Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cinderella's supporting cast

Cinderella has some well-developed lovable (and love-to-hateable) characters! If you watch closely, Cinderella herself has a fairly small role in her own movie. It is all the surrounding characters which move the story forward. Here's my analysis.

The sidekicks 
There is a large amount of screen time devoted to the mice, led by Jac, the capable one, and Gus, the round cute one (there is always a round cute one, in case you didn't know.) In fact it almost seems like the story is more about them than it is about Cinderella. Most of these scenes involve the mice trying to get past the evil Lucifer (great name for a cat huh?), which provides both humor and tension. While Cinderella attends to endless chores, they are busy making her a dress that she can wear to the ball. How adorable is The Work Song? I love that they call her "Cinderelly".

Their shining moment, however, comes when they risk everything to retrieve the key in Stepmother's pocket so they can get Cinderella out of the attic. Even though I know how it ends, I can't help but nervously bite my nails during this scene. At the end of the day, it's clear why Gus and Jac are on Entertainment Weekly's list of "Most Valuable Pets."

The villain
Lady Tremaine (did anyone else know this was her name? For a long time I thought her name was just Stepmother) is one of the best worst villains. She is quiet and controlled, but just one glare is enough to know exactly how she feels. It's her subtlety that makes her so cruel. Though her motive may be to advance her own daughters' status, she also seems to use her daughters as pawns in abusing Cinderella. Notice that when the two stepsisters destroy Cinderella's dress, Anastasia and Drizella appear to be the vicious ones. But in reality the Stepmother provokes them, thereby continuing to oppress Cinderella without lifting a finger.

The most chilling moment of animation in the film is when the Stepmother realizes that Cinderella was the mysterious girl that the Prince danced with last night. The camera zooms in on her face as the whole scene darkens to a shade nearly black. Somehow we can feel her wrath just from the shadow that comes across her face. It's a genius moment in the film.

The magical/wise character
And what about the Fairy Godmother? There is no explanation of where she came from or why she up until now has been absent from Cinderella's life (or why after that night she is nowhere to be found). However, there is something connected with Cinderella's ability to believe and the appearance of the Fairy Godmother. Note that she says to Cinderella, "If you'd lost all your faith, I couldn't be here. And here I am." Hmmmm. In any event, the Fairy Godmother is a stark contrast from the Stepmother as far as mother figures go. While the latter is cold and distant, the Fairy Godmother is warm and kind. She's just the kind of person you would want to give you a big hug when you're feeling like crap.

I think it's interesting that her magic has limitations:
  1. She uses existing items to conjure up the things that would take Cinderella to the ball. (I notice that the Genie in Aladdin also does this to a certain degree when he uses Abu as Aladdin's 'mode of transportation'. I guess it makes for a humorous/charming scene to have the sidekick turn into something different?)
  2. The magic only lasts until midnight. It seems like this plot device is used just so there is some tension in the story. Otherwise there would be no threat. Still though, there's no explanation and we just take it at face value that no magic could be completely all powerful. I suppose this is where the parallels end when calling the Fairy Godmother a type of savior figure.
It's a breath of fresh air to have so many great supporting characters in Cinderella. I'm impressed that in an 80-minute film they're able to develop such rich and complex characters. I'm still waiting for a better developed love story though. We'll have to wait for the next princess story to find out (Sleeping Beauty, if I'm not mistaken. Though I suppose Lady & the Tramp has a love story as well.).

1 comment:

  1. I like how you analyzed the stepmother. I think the cunning evil character is much more ... evil than the outlandish and obvious evil character. I think it's much more like how evil works in everyday life - it's there, but it's often hard to detect.