(Due to a long wait for “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” to come from Netflix as well as an inability to obtain a copy anywhere, I’m going to look at movies I will or would recommend instead of the Disney Princess film.)
Brandy and Whitney Houston. Bernadette Peters and Whoopi Goldberg. Jason Alexander and Victor Garber.
Now that I have your attention, I would like to discuss the Made for TV movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which I said in my post on “Cinderella” that it is a better Cinderella story than the 1950 “Cinderella.” This particular film was made by Disney in 1997 for The Wonderful World of Disney and could maybe be praised its colorblind casting since that’s something TV is struggling with even today.
This “Cinderella” focuses on Cinderella (Brandy), who is a servant to her stepmother (Peters) and stepsisters, Minerva (Natalie Desselle-Reid) and Calliope (Veanne Cox). While at the market one day, she meets Prince Christopher (Paolo Montalban), who is in disguise so he can have a normal day. They click when they meet, but Cinderella must head off with her stepfamily. When Christopher returns to the castle, he finds out that his parents, King Maximillian (Garber) and Queen Constantina (Goldberg), are holding a ball to find a wife for their son. Cinderella wants to go to the
festival ball, but that’s preposterous according to her stepmother because of her looks and station. Of course, the stepmother is out to only get a title and marriage, which troubles Cinderella. After her family departs for the ball, she wishes to go to the ball and her Fairy Godmother (Houston) appears, giving her a carriage and a gown. She arrives at the ball and falls in love with the prince, only to have to flee at midnight.
Cinderella actually has depth in this film. Here she dreams of leaving her current life, but it’s not specifically through the prince. Yes, she wants to go to the ball but she doesn’t see marriage as a way to escape her life. Similarly, the prince has a personality and is an interesting character. The prince isn’t just some cute prop that Cinderella falls for. In fact, we can actually understand why Cinderella would want to marry this guy because he’s actually very sweet.
We also have a horrible stepmother. While Lady Tremaine mostly sits or stands and grins wickedly, the stepmother in this film actually has a speech where she tells Cinderella that no prince could be attracted to her because she’s common. She schemes, but she also demeans her stepdaughter and uses her daughters to try to advance her position.
This film also benefits from not having any talking mice, although Jason Alexander’s accent might take some time to get used to because it is initially off-putting since he’s the only person in this film with an accent. But compared to the incomprehensible mice we are subjected to in the animated “Cinderella.” Although the fairy godmother in the animated movie is silly, Houston is absolutely fabulous in the role. What also helps is that she dispenses wisdom that is beyond needing magic to make your dreams come true. At one point she tells Cinderella that the only person stopping her from going to the ball is herself. The message that conveys to children is that even if you are wearing rags, you are fabulous and loveable because of who you are on the inside.
Christopher also falls in love with Cinderella because she is both beautiful and charming. As far as we can tell Prince Charming only falls in love with Cinderella in the animated film because she’s in a pretty dress and has a nice hairdo. (Also, Brandy and Moltaban have great chemistry.)
As a musical, this film also features terrific musical numbers with fantastic choreography by Rob Marshall. Yes, the same guy who directed “Chicago” did the choreography for this film. But while all the numbers in this are fantastic, the group numbers pop because of the choreography and how they’re staged. The best example of this is the ball where couples are dancing around the floor dressed in blue and purple, flawlessly moving in synch.
However, the film shows its age with the special effects. Instead of pixie dust, we have these curls that resemble clip art that float around the fairy godmother. Although I can understand why this is done, it looks incredibly cheap. There are also moments where it seems as though the fairy godmother was supposed to look like she was flying to accompany Cinderella on the way to the ball. Unfortunately, it ends up looking like a hologram of the fairy godmother has been juxtaposed onto the carriage.
Other than the special effects, the only thing I can knock the film for is that Garber doesn’t do any singing in it, but that’s a personal thing and not something that directly influences the merit of the film. For those who are looking for a good princess story with musical numbers to share with children, this is an excellent film that also has the Disney name accompanying it. This is also a great movie for musical theater fans to watch both for the cast that is assembled as well as the staging.