Gender Roles - Men
Gender Roles - Men: 3 Stars
As in most traditional Cinderella stories, Prince Kit doesn't have a large role to play. He's frustrated with the pressure of choosing a bride, and in particular, with his father's demands that he chose a princess for the sake of strengthening their tiny kingdom. Kit doesn't share these concerns over the fate of his kingdom and is intent on following his heart. He's not so arrogant or vain that he can't see the beauty and value in a common peasant girl he meets in the forest, but he also doesn't have enough personality or character to convince us that he wouldn't have fallen in love with any random girl with a pretty face and a sad story.
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 1 Star
This is easily one of the most rote and uninspiring versions of Cinderella out there. Cinderella's mother urges her to be courageous and kind, but we don't see much courage from her. Ella's version of courage is more akin to a sort of blind optimism and an ability to stay cheerful and sturdy while tolerating more than her share of injustice at the hands of those who share her home. She has a certain confidence and spirit in the presence of the prince, insisting on the power of kindness and seeing the world as it should be, rather than as it is. But these simple platitudes do not amount to courage, and in real life, are hardly enough to break a person free of the sort of abusive home environment that Ella's fallen into.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 1.5 Stars
The Cinderella story, intentionally or not, encourages the notion that love and beauty will suffice to reverse a young girl's fortunes and make her dreams come true. Thanks to a pretty dress and a pleasant disposition, Ella never has to stand up to her tormentors. She never needs to outwit them or find any other means of escape from her situation. She simply clings to her belief in kindness and at the end of the day, a royal ball and a handsome prince are Ella's only recourse for triumphing over her cruel step family.
Plot: 1.5 Stars
The simple plot of Cinderella needs a lot of re-imagining in order to be palatable to a 21st Century audience. And yet this 2015 version of Cinderella is no more bold or empowering than the original Disney cartoon from 1951. In fact, the original Cinderella had a bit more backbone and sense of self-reliance. This version takes the strongest moment in Cinderella's story (when she insists on going to the ball in spite or her sisters' mockery and shows up in her mother's redesigned dress), and waters it down into an unlikely coincidence with a troupe of mice coming to her rescue - Cinderella herself puts in very little effort or planning at all. At the very least, the original included a number of catchy songs and warm interactions between Cinderella and her animal friends. This version lacks even this small amount of heart or inspiration.
Character Development: 2 Stars
This version of Cinderella shows us a bit more of Ella's connection with her mother, and in doing so, tries to explain away her dull obedience to her step mother and step sisters. Cinderella claims to remain in this oppressive situation out of loyalty to her mother - who taught her to be kind and courageous above all else. But the very idea that one should always place kindness above any other virtue, regardless of circumstances, only opens the door to exploitation and hurt. While Cinderella extols the inherent power of kindness, this film makes it difficult to see kindness as anything but a weakness. Girls have been told to be kind and sweet far too often, frequently resulting in them becoming doormats rather than brave or independent women. Had Cinderella's mother had any taste of injustice in her short life, she might have given her daughter a bit more useful advice on how to stand up for herself in a world that is every day trying to diminish a woman's power - rather than convincing her to believe in fairy godmothers and other forms of useless magic.
Love: 1.5 Stars
The love story between Ella and Kit is about as trite and simple as they come. They meet in a forest where he is impressed with her concern for the well-being of a wild animal. He admires her sense of everlasting kindness and optimism, qualities that are often valued in submissive women. The film tries to make their love story a bit more powerful by giving Ella the opportunity to present herself to him in rags, asking for his love and acceptance as she is. No mysterious princess, but a simple servant girl. Unfortunately, the moment falls flat. In one sense, because Kit has already made it clear that he cares for her regardless of her stature, but also because the scene suggests that Ella has bought into the petty criticisms of her stepmother and stepsisters. It would have been a far more powerful moment if she had spoken of her family and her dreams and her commitment to keeping their memory alive, rather than accepting the notion that she is no more than the rags on her back and the soot in her hair.
Supporting Characters: 2 Stars
As always, Cinderella attempts to portray Lady Tremain as a woman of some power and influence. But her ability to control and abuse a timid little mouse like Cinderella is hardly a sign of dominance. Near the end, the film attempts to build up some sympathy for Lady Tremain and add some dimension to her character. But it's too late and too little to really transform her into anything but a bully. She's just another vexatious woman who is motivated by jealousy and wealth. The writers and directors always have the option of introducing some commentary on the social structures that turn these women cruel and force them to pin all their hopes on the safety of a good marriage. If they had bothered to infuse her speech with just a hint of social justice, it could have made Lady Tremain a more intriguing character, and perhaps the one figure that intelligent women might cling to in a film full of docile and romanticized porcelain dolls.
Ella is a charming girl who loses her mother at a very young age. When her father also succumbs to a sudden illness, she finds herself at the mercy of a cruel stepmother and her garish daughters. Ella remains kind and cheerful as her mother taught her, eventually earning the attention of a handsome stranger in the woods. When it is announced that a ball will be held at the palace, Ella looks forward to reuniting with this handsome stranger - but she may need help from a powerful stranger to make her dreams come true.
Kelly is a labor law