20th Anniversary of Ever After

Ever After Cinderella 1998 Breathe Dress Ball Gown Fairy Tale Drew Barrymore

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the premiere of Cinderella movie Ever After. Even though it’s from 1998, it’s still loved by many for its mix of pseudo-history, adventure, and a strong heroine. I was in college at the time, and still remember going to the cinema to see it.

Here’s the trailer:

And now you have an excuse to watch it again!

Can Cinderella stories still work?

There are a million historical romances that could be considered Cinderella-ish. Everywhere you go in the genre you find governesses being swept off their feet by earls, and lowly serving girls who turn out to be secret daughters of dukes.

But how about actual Cinderella stories?

My main problem with Cinderella is that it basically relies on misogyny to get its point across. There are no bad men in Cinderella, only mean, jealous, and downright evil women who are countered by overly sweet and kind “good women”. It’s the women of the tale who try to ruin Cinderella’s life, and it’s women in the story who fight over a man.

01-lily-james-cinderella Richard Madden Prince

For all its criticisms of being outdated and the protagonist being too stereotypically feminine (shock, horror!), I think the recent Disney movie pulled off something a little deeper than that. Cate Blanchett’s stepmother was a more complex character than just being evil for no particular reason. But the movie still has the problems that come with packaging women into “good” and “bad” boxes.

Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

I recently had my hands on a review copy of The Cinderella Governess by Georgie Lee. The Cinderella name is right there in the title, and I was interested to see how the theme would be handled.

The Cinderella Governess (The Governess Tales #1) by Georgie Lee

I love the Harlequin/Mills and Boon historical line; it is probably the strongest line the publisher produces, and it easily outdoes most other publishers producing historical romance – despite the negative stereotypes too many readers attach to Harlequin books.

I thought that if anybody was going to produce a decent historical romance with a Cinderella theme, Harlequin Historical would.

Instead, I was treated to all the misogynistic stereotyping I would expect from Twilight fan fiction.

Harlequin usually gets their covers surprisingly correct. They take character descriptions into consideration. However, this heroine is a redhead, not blonde – and this is an important factor in the book.

Because the author trots out blonde woman after blonde teen after blonde girl – and demonises them. In true Twilight style, all blondes are beautiful, jealous, self-absorbed bitches – for no reason. In fact, one blonde teen is even referred to as a harlot!

Brunettes are downtrodden.

And our redhead heroine is special.

I’ll admit: I didn’t finish the book. I guess I’ve read one too many books like this recently.

I like the IDEA of the Cinderella theme in historical – or any – romance, but perhaps we could start tackling it without making all other women out to be enemies.

Cinderella Deluxe Illustrated Novel by Brittany Candau

Cinderella Deluxe Illustrated Novel by Brittany Candau

Ella is different than most young women in the kingdom. She can quote any Shakespearean play. She befriends every animal she meets, including the scurrying mice living in the walls. She believes in the power of kindness, in changing customs that are not so kind. Ella has faced unspeakable tragedy and loss, and is at the mercy of her cruel stepfamily. And yet, Ella tries to keep a brave face, no matter how difficult this becomes. Kit has always been deemed a “dreamer.” He values peace above all else. He’s never understood the point of certain royal traditions and rituals. He’d rather spend time in his mother’s garden than learn to fence or sit for a portrait. And as a prince, this has been somewhat problematic. This is a story about kindness and courage, about love lost and love found, about the power of names. This is the story of Cinderella.

Cinderella Deluxe Illustrated Novel by Brittany Candau

I don’t know why it is I decided to get so interested in Disney’s new Cinderella movie. Maybe because the casting was interesting and I loved the director’s takes on Shakespeare in the past.

Anyway, I read the junior novelisation, and then I read this more grown-up version of the same story.

What a difference it makes.

I’m not going through it all again, because I’ve already reviewed this story, but I’m a little sad that this was such a good take on the Cinderella tale, when the watered-down younger version, a novelisation of exactly the same film script, removed all the character nuance and made both lead characters irritatingly weak!

Unlike the other version, in this book we get to see and understand how and why Cinderella and the Prince are so taken with each other. We’re also given a better background to why the Prince makes the political decisions he does (a children’s story, yes, but the few mentions of politics in the junior book were just downright wimpy!). The Stepmother’s motivations are better-explained. The friendships and the fun are there.

And what a fantastic change to have a Disney princess who admits her favourite colour is blue, not pink!

I don’t know how much of this is going to make it onto the screen, but I’m much more satisfied with this take on Cinderella than I was when reading the other book.

And here’s an interesting take on the film, which says something I agree with, whether or not you like this version of the Cinderella story:

For too many movies or television shows, the notion of a “strong female character” is merely a humourless woman who can hurt people and wreck stuff as efficiently as the stereotypical male action lead, or at least has just enough moments posing with a weapon to sell that notion in the trailers. But of course those of us who clamour for “strong female characters” merely want popular entertainments where the women on screen are as complex and developed as the male characters.

Cinderella by Walt Disney Company

Cinderella Junior Novel (Junior Novelisation) by Walt Disney Company

Ella’s childhood is a happy one: she has loving parents, plenty of fields and meadows to explore, and lots of kind animal friends to play with. A sweet child, Ella warms the hearts of all who meet her. And her home is a wonderful place, the perfect little kingdom for a joyful family. But when tragedy strikes, Ella’s happy home turns into one filled with sadness and cruelty. Will Ella be able to hold onto her kindness and courage through it all?

Cinderella Junior Novel (Junior Novelisation) by Walt Disney Company

After I read this book, I read the more ‘grown-up’ version, and it was much, much better. If you want to read one of these, read the Illustrated Novelisation, not this one!

Plenty of people are excited about the new live action movie version of Disney’s Cinderella, and so I figured I might as well read the novelisation and see what they’d done with the (admittedly pretty anaemic) romance this time round. The 1950 animated version is entertaining enough, but there’s a lot more time devoted to singing and mice than there is to character development or any of the actually interesting parts of the Cinderella story.

There are a lot of people who start worrying every time a new fairy tale movie comes out. They don’t want the story “ruined” by a “feminist agenda”. Now, I find that really offensive and misogynistic, but I also understand people wanting to see the original story without too many changes.

And this is exactly what we get here.

The movie trailers promised a longer and more meaningful connection between Ella and her prince (Kit in this book). However, those few seconds in the trailer where they meet on horseback in the forest? That’s all there is!

The character of the prince IS more fleshed out, but he is off in the palace doing his own thing while Cinderella is busy ‘having courage and being kind’ while being literature’s greatest doormat.

Something about this book I thought was hilarious was that the author had a character using bloody as a swear word. Um… this is a children’s book!

And because it is a children’s book, I won’t even get started on all the incorrect forms of address for royalty. Surely even a Disney author has access to Wikipedia!

If you’re expecting an alpha hero in the shape of a prince, you’ll be disappointed. He’s a shy sort of fellow whose plan for ruling the kingdom is not for international alliances (he doesn’t want any!), but to rule with kindness, courage and love. Ho-kay then. That sounds smart!

I do really like softer, kinder, less assertive heroines, as backwards as that may sound. I was a very shy thing at Cinderella’s age. However, there’s kind and then there’s THIS! It was a little painful to see what a weak and useless creature Cinderella was – even more so than in the animated version.

This is exactly what you’d expect: a fairy tale movie put on the page. Expect nothing more.