Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Musings: The Power of Choosing Kindness (A Review of Cinderella)

I (finally) got around to seeing the live action Disney Cinderella remake from 2015 a few weeks ago. (Hey, I never said I was up-to-date on pop culture. Ever.) I'd been planning to do a review because (like Pete's Dragon) it impressed me more than I'd anticipated. Then Mirriam and Arielle both posted about villains and their thoughts on the matter coincided with my main praise for the film: the way it handles its villains (and its heroes).

One of the main detractions I have seen lobbied against this film is that it's "just the animated film with live actors." Well, it isn't. Aside from the fact that the new film drops the songs and has a significantly different script, it also adds motivation for Cinderella and Lady Tremaine.

First, Cinderella. In this version, her parents are given screen time, and a good portion, too. We see their happy life together before Cinderella is orphaned. The key elements of this opening sequence are twofold: first are Cinderella's mother's encouragements to "Have courage and be kind" and second (and this will later apply to Prince Kit as well) is the idea of honoring her mother's wish to face life's challenges with those choices. Cinderella exemplifies her mother's wished-for virtues. She and her father face life alone bravely, and when her father remarries, she welcomes her new family with kindness. (Some might argue that her kindness is akin to being a doormat, but I disagree. Cinderella knows she is being mistreated, and she continues to follow her mother's admonitions in a living example of the Biblical mandate to "overcome evil with good.")

Even in the worst moments, Cinderella does not choose to respond to her stepmother's cruelty with harsh words or even small, mean-hearted pranks. The closest she ever comes is in her statement (before the Captain) to Lady Tremaine: "You are not, nor have you ever been, my mother." The tone in which she delivers this sentence is somewhat disdainful, but even so it comes across as a statement of fact coupled with a determination on Cinderella's part to cut off her stepmother's evil from her life. But she is not hateful; Cinderella forgives her stepmother (or at least extends the spirit of forgiveness, since Lady Tremaine never repents as far as we are told). [It should be noted that Kit, though still "an apprentice monarch," is wise enough to exile Lady Tremaine and the treacherous Grand Duke.]

By contrast to her stepdaughter, Lady Tremaine is neither brave nor kind. In a beautifully written and executed scene, she refers to her own hardships in life. But where Cinderella chose kindness, Lady Tremaine chose cruelty. She chose to respond to Cinderella's relationship with her father (Tremaine's second husband) with jealousy (vividly portrayed by the many green dresses she wears in the film). She chooses greed and self-promotion over her duty as a caretaker to Cinderella after the death of Cinderella's father. Rather than allow Cinderella to achieve happiness with Kit (and possibly provide some comfort for her stepfamily along the way) Tremaine attempts to blackmail Cinderella into making Kit a puppet. She destroys the glass slipper out of spite. She admits to hating Cinderella because she is "young and beautiful and kind," although she never quite states what she (Tremaine) is, in contrast.

In the end, as in all good and true fairytales, Cinderella's kindness and bravery win out over Lady Tremaine's cruelty and greed. And that is why I love this new version as much as (or more than) the "original."

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