But the thingmabob that does the job… Review of Cinderella (the Whitest Story Ever Told)


There’s nothing good about the story of Cinderella.  The moral is particularly awful: if you’re pretty, you shouldn’t have to do chores.

The live action version of Cinderella doesn’t progress the story much, although we now have three people of colour to juxtapose how white this whole affair is.  Ella is a young girl who thinks her family isn’t particularly wealthy, despite owning a massive property, a flock of animals, and a fleet of servants.  She leads a happy life not doing terribly much, pottering around a farm like Leon Tolstoy trying to find authenticity and trying to pretend that it’s not class tourism.  Then, one day, her mother dies and she experiences sadness for the first time.  Apart from this one moment of unhappiness, her existence as a happy halfwit continues unabated until her father decides to remarry.

The theme of the ‘new woman’ replacing the mother is a tried-and-true trope in fairytales.  The father is thirsty, but can’t get quenched at home.  The daughter, who has taken upon herself the role of carer, is confronted with the reality that her father has needs that she can’t satisfy.  The step-mother is the embodiment of her incapacity, and the tension between care-giver and intimacy results in conflict.  In the daughter, the step-mother sees competition for the role of care-giver, discovering that she does not have exclusivity over the attention of the father.  She looks at her own daughters, compares them with her new step-daughter, and either has to acknowledge a failure or must preserve the psychic self-image through a sort of cruel righteousness: there’s some principled reason why the step-mother must denigrate the daughter.

When Ella’s father dies, the step-mother expects Ella to do chores.  She’s an orphan and not really family, so what obligations are owed by the step-mother to the step-daughter?  Ella is moved out of the role of family member and into the role of domestic servant.

But the universe cannot have pretty girls doing domestic chores, so the world must be returned to normality through magical means.  Ordinary, mundane, domestic objects — vegetables, farm animals, and the domestic servant — are transformed into noble counterparts.  Each is raised up to its highest aspect: the vegetable becomes the vehicle for social progression, the beasts become attendants to the journey, and the pretty girl who has to do chores ascends to the position of princess.  Each of the magical objects around her reminds her of her humble origins, and yet they add to the fantastic aspect of ‘object out of place’: the princess is just as out of place as the pumpkin.  Where we had class tourism at the start of the film (with Ella pretending to be a serf), we have a fantasy version of class tourism (the vegetables, rodents, farm animals, and domestic servants go to the palace).

Because she’s sufficiently pretty, she ends up meeting the prince.  He falls in love with her prettiness.  She becomes a princess.  The end.

I’ve never seen the point of ‘[Insert Disney film] on Ice’.  It didn’t add anything to the story, nor did it transform the story into a meaningful new artform.  This film is the ‘Cinderella on Ice’ version of a film.  We already have the cartoon version with its morals that are somehow excusable because it was made before we knew better.  The live-action version is unnecessary.

It’s also creepy.  Watching three men scream while turning into lizards and geese is the reason why I haven’t got around to buying the new Majora’s Mask on Nintendo 3DS.  There’s some body horror that we really don’t need to see played out in high definition.

This is a terrible film and Helena Bonham Carter needs to stop being in films.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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