It’s awfully easy to be cynical about Cinderella. After all, many would say, it’s hard to top the classic animated feature that Disney first produced in 1950, with Cinderella in her trademark blue gown surrounded by her talking, hat-wearing mouse friends. For so many adults, it’s an old, familiar, almost staid tale that feels as though it doesn’t need to be retold: An evil stepmother and her daughters brutalize the kind Cinderella, who manages to meet the prince of the kingdom, thanks to a fairy godmother and, with a fortunate loss of a glass slipper, is rediscovered and rescued from her horrible state, an ashen servant rising to become a princess. And yet, undoubtedly, the live-action, Kenneth Branagh-directed Cinderella has been crushing box offices since it was released in mid-March: It crossed the remarkable $400-million threshold in worldwide ticket sales just this weekend.
That comes despite the fact, of course, that there are a number of hilarious, easy-to-spot flaws in the film:
- Are the kingdom’s doctors working around the clock to fix the very obvious problem of the fatal plague going around? Both Cinderella’s parents fall victim to a mysterious bug. Even the kingdom’s ruler dies. And somehow, no one is worried? One bibbity bobbity boo-boo can send you, apparently, to an early death. The search for a vaccine for this Ebola-like disease seems a more pressing problem than a prince choosing his heart over all else. (Related thought: Given the extremely charming Frozen short film that played before Cinderella in theatres, in which Elsa struggles in the face of a flu—is Elsa doomed to die, too?!)
- The Archduke maybe isn’t that bad a guy. Sure, the king’s right-hand man intentionally tried to waylay the prince’s efforts to find Cinderella, but he was just looking out for a fairly precarious-looking kingdom. This is, after all, a kingdom with a population so small, they can all fit into one palace for a ball, but with a weak enough military that it can’t chase down a pumpkin-based carriage escaping through the woods. (Forested areas, it’s worth noting, make for excellent cover for invading marauders.)
- Why are there wild geckos? They made for an odd and terrifying choice for coachmen. Also, maybe the weird climate that allows for the growing of pumpkins and the free rein of desert lizards explains the kingdom’s serious medical problems.
- Is everyone in the kingdom blind? I’m all for diversity, but perhaps it was ham-fisted to literally shoehorn in black and elderly women to try on a glass slipper left behind by a fair-skinned, blond-haired maiden. And yes, the fairy godmother cast some kind of spell to mask Cinderella from her family, but that was just to hide her from them—and it wasn’t even strong enough to fool the evil stepmother (a deliciously wicked Cate Blanchett).
- Based on what happens in Game of Thrones, it’s not ideal that the actor who played Robb Stark was cast as Cinderella‘s Prince Charming. Winter is coming. And oh god, what does that mean for this horrible disease sweeping the land? Someone figure this out so we can achieve herd immunization.
We are, of course, mostly being silly. And while it’s impossible to claim that Cinderella was made with adults specifically in mind, its visual sumptuousness and Branagh’s classical pedigree shine through, making it a children’s film that adults can smile through without gritting their teeth.
So our pop-culture podcast went straight to the source: On the latest episode of The Thrill, we spoke to Emma Tolson, a 12-year-old middle-school student in Toronto, to tell us about the enduring effect of fairy tales like Cinderella, and why teens still need stories like this. Listen to that segment below.
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