This is going to compare the Disney Animated version of Cinderella to the 2015 live-action retelling. For the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to the animated character of Cinderella as Cinderella and her live action version as Ella.
Spoilers ensue. You were warned.
The entire first act of the live-action Cinderella develops the characters of Ella and her biological parents as opposed to just telling them in exposition form like in the animated version. We see that Ella’s optimism comes from her mother and that when Ella’s father marries again, Lady Tremaine tries to make it work but feels like she can’t compete with the shadow of Ella’s mother and the presence of Ella herself so that by the time Ella’s father dies, Ella’s life is degraded to that of a servant. It’s stated in the narration that Ella did the chores as a distraction from her grief.
Later on in the live-action film, Ella goes out riding on her horse and meets the prince, who is dressed as a member of the Royal Guard and calls himself “Kit.” (The animated prince shall be referred to as Charming, not to be confused with the Prince Charming from Once Upon a Time.) Kit tells Ella that he’s an apprentice. Later on, Kit meets back with his father, who is dying. The king and the Grand Duke remind Kit that he needs to marry a princess as required by law, but since Kit is head over heels for a girl whose name he doesn’t even know, he extends the ball’s invitation to every eligible maiden.
Both versions show their respective Cinderellas making a dress for the ball with the help of the mice. But this leads to the first scene that bugs me: the dress ripping scene. In the animated version, the stepsisters tear Cinderella’s dress to shreds, leaving her tattered and torn beyond repair. It also serves as an emotional breaking point for her because Cinderella has been working hard for so long and just wanted one night where she has a good time and that gets ruined.
In the live action version, the stepmother tears a sleeve and the stepsisters tear off pieces of Ella’s dress here and there, but the dress is not beyond repair nor is it worthy of breaking down in tears. Yes, it probably would’ve been harder to tear actual fabric, but it would’ve been even more dramatic if they actually tore the dress to a dilapidated state.
I will say that both Fairy Godmother scenes were done nicely here. Helena Bonham Carter totally steals the show, since she’s the narrator of the live-action version. I kind of miss the fun musical number, though. But the animated version only had 2-3 musical numbers anyway. Moving on to the ball!
The two entrance scenes are played very differently and I like both of them equally. In the animated version, Cinderella walks into the ballroom while the Grand Duke snarks about how love at first sight doesn’t happen in real life all while Charming sees Cinderella and does just that. In the live action version, Ella gets a grand staircase entrance and realizes as she sees Kit that Kit is actually the prince. Instead of a song like in the animated version, Kit and Ella spend time together by escaping the ball and sneaking into a hidden garden.
There’s a slight subplot in the live-action version involving the Grand Duke wanting the prince to marry a princess from a nearby kingdom and Lady Tremaine learning this fact. But more on that later.
Both versions also show their respective Cinderellas running off before they could tell the prince their name and the glass slipper gets left behind as they flee. The carriage turns into a pumpkin and both Cinderellas walk the rest of the way home. However, the live-action version gives Ella a moment with the King as she runs out, showing the King why Kit fell in love with her.
In the live action-version the King passes away, and after the period of mourning passes, the prince goes looking for the maiden who fits the shoe.
The shoe-search scene differs in the live-action version because live-action Lady Tremaine makes Ella an offer she can’t refuse: Make her the head of the royal family and give her daughters husbands. Ella refuses. Lady Tremaine breaks Ella’s glass slipper before Ella could go and meet her prince. Both Cinderellas get locked in the attic. Live-Action Lady Tremaine reveals the identity of the mystery princess to the Grand Duke and offers her help in getting the prince to enter into an arranged marriage in exchange of getting the title of countess and husbands for her daughters.
So with plot aside, let’s compare characters!
First of all, I give major points to the live-action for developing the character of the prince and his relationship with Ella. It’s similar to how Prince Henry and Danielle were in Ever After, another Cinderella adaptation, with neither of them revealing who they truly were. I’ll go into Ella’s handling of her relationship with the prince later.
I like how the king was written in both versions, although I’m sad that in the live-action version, he’s a dying man. The king in the animated version was funny and had a good motivation. He wants to have grandkids and isn’t as close to Charming as he was when Charming was younger. I also liked the Captain of the Guard who was basically the Prince’s Black Best Friend.
I don’t like how the Grand Duke became a villain in this version, either. The Grand Duke was actually kind to Cinderella in the animated version, willing to take the King’s insane demands in stride. I understand the Grand Duke’s intentions in the live action version, looking out for the good of the kingdom and all, but honey, you’re in the wrong movie. Save that deviousness for Game of Thrones!
I liked Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drisella in both versions, but there’s just something more menacing about the animated version. Live-action Lady Tremaine has a bit of sympathy because she wanted to love her new husband, but it doesn’t explain why she treats Cinderella so harshly. Yes, she explains that she loved her first husband and it’s implied that one reason she treats Ella so badly is because Ella is so kind and optimistic in spite of what she has been through. But if she really wanted to make things work, she could’ve put in a little more effort or cleared things up with her second husband.
Now the majority of the movie really rests on the shoulders on Ella herself and it’s hard to compare the animated version and the live-action version. They’re similar in how much they have to endure, but if you look closely at the animated version, you can see that Cinderella is actually slightly more realistic than the live-action version. See, Cinderella is shown to be patient, hardworking, but still wants to go to the ball and has normal reactions to Lucifer’s pranks as well as putting up with all the work her stepmother and stepsisters give her. She has to endure a lot, which makes her eventual breakdown at the dress-tearing scene all the more heartbreaking.
The live-action Ella is a bit too optimistic at times. I can get her doing chores as a way to deal with her grief, but again, the dress-ripping scene doesn’t exactly warrant her breaking down in tears. When she gets table scraps, she just decides to share the food with the mice. I also don’t like the fact that Ella just accepts her fate of being trapped in a tower, thinking that her memories with the Prince are enough to live on. Cinderella actually wanted to get out and begged her animal friends to help her.
I will give the live-action points on making Ella a queen in the end and saying that she and Kit ruled fairly and kindly. Evil queens are a stereotype that needs a makeover. But until we see more benevolent queens in fairy tales, my favorite “Evil Queen” is still my dear, beloved Sass Queen Regina from Once Upon a Time
Overall, both movies are good on their own. But if you ask me which telling of Cinderella is my favorite, I would honestly say that I choose the Rodgers and Hammerstein version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. If you ask me to choose between the two, I think I want to give the animated version a visit again. It just feels more timeless to me, in spite of people’s preconceptions and problems with it.
Tomorrow, I’ll go into how the story of Cinderella as a whole provides proof as to how faith and works actually go hand in hand when it comes to receiving ultimate happiness.