Disney seems to be on a roll with live action remakes of its classic animated films. Emma Watson will be starring in the upcoming version of Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book will hit theaters soon, and last year's Cinderella, starring Lily James and Cate Blanchett, was an impressive commercial hit. But while I'm a Disney dork who's excited for the first two, I was a bit underwhelmed with last year's take on Cinderella. Yes it was gorgeous, the costumes were stunning, and Blanchett's performance chill-inducing, but it was a little too conventional in its telling of the poor cinder girl for my liking. I much prefer my fairy tales to have a bit of a feminist twist — which is why I love 1998's Ever After so darn much.
The film, which stars Drew Barrymore in her '90s heyday, as French peasant Danielle, retells the story of Cinderella without the magic, the talking animals, or the demure damsel, and instead replaces those staples with an intelligent, brave, and socially contentious young woman. Though the film has its minor flaws (Barrymore's ebb and flow accent being one of them), the movie has become one of my favorites over the years, one that I watch over and over again. It's moving, hilarious, well-acted, and lovely to look at, but Ever After also contains deeper reasons to love it, such as:
1. Cinderella Isn’t Saved By Her Prince, But Saves Herself
When Anjelica Huston's evil stepmother Rodmilla sells Danielle to her debtor in order to pay off what she owes him, Danielle is kept in chains and subjected to the sexual harassment of the disgusting Pierre. But although Danielle's charming Prince Henry, played by Dougray Scott, storms the castle in attempt to free her, he finds that Danielle had successfully already freed herself, using her own power of will to escape a terrible situation.
2. Fairy Godmother? Try Leonardo DaVinci
Ever After successfully does away with all of the supernatural magic featured in the stories and replaces it with the smarts of a world-renowned Renaissance artist. DaVinci, brilliantly played by Patrick Godfrey, frees Danielle from her imprisonment on the night of the big ball, makes her wings, and encourages her to chase her dreams.
3. It References Other Interesting Historical Artworks
Danielle’s father reads to her practically every night and brings her books as gifts. His final present to her before his untimely death is a copy of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. The painting that DaVinci is working on near the end of the film is modeled after a real one titled La Scapigliata. The female face, painted on wood by DaVinci around the year 1500, looks remarkably like Barrymore.
4. It Pulls From Historically Feminist Moments
According to Medieval legend, when German King Conrad III defeated the Duke of Welf, the wives of those defeated negotiated a surrender which granted them the right to leave with whatever possessions they could carry on their shoulders. Each woman lifted her own husband onto her back and carried him out. The story is referenced in Ever After when Danielle successfully negotiates to carry Prince Henry away from the gypsies, much to hilarious effect.
5. It Rejects The Idea That Women Should Be Nice No Matter What
While the 2015 Cinderella had a mother that encouraged kindness no matter what in the face of cruelty, Danielle refuses to become anyone’s doormat. Kindness is a great virtue but not if it leads to becoming a total pushover. Danielle has to manipulate her rebellion in cunning ways, but she refuses to take the so-called feminine route and play nice.
6. It Addresses Male Appropriation Of Women’s Stories
Within the context of the film, the tale of Cinderella is framed within a French royal's disappointment in the Brothers Grimm’s botching of her family’s story. As a writer at The Mary Sue puts it, “It addresses the idea that there is a history of appropriating history as those in power want. The Brothers Grimm were men, writing in a time when women didn’t just lack rights, but were property. Ever After acknowledges that these stories are passed on and changed, often to maintain or change the cultural norms. How appropriate that the film suggest the story might be wrong, in an attempt to appropriate the story for a new era.”
7. It Opposes Arranged Marriages
Rodmilla’s only redeeming moments come during a scene when she and Danielle are discussing her late father. Danielle asks her stepmother if she did ever love her dad, to which Rodmilla replies, “Well I hardly knew him.” It’s a moment in which we actually feel bad for the stepmother as a result of her unhappiness over what was possibly a marriage of convenience. Henry’s forced marriage to the Princess of Spain seems equally painful, though it thankfully leads to a hilarious scene where Henry releases his bride into the arms of her probably peasant lover.
8. It Promotes Reading
Like one of my favorite Disney movies, Beauty and the Beast, Ever After celebrates the joy of reading. Danielle loves books so much that Henry brings her to a Franciscan monastery where the library rivals that of the one Belle’s given by the Beast.
9. Danielle’s Obsession With Utopia Is Surprisingly Relevant Today
Ever After references Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a fictional work that examines the politics and philosophies of an isolated society. The quotation Danielle tells Henry to encourage him to release the slaves bound for the Americas is surprisingly relevant to today’s poverty issues: “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
10. It Promotes Cultural Diversity And Acceptance
During the time in which Ever After takes place, and indeed throughout history, the Roma Gypsies were vilified and discriminated against. But Danielle offers Prince Henry an alternative viewing, saying, “A Gypsy, for example, is rarely painted as anything else. They are defined by their status as you are, yet it is not who they are. You have been born to privilege, and with that comes specific obligations.”
11. It Has A Nice Stepsister
Too often the story of Cinderella is saddled with this idea that the stepsisters are jealous of Cinderella because of her beauty and therefore treat her like crap. But Ever After’s eldest stepsister, Marguerite, is the only awful one of the two (although believe me, she’s bad enough for the both of them) and the younger stepsister, Jacqueline, played by the charming and funny Melanie Lynskey, is a kind young woman who is also repeatedly victimized by Rodmilla’s treachery.
12. Even Though She’s Evil, Angelica Houston Is Absolute Perfection
It's rare that a casting director gets something right on the money, but Huston was practically destined to play this part. She’s sly, cunning, wicked, and yet is still an utter joy to watch. Huston’s eyebrows were seemingly created to rise in judgement, and despite the fact that that character is absolutely awful, you can still celebrate the actor who plays her brilliantly.
There are so many reasons to love Ever After, a must-see fairy tale and an ultimate '90s classic.
Images: 20th Century Fox, Giphy