My daughter, at three and a half, is just at the age the Disney Princess line is aimed at. And while I don’t mind the occasional Disney movie, I don’t want her on a steady diet of them. But on the other hand, I love fairy tales and musicals. What to do? Go to the library, of course! All right, this one is still put out by Disney, but it’s live action and so very fun.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
I watched a 1960s version of Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Cinderella as a teen, and then found this 1998 version when I was in grad school and watched it for my Children’s Literature course. It’s got a high-star cast, including Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother, Brandy as Cinderella, Bernadette Peters as the stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the queen, and Jason Alexander (from Seinfeld) as the messenger. Then-newcomer Paolo Montalban co-stars as the dreamy prince. The casting is delightfully colorblind – we’ve got an African-American Cinderella and a Filipino prince with an African-American mother and a white or maybe Hispanic father. Brandy’s voice as Cinderella is a little unfocused for my taste, but the rest of the singers make up for it, and I do enjoy an embellished take on the standard musical style. It’s not one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s more popular musicals, and the music is on the tricky side for actually singing. That just makes me love it all the more, and it’s been terribly sweet hearing my daughter go around singing “for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage – it’s possible!” and “the gweatest love in all my life is waiting somewhere for me.” The movie is filled with bright colors and slightly irregular rounded shapes to the buildings, bringing the fairy tale world to life. The prince and Cinderella meet early on, both in peasant clothes, and start getting to know each other then, which takes away both the Insta-love that can be troubling in fairy tales brought to life, and makes it clear that they want each other as people, not for his status and her beauty. In the Disney animated version, I get the feeling that the message is something like “if you’re good and kind enough, you’re sure to be rewarded”. Here, though, the message that Cinderella’s fairy godmother gives her is that she deserves to be treated better, and she needs to take action beyond just wishing to make it happen. Both of my kids love this version, and I’m not inclined to fight it.
We’ve also recently been enjoying Once Upon a Mattress again, which has a similar feel, though with the emphasis a little more on the humor and less on the romance.