Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The Wonderful World of Disney: "Cinderella" (1997)

Who's in it?: Brandy Norwood (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer), Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife), Paolo Montalban (Mortal Kombat: Conquest), Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Annie, Faerie Tale Theatre), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Orville), Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Victor Garber (Alias, Justice, Eli Stone, The Orville).

What's it about?: An updated version of the Rogers and Hammerstein televised musical.

How is it?: The Disney version makes some huge improvements over the original 1957 broadcast. First, it racially diversifies the cast in cool ways. It has King Victor Garber married to Queen Whoopi Goldberg in order to beget Prince Paolo Montalban and it just doesn't care how that works out genetically. It's a fairy tale. Likewise, stepmother Bernadette Peters' biological daughters are of different races. There are ways to explain that logically if you want to, but the story accepts it as normal. I like that a lot.

The production also fixes some of my issues with the way Cinderella herself was presented in the '57 version. Julie Andrews' character was especially powerless and I hated her song about how her only refuge is to retreat into "my own little corner in my own little chair." Turns out, Andrews and director Ralph Nelson affected my opinion about that more than I realized by having Cinderella sing the song mostly from her little chair. She felt very small and defeated. Brandy on the other hand (under the direction of Robert Iscove) is energetic and animated. She sings about being trapped, but she's bouncing all over the kitchen as she does it. She's not exactly subverting the lyrics, but she does demonstrate that she hasn't entirely given in yet, unlike Andrews.

Disney's version similarly overhauls the scene where Cinderella and her fairy godmother sing about the usefulness of wishing. In '57, Cinderella comes up with the outlandish ideas of hoping that a pumpkin turns into a carriage, etc., and then defends her dream to her apparently skeptical godmother. In '97, the godmother (Houston) plants the idea in Cinderella's head and nudges her towards the solutions she's looking for. The godmother is very much trying to get Cinderella to make decisions and take actions by herself.

That's similar to how Shelley Duvall's version of the story went, too. Houston's character insists that Cinderella is perfectly capable of winning the Prince over and escaping her horrible home life by herself (and those two goals aren't even necessarily connected); the godmother just gives her a supportive push.

As a production, the '97 version is top notch. The sets are great, the choreography around the songs is dynamic, and the whole cast is colorful and fun. I haven't mentioned Jason Alexander's role yet, but he's the royal... I don't know, steward? Party planner? Sidekick? He was a Grand Duke in the classic animated version. The guy in charge of planning the ball and eventually tracking down the owner of the glass slipper with the prince. Alexander is great as the stuffy, but sarcastic servant who deftly manages all the royal whims and protects the prince from the stepmother and her daughters at the ball.

Rating: Four out of five Bernadette Frickin' Peters


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I vaguely remember seeing this as a kid on TV. If memory serves Jason Alexander was the party planner who tries in convince everyone that Pepsi is better than wine... something like that.

Michael May said...



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