By Matt Singer
What happens when you put the classic Cinderella story together with a modern setting or flip the protagonists’ sexes? A whole lot more than bippity-boppity-boo. In honor of the new film “Year of the Fish,” a self-proclaimed “Cinderella in a Chinatown massage parlour,” here are five more unique reinventions of this durable fairy tale popularized by French author Charles Perrault in 1697. Read quickly, though: at the stroke of midnight, this article turns back into zeros and ones.
“Ever After” (1998)
Directed by Andy Tennant
The Brothers Grimm are called before the Grand Dame of France (Jeanne Moreau) to set the record straight on the “real” Cinderella, who had no magical benefactors or means of conveyance, though she did get some wardrobe support from Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey). Actually named Danielle De Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), she was living in servitude to her stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla (Angelica Huston) when she met Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) as he pilfered one of the family’s horses. When she bumps into Henry again while posing as Nicole de Lancret to try to save one of her family’s servants, Danielle is forced to carry on a double life, meeting the prince at a series of secret romantic rendezvous. Barrymore’s Danielle is no fair princess with her secret identity, selfless deeds and championship skills with a blade, she’s more like a superhero. This version of Cinderella is unquestionably the most “adult” (with the exception of Cheryl Smith’s 1977 soft core musical version, which, unfortunately, wasn’t at my local video store) it’s the only one rated PG-13 and the least whimsical; at times, the magic-free depictions of the dingy realities of France’s lower class can get a bit oppressive. Still, this rendition isn’t as accurate as it claims the real Prince Henry was born the same year the real da Vinci died, not to mention the fact that everyone in France in the 16th century speaks with an English accent.
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Remember when Jerry Lewis said he didn’t like female comedians because he thought of women strictly as “producing machine[s] that bring babies in the world”? The statement doesn’t seem quite so shocking after you watch Lewis in “Cinderfella,” a gender swap of the traditional tale where the actor’s hapless Fella falls for a Princess Charming (Anna Maria Alberghetti) in order to “rectify all the great wrongs” leveled upon men throughout the ages because of the Cinderella legend. As Fella’s Fairy Godfather (Ed Wynn) tells it, the Cinderella legend “has brought nothing but dissatisfaction to the hearts of women, and their husbands have taken the brunt of it.” Women, you see, have been brainwashed by Cinderella stories into expecting Prince Charming. When he doesn’t show up, “these women married the closest available man. And they were forever after miserable because they always regretted and they felt that they had taken second best. But what is worse, they made their poor husbands miserable because the poor fellow wasn’t a prince.” Fella is on a mission from God himself “settle the score for all the downtrodden married men. And when we finish, the married men of the world will be able to look their wives in the face, that is if they have their makeup on, and put them in their place.” Someone should have told Lewis that women don’t hate men because they’ve seen “Cinderella” one too many times; they hate him because he says stupid crap like this. Many Cinderella interpretations have tweaked the perceived sexism in the original story. “Cinderfella” may be the only one to declare it not quite sexist enough.
“Ella Enchanted” (2004)
Directed by Tommy O’Haver
In this twist on the classic story, our heroine has an additional impingement to true love beyond the standard wicked stepmother and stepsisters: an obnoxious fairy godmother who puts Ella (Anne Hathaway) under a problematic spell. Given the gift of “obedience,” she’s compelled to follow any direct order, no matter how unsavory it is: once those damn stepsisters get wise, they immediately force her to steal a pair of glass slippers for their amusement. Despite its obvious debt to the original fairy tale, “Ella Enchanted” owes almost as much to “Shrek” Ella does battle with ogres, sings a variety of pop standards and spends her free time at her medieval village’s mall (it’s even got an escalator), where Prince Char (Hugh Dancy), as he’s called, is treated like a teeny bopper coming to the food court to sign autographs. The obedience spells add some fun wrinkles to the archetype: the midnight deadline becomes the moment when Ella’s been ordered to murder Prince Char by his power-grabbing uncle Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), and connoisseurs of stepsister shenanigans should take notice of Lucy Punch, who is impressively despicable as Hattie, the sibling who discovers Ella’s weakness and tortures the hell out of her.
“A Cinderella Story” (2004)
Directed by Mark Rosman
This modern Cinderella dares, however briefly, to suggest that there can be more to a woman’s life than just landing a Prince Charming. In “A Cinderella Story”‘s prologue, Samantha’s dad reads Cinderella stories while encouraging her to look for more than just a quickie marriage. If she works hard enough, she could even go to Princeton (because, embarrassingly, “that’s where princes go”). Then the prologue ends and a teenaged Sam (Hilary Duff) spends the rest of the movie drooling over Austin (Chad Michael Murray), who’s got the body of a quarterback and the soul of a poet. Talk about fantasy! Naturally, Austin also wants to attend Princeton, and the pair begin chatting anonymously on an internet message board for prospective Tigers. No glass slippers this time around; instead, Sam, attending her high school’s Halloween dance disguised as Cinderella, loses her cell phone and Austin, dressed as Prince Charming, finds it. There’s a lot of forced Disney Channel-ready wackiness, particularly from the stepsisters, who have an extended battle in a sudsy car wash and an extended synchronized swimming routine replete with fart jokes, but Jennifer Coolidge is delightful as Sam’s fiendishly ditzy stepmother Fiona. When her stepdaughter protests that she can’t work for her because she’ll be late for school, Fiona replies, “People go to school to get smarter, so that they can get a job. You already have a job, so it’s like skipping a step.” Now, that’s some truly wicked parenting.
Directed by Bruce Leddy
Leave it up to “Sesame Street” to make a Cinderella tale for the youngest possible audience and ultimately make the version with the most mature message. Elmo, that adorable little red monster, wants to attend the Princess’ Ball, but his stepmother (Kathy Najimy) forbids it (the traditional dead father issue is obviously overlooked). Enter Frank the Fairy Godperson (Oliver Platt!), who can help Elmo, but isn’t sure he should. He tells Elmo that he doesn’t believe in “this whole idea that a big fairy godperson is going to fly into your window and fix your life when things get sticky.” He encourages Elmo to get proactive in a charming song that insists that “doing is what makes a dream come true.” Still, audiences farther removed from their years as “Sesame Street” viewers may be a bit confused, and even disturbed, by some of “CinderElmo”‘s plot points: exactly how, for example, has Najimy given birth to two furry monsters? And why is the 18-year-old Princess, played by Keri Russell, making eyes at Elmo, a three-and-a-half-year-old Muppet who talks in the third person? Unless the Princess’ “Land of Sesame” has some really lax statutory rape laws, this is a love that dare not come up in a children’s film.
Upset because we skipped Al Adamson’s space sex comedy “Cinderella 2000,” or “More Than a Miracle,” where Sophia Loren’s peasant wins the heart of Omar Sharif’s prince in a dishwashing contest, or, er, “Maid in Manhattan”? Weigh in with your favorite/least favorite Cinderella innovations in the comments.
[Photos: “Ever After,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1998; “Cinderfella,” Paramount Pictures, 1960; “Ella Enchanted,” Miramax Films, 2004; “A Cinderella Story,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 2004; “CinderElmo,” Sesame Street, 2000]