No, Cinderella doesn't save herself in the new film — and that's OK
Look, I'll be honest with you. I loved the most recent version of Cinderella that came out earlier this month. As a girl who grew up worshiping the Ever After version, I went into the theater ready to find this one lacking. But it wasn't, not at all.
Rather than try to go all Shrek on the classic fairy tale, it instead chose to tell the story in a straightforward way. Between Lily James' charming portrayal of Ella, Cate Blanchett's wardrobe and the delightful cinematography, it warmed my cold, cynical heart. While I didn't recommend that all my friends rush to the theaters to see it, I did tell them that it's worth the money if you want to take a little break from the world and not have to think for a few hours. It would take substantial effort on your part to leave the movie in a bad mood.
With all that said, it's in no way a modern retelling of the story, despite what Hayley Atwell told Radio Times recently. The actress, best known for her current role on Agent Carter, played Ella's mother in the movie.
On how this version differs from the traditional Disney one, she says:
"It's a slightly different meaning. Ken made it very clear that he didn't feel that Cinderella was about the man saving her. It is a woman saving herself through being courageous and kind," Atwell tells us. "But she's stuck within the dynamics of the way society was run at the time."
While that's a lovely sentiment, it's not exactly what happened. Yes, this movie emphasizes the fact that Ella's courageous and kind. And yes, that's a great aspect to add to the film, not only because it explains the character's choices, but also because it's an awesome take-home message for kids watching. However, Ella's courage and kindness don't save her — her singing voice does. The prince rescues her from her locked room after hearing her voice. The locked room, I should add, that she got trapped in despite being nothing but courageous and kind. In Ever After, Drew Barrymore's Cinderella literally frees herself after threatening her captor. By the time the prince arrives to rescue her, she's already rescued herself. That is not the case in this new version.
And that's OK. I mean, in the grand scheme of movie making, I think we should be encouraging studios to create strong female characters capable of saving themselves. But stepping away from the big picture, it's OK that this version doesn't. As a feminist who grew up on Disney movies and Barbies, I'm a big believer in the idea that adults can — and should — help girls sort out the good messages and the bad messages. If I took my hypothetical daughters to this movie, I'd emphasize the "courageous and kind" aspect in discussions. (And I do suppose you can make the argument that Ella saved herself from a nervous breakdown by being courageous and kind, but that seems like a heavy lesson for my hypothetical daughters.) Then, after emphasizing the positive lessons from the movie, I'd make a point of introducing them to female protagonists who really do save themselves.