which isn’t to say my Disney Princesses are perfect. Kids these days have no idea how lucky they are to have Moana.)
You could argue that Cinderella is worth rewatching in 2019 for the animation — which truly is gorgeous — but that also gets you into some quagmire thanks to the poor 2005 Diamond Edition restoration that Disney continues to re-release in its subsequent editions, including this year’s Anniversary one. This restoration brightened colors and erased delicate line art that you can now only see in special features made before the restoration. This well-intentioned but poorly executed job doesn’t just make Cinderella a little unnerving to watch, but it also erased an important part of film and art history — a tragedy in that realm if ever there was one.
Furthermore, the Anniversary edition of Cinderella contains only two new special features: “In Walt’s Words: Envisioning Cinderella,” a novel commentary feature wherein transcripts from story meetings are brought to life by voice actors as the film plays, and “Try This Trivia On For Size,” which features a couple Disney Channel stars delivering fun bits of trivia intended for kids. The rest of the special features fall under the “Classic Bonus” umbrella and include everything from documentary features, featurettes on the real-life inspiration for the Fairy Godmother and the wonderful artist Mary Blair, and Walt Disney’s first Cinderella short from 1922. Personally, I found all the historical, making-of features to be much more interesting than the movie itself.
And therein lies the rub. Where does Cinderella belong in this day and age? There’s no doubt it’s an important historical artifact, but I’m not sure I see the benefit of counting it among your Disney collection any longer. In fact, I’m probably one of the rare critics who prefers the 2015 Cinderella, which for my money is the best of Disney’s live-action remakes. The modern version infuses its characters with real personalities and conflicts, and transforms Cinderella’s passivity into a philosophy — “have courage and be kind” — that is challenged as much as it is reinforced. But then again, maybe the 2015 Cinderella is only so refreshing because they had nowhere to go but up.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but nostalgia isn’t enough for me to recommend this latest Classic Disney release.
The Anniversary Edition of Cinderella is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms.