Nostalgia is such a bittersweet feeling. You’re happy because you’re reminded of a simple time of fun, imagination and endless possibilities. But you’re also sad because you’re reminded of a simple time of fun, imagination and endless possibilities— which more than likely are not the first words that come to mind when you think about life as an adult. This was exactly what I felt when I first started watching the Disney remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I was transported back to a time of Dunkaroos and dial-up internet, my Mom braiding my hair in front of the television as I watched my wide collection of Disney VHS tapes. But this version of Cinderella was different and rewatching it felt different than your usual nostalgia too. Since I hadn’t seen the movie in at least 15 years, I forgot a lot about the actors and their roles. All that had stuck in my head was Brandy and Whitney, which was enough to make me dedicate an entire night, with themed cocktails, to rewatching it over a decade later.
First off, let’s talk about the prince. Hello? An Asian lead who’s romanticized and royal. He isn’t a geek, or a loser, reduced to an undesirable stereotype. He is the object of desire. Everyone in this movie wants to be around him. I started to remember what it felt like watching this movie— my mom said I never asked any questions about it. No one cared that he was Asian! She said that we even talked about the movie at school, and the race of each character just wasn’t important. These were new characters, a re-imagination. Also, a black and Asian couple? As a mixed girl dating a Korean guy, let me tell you: I felt SEEN. Their relationship is cute, and it’s healthy. Cinderella never changes inside, even after her entire appearance does. All this talk about dreamers and she drops a truth bomb when she talks about people who constantly make wishes but do nothing to make those wishes come true. Dreaming is important, and wishing is fun but even more important is making your dreams come true! Straight facts there, Cindy.
Can we also talk about Cinderella’s micro braids? Twenty-first century Disney could never. The character, costume and set design of this movie are revolutionary. It’s like a Marie Antoinette-90s fusion, complete with a vibrant and modern environment. And the cast compliments it well, being multi-racial and strikingly talented. Whitney, as the fairy godmother, sports a pristine twist out and the AAVE is never censored! She has an attitude and it isn’t used to make her funny or uneducated— it’s just who she is. Minerva, Cinderella’s step-sister, is a fat, black woman who plays the vapid, whiny role so well. The queen is another black woman who isn’t just constantly angry and/or screaming (she’s actually usually squealing). It all feels so right.
We’ve gone forward in time but it feels like many forms of representation have gone backward. This movie reminded me of that. So while I was feeling nostalgic, I was also feeling upset, disappointed in what could have been the future of mainstream content. It’s a movie about a young dreamer who, with the help of literal magic, makes her own dreams come true. It’s fantasy, a fairytale. A pumpkin turns into a coach, and mice turn into coachmen. I think we can accept fat leads and multiracial family trees.
The movie actually didn’t get the best of reviews when it was released, but none of them had anything to do with the appearance of the cast. Reviewers also came for Brandy’s acting, but it’s not like every live-action movie Disney has produced has had Oscar-worthy performances. Sometimes, it’s more about the name (I’m looking at you, Emma Watson). Cinderella was mostly called cheesy, but what family movie from the late 90s-early 2000s doesn’t have an element of wholesome cringe? That’s the genre’s brand.
This movie reminded me things need to change— that we were on the right path and somehow got diverted, took a pale fork in the road. But we can take another detour, and we can do it now. It may seem impossible, but in the wise words of Whitney Houston’s fairy godmother, “Impossible things are happening every day.”