Once upon a time … again.
A girl named Ella lost her mother when she was very young. Her father remarried, but then he passed away too.
Vivian, Ella’s stepmother, was very strict. She delegated household chores to Ella and confined her to the basement of the house. Her own two daughters, Malvolia and Narissa, were taught to treat Ella as a servant. And in their cruelness, they nicknamed their stepsister “Cinderella” because of the cinders that sometimes smudged her skin. (“And,” as Ella’s godmother points out, “because they weren’t that clever.”)
However, everything changed when Ella went to the King’s ball. She met the heir to the throne, Prince Robert, fell in love and lived happily ever after…
But surely there’s more to the story than that!
In this variation of the classic Grimm fairytale, Ella is still kind, her stepfamily is still mean, and her fairy godmother still helps her get ready for the ball.
However, Ella is also an aspiring fashion designer. She wants to own a dress shop—but women in her tiny kingdom aren’t allowed to run businesses.
And the Prince? Well, he’s not entirely sure he wants to run the kingdom. He enjoys philandering about, spending his days drinking and hunting. And he certainly isn’t ready to settle down.
But it wouldn’t be the story of Cinderella if she didn’t get the Prince, right?
As I stated above, Cinderella’s family is still mean in this retelling. However, Malvolia and Narissa (though often “obnoxious” and “self-absorbed”) also feel some sympathy for their stepsister. And they don’t destroy Ella’s dress to prevent her from attending the ball.
That unfortunate duty falls to Vivian. But instead of being just a cruel woman abusing her stepdaughter out of spite, we see a more complex character. We learn that Vivian had tried to pursue her own dream of becoming a pianist but wound up with nothing but heartbreak. And as a result, she tried to prepare all of her daughters for the harsh reality of what it means to be a woman in their patriarchal society (albeit through some very unsavory methods).
On that note, we see some unfortunate sexist behaviors from both men and women in this film. Women aren’t allowed to own businesses or run shops. They aren’t allowed to give advice or offer opinions on matters pertaining to the kingdom. They’re only considered to be of worth if they come from money and stature (or if they smile). And heaven forbid if a woman should reject an offer from a man of means.
That being said, these sexist attitudes are gradually addressed by the story. We see a shift in how people value women. And by the movie’s end, women are being rewarded for their hard work and given a literal seat at the table.
The King himself goes through a pretty big transformation. Though he married for love, his son doubts that story since he’s ordering Robert to marry for power. And his wife feels neglected after years of watching her husband dismiss her and their daughter in order to keep up appearances. However, the King goes to great lengths to change his attitude and honor his wife and daughter.
For her part, Ella is a hard worker and kind young woman. Though a bit headstrong and outspoken, she makes time to help even the lowliest of creatures (such as rescuing a caterpillar from a spider’s web). And although her stepfamily can be cruel, she does her chores gracefully—without complaint. She even tells her stepsister that what other people think of how you look doesn’t matter; what matters is how you feel when you look in the mirror. And her hard work is rewarded when she is offered the chance to realize all her dreams.
[Spoiler Warning] When Ella is given the choice between marrying the Prince and following her dream, she chooses her dream because of all the hard work she’s put into it. Robert is understanding of her decision. Later, when he’s given the same choice—between Ella and the crown—he chooses Ella, because he realizes that the crown was never really his dream anyway.
Remember that caterpillar I mentioned? It turns into a butterfly. And although that’s normally a natural part of life, this one emerges from its cocoon in an array of sparkles and light. It then magically transforms into Ella’s “Fabulous Godmother.”
The Fabulous Godmother waves a magic wand to transform Ella’s simple dress into the ballgown of her dreams. Another wave and an apple crate become a horse-drawn carriage. Yet another and Ella’s mice friends turn into footmen to accompany her to the ball.
As an added bonus to the spell, Ella’s glass shoes won’t hurt and nobody at the ball will recognize her for who she is (since she was banned from attending by Vivian). Of course, these magical gifts come with a caveat: Once the clock strikes midnight, RUN!
Ella’s mice friends can talk. Song lyrics mention praying.
Perhaps the most controversial topic in Cinderella is the portrayal of Ella’s fairy godmother by LGBT actor Billy Porter. He comes on the scene wearing a dress and high-heeled shoes, giving himself the moniker Fabulous Godmother. This element of the story seems deliberately designed both to shock and to get a laugh, and it continues the ongoing cultural trend of incorporating LGBT themes in stories aimed at a young audience.
But there are some other surprising details that pop up throughout the film. A princess courting Robert calls sex the “disgusting practice of making a son,” and later references his genitals. Moreover, when Ella and Robert finally get together, they state their desire to travel the world together—though not to marry or even to “put a label” on their relationship.
What’s more, women are very much presented as objects for men to choose from (and you can read more about this topic on our blog). The whole reason the kingdom is having a ball is so Robert can meet all the eligible women and choose his bride. Elsewhere, a man makes several women uncomfortable with his creepy advances. And we even hear that a woman and her daughters were abandoned by her husband because he didn’t believe women should pursue their dreams.
Ella and Robert kiss. Some female characters wear revealing ballgowns. Characters dance a bit sensually in some songs (and one dance number shows women literally fawning over men). Another song talks about kissing. Women stare at a man whose chest is exposed. Men ogle women. A married woman is disappointed when she realizes she won’t be able to court the prince (since she’s no longer available). Some women tell Robert they want to have his children. There is a passing reference to incest.
A queen openly admits she murdered a man for the throne. After ruining Ella’s ballgown, Vivian grabs the girl by her ear, hurting her. One of Robert’s friends throws something at his head. (And Robert responds by smacking his friend repeatedly, though neither is harmed.)
Mice bite a man. Ella throws a shoe at a man’s head. Malvolia and Narissa pull each other’s hair. Malvolia pinches and slaps Narissa’s cheeks to make them rosy. Men talk about hunting foxes. We hear that someone died of dysentery. There is a joke that Robert still gets spanked. The King tells his daughter not to stab him in his sleep.
We hear two uses of “h—” and 11 misuses of God’s name. We also hear the British profanity “bloody” and the f-word stand-in “frickin’.” A mouse is slapped by his fellow when he exclaims, “Holy Fudge!”
People drink. Robert talks about being drunk.
The King arrests several actors for writing an unflattering play about Robert. Ella is falsely accused of stealing a dress. Vivian tells Ella that it is only her love for Ella’s father that keeps her from throwing Ella out on streets. Vivian also threatens to disown Ella if her stepdaughter disobeys her.
Someone steps in bird excrement. A character vomits. When the mice are turned into footmen, they talk about “relieving” themselves and are fascinated by their new human male anatomy.
The latest cinematic take on Cinderella feels a bit like the Anne Hathaway movie, Ella Enchanted 2.0. I mean, they even did a remake of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (which was featured prominently in that film) and Minnie Driver stars in this movie, too!
Though there are a few differences. While Anne Hathaway portrayed a humanitarian version of Cinderella, Camila Cabello takes on the feminist stance.
“Women give birth and run households! They should be able to run shops,” she tells Robert.
Robert agrees with her. And unlike the prince in Ella Enchanted, he’s not ignorant to the goings-on in his kingdom. He knows society has big injustices. But every time he tries to talk to his father about them, the King shuts him down.
Luckily, by the end of the film, the King learns from his mistakes. He takes the time to listen to his son, his wife and his daughter—all of whom he had been ignoring for years in an effort to “preserve his legacy.” He repairs the relationships within his family and creates new laws to benefit the kingdom—specifically the women within the kingdom.
But sadly, that isn’t all there is to tell.
While the story may have the classic “happily ever after” ending, the content here doesn’t.
As I mentioned earlier, Ella’s fairy godmother is portrayed by a man. A woman references sex (in a non-descriptive manner) then winkingly says to some another woman, “You know what I’m talking about.”
Unfortunately, while this aside may go over the heads of younger audiences, teenagers and adults do indeed know exactly what she’s talking about. And there are quite a few misuses of God’s name and minor profanity to deal with, too.
Those issues, though definitely problematic, might still be navigable for older audiences who are prepared to talk through them. Because the story still delivers some positive messages. It tells us that if we work hard, we can achieve our dreams; it reminds viewers that kindness is rewarded, and that family and love are more important than power and appearances. We see that romantic love doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. And perhaps most importantly, we see that a person’s worth (often a woman’s worth in this story) isn’t determined by status or power.
That last theme is in harmony with Scripture (even if the movie doesn’t connect those dots: We are all intrinsically valuable because we are all image-bearers of God. We exist, therefore we have worth.
And these are messages worth discussing with your family if you choose to watch this latest iteration of Cinderella.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.