Let's not forget the awesomeness of Brandy's Cinderella
Whether it’s A Cinderella Story, Ever After, or even just Disney’s classic take, we’ve all seen some form of the tale of Cinderella; but there is one version in particular that stands out among the rest: Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, which aired originally in 1997.
I remember watching Cinderella the first time it aired on the Wonderful World of Disney (which they should totally bring back), and have been infatuated with it ever since. We have it on VHS and I’ve listened to the soundtrack more times than I care to admit. (Pro tip: Only listen to the music while studying if suddenly getting up to waltz around would not be a distraction.)
However, revisiting it now, years later, I realize how important this movie actually is. There have been countless remakes of the classic rags-to-riches tale, but only a few really stand out and have stood the test of time—or past midnight, anyway. (Sorry, Cinderella humor.) This version is definitely remains the best one, and here are six reasons why.
Its roster of stars is unbeatable. Brandy as Cinderella. Jason Alexander as the bumbling butler, Lionel. Bernadette Peters as the stepmother. Whoopi Goldberg as the queen. Victor Garber as the king. Paolo Montalban as the prince. WHITNEY HOUSTON as the fairy godmother. Need I go on?
This cast is not only ridiculously talented but also incredibly and refreshingly diverse. The stepsisters are of different races and that isn’t even important to the plot line, it’s just who they are. No one even questioned how Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber created Paolo Montalban, who is Filipino, because who cares? It was and still is a breath of fresh air to see such a diverse and colorful cast take on the tale and bring their own personalities and quirks into their roles.
Cinderella broke barriers by having Whitney Houston and Brandy in the two leading roles and Whoopi Goldberg as the HBIC of the whole kingdom. They were all strong characters with minds of their own, and it’s the color of their personalities, not their skin, that makes these characters memorable and defined.
It also took a strongly progressive view on love. The fact that the Prince and Cinderella are a racially mixed couple was practically unheard of in most films and felt groundbreaking at the time it came out. As for the characters themselves, it was of next to no importance that they were interracial. It just worked.
Its influence even stands today as Keke Palmer continues her reign as the first African-American Cinderella to grace the Broadway stage, all the while flawlessly singing “In My Own Little Corner” as I can only imagine she does. Anything with “the first” in the headline becomes newsworthy, and in this case, while it is wonderful and momentous that Palmer is the first African-American Cinderella on Broadway, she’s not the first African-American Cinderella, and she certainly won’t—and shouldn’t—be the last. Cinderella became a precedent for diversity in a story that does not typically display diversity, and showed us that it doesn’t have to be that way. Hopefully Palmer’s stage performance further proves that!
The Music and Choreography
With Rodgers and Hammerstein in tow, it’s pretty much a guarantee you will fall in love with the music.
Now, I’m as much a sucker for “So This is Love” as the next girl, but I will probably always prefer “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” and you’ll understand why once you listen to it. This song shows Cinderella and Prince Christopher exploring their feelings and testing if this budding relationship is real. It’s the first time we see Cinderella become as smitten with the prince as he is with her. This song gives the audience a chance to watch them grow all the while blushing at the innocent, pure love unfolding before our eyes. The two are definitely not an example of love at first sight; instead, they take time to develop their relationship. More on that later.
Other memorable standouts: “Ten Minutes Ago,”—which will most definitely make you waltz around in circles no matter where you are—“In My Own Little Corner,” and “Sweetest Sounds.” Watching the stepsisters interact is a delight every time, and if Paolo’s voice doesn’t melt you into a puddle of emotions, I don’t know what will.
As far as big dance numbers, which no one can resist, look no further than “The Prince is Giving a Ball.” It is one of the biggest, most colorful and most theatrical parts of the whole movie. Jason Alexander wins in his role as Lionel, the more-than-slightly neurotic yet lovable valet, who announces to the whole kingdom that Christopher is giving a ball at the command of Queen Constantina/Whoopi. There are dancing chefs, cheese wheels everywhere, and a flying wedding cake (just to name a few).
And I might still to this day sometimes sing “In My Own Little Corner” in the shower. Maybe.
The Character Development
Brandy’s portrayal of Cinderella is a refreshing twist on a typically one-dimensional character. She dreams less of meeting a handsome prince and more of living happily ever on her own terms. She wants freedom and adventure, as she shows through “In My Own Little Corner.” Throughout this song, she weaves through scenarios in which she plays daring and brave characters, like a huntress on a safari or a Peruvian queen. She allows herself to imagine a different life for herself and dream of a situation where she is not confined to a corner in order to taste her freedom. The handsome prince in the end is just an added perk.
But she and Prince Christopher do not fall instantly in love like other fairytale couples we have come to know. In fact, Cinderella wasn’t too impressed by him the first time they met. After nearly being trampled by a passing royal carriage and dropping everything she’s holding, Cinderella receives some help picking up her scattered packages from Prince Christopher, who is wandering the marketplace disguised as a commoner. He would like to learn more about Cinderella, but she’s totally not having it.
Any other potential princess would have swooned into oblivion at his response; but not Cinderella, because she isn’t just any other princess, as Christopher quickly learns. The two both dream of their own freedom—she to find her own happiness and adventure, he to find true love “the old-fashioned way.” He doesn’t want to just pick one of the girls who attended the ball, marry her, and call it a day. He wants the freedom to fall in love with the right person. It is this commonality and desire for happiness that brings them together.
The development of these two characters makes the secondary characters stand out more for their absurdity. Bernadette Peters’ rendition of “Falling in Love With Love” mocks the whole notion of love, deeming it ridiculous, as told through past experience. The stepsisters, Minerva and Calliope, are graceless and ridiculous and hilarious. (Bonus: You learn some foolproof flirting tips for the next time you encounter a prince—bat your eyelashes and laugh at everything he says. Or in the sisters’ case, blink your eyes so rapidly it looks like you’re trying to keep a contact lens in and then snort at his every word, even if he doesn’t say anything funny.)
The Big Lesson
Thematically, any version of Cinderella you watch is about following your dreams, including in this version, but not in the typical sense.
Brandy’s portrayal of Cinderella steers her away from being the stereotypical goody two-shoes we may view most princesses to be. She is kind, playful, and spirited. She dreams of love and freedom. This Cinderella reminds us to be true to our dreams and desires without losing sight of ourselves. Her dreams and identity do not revolve around finding a prince and a happy ever after, but rather becoming her own vehicle for happiness and adventure. She and the prince fall in love because they take each other for exactly who they are. See this conversation:
When Prince Christopher finally finds her at the end to put the slipper on her foot, Cinderella was in her rags, in the process of running away, only to be interrupted once again by a royal carriage knocking her things out of her hands. Their love comes full circle!
Houston’s Fairy Godmother constantly instills the idea of believing in yourself. She reminds us that things we may believe to be impossible are happening every day, and she encourages Cinderella to go after what she wants. In this case, Cinderella wants to go to the ball and have a fun night out on the town for once. She can enjoy herself and take on a new identity for a night, just like in her song. Which brings us to. . .
Whitney Houston as Fairy Godmother
The voice! The sparkles! The horrifically 90s special effects! The glittery gold highlights!
Just listen, watch, and enjoy.
Falderal and fiddle dee dee, fiddly faddly foodle, if this Cinderella doesn’t become your favorite adaptation, you’re dizzy in the noodle.
Marissa Stern is a semi-adult from Philadelphia finishing her degrees in English and Journalism at Penn State University. She rereads Harry Potter at least once a year, drinks iced coffee year-round, and is frequently lost. She has an unabashed love for One Direction and doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Find her on Twitter at @marissastern.