The weirdly magical version of 'Cinderella' that nobody remembers but me
I saw the new Cinderella and it’s magic. Lily James is storybook levels of Cinderella-perfect, it’s nearly impossible not to fall for Richard Madden as the Prince, and the clothes, oh the clothes. Costume designer Sandy Powell is a magician and the clothes really are this adaptations’ fairy dust. But alas, there’s a very vintage version of Cinderella that still holds a special place in my heart (and no, it’s not the classic Disney animated one). My favorite version is the one I watched infinite times as a little girl. The one I stayed up late for, the one I learned the lines to, the one I used to act out alone in my room after bedtime. So yes you should go to the theaters and see the Kenneth Branagh Cinderella, and yes Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are both fierce times 1,000, and yes you’ll gasp when you see Cinderella in that unbelievable blue. But when you’re heart and memories already belong to another cinematic version of the same story, no remake — no matter how glamorous — can ever take its place.
I’ll be real with you: the Cinderella version that dominated my childhood and forever has my heart is pretty random. It would make sense if it were the Bippidi-Boppidi-Boo animated Disney version or the awesome ’90s Brandy version. It might even make sense for my favorite version to be the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. The one they wrote for television. The one starring Julie Andrews at 22. The one 100 million people watched live when it aired. But, for whatever reason, the Cinderella that won my heart was a remake of that 1957 version. A made-for-TV adaptation that aired in 1965 and starred Lesley Ann Warren (as Cinderella) decades before she was nominated for an Oscar, and Ginger Rogers (as the Queen) decades after she danced with Fred Astaire. As a little girl, it was my cinematic everything.
If there were logical reasons for why this version gets me I would tell them to you. But the real reason is simple: the heart wants what the heart wants. The version I love is campy, it is old-fashioned, the characters seem to have a never-ending rotation of pink 14th century outfits, and it’s performed no muss, no fuss as if it’s on a stage. A theatrical production that just so happened to be filmed. The music is exquisite but not everyone in the cast can sing, and the carriage traveling to the ball through the sky would look more believable had it been done with shadow puppets. But you don’t see any of that when you’re 6. You just see Cinderella.
I remember watching the VHS version we had on hand, nightly. I can still feel how much I loved the music. I can still remember how hilarious I thought some of the most vaudevillian elements were (an “ugly step-sister” named Prunella with a creaky knee!!). Certain aspects of outfits from the movie are also immortalized in my mind, and likely inform my today style.
The faux fur trim!
And I still know every word to every song, and still remember feeling like “10 Minutes Ago” was the secret to love.
In anticipation of the new Cinderella I re-watched MY Cinderella and it’s still my favorite. Though the VHS is so grainy you almost can’t make out people’s facial features, and 27-year-old me tuned into a lot more weirdo gender dynamics than 7-year-old me ever caught onto, there’s something otherworldly about watching a move you watched ad nauseum as your younger self. It’s time travel.
As soon as the first song begins — which is “The Prince is Giving a Ball” by the way — I wasn’t me today, I was kid-me. I was back in my matching pajamas drinking milk through a straw and hoping I’d make it to the fairy godmother scene before it was time for bed. I was 6 and putting dirt on my cheeks and an orange handkerchief in my hair so I could more properly sing “In My Own Little Corner.”
When a movie comes with memories no remake can ever win. A beautifully executed, perfectly magical new Cinderella just doesn’t come with the remembered feeling of the butterflies I’d get in my stomach just seeing the use of that 1965 star filter. It doesn’t come with my dad’s voice calling to me from the kitchen and telling me to find a stopping place because it’s time for bed.
Aside from a pumpkin turning into a carriage, there really is movie magic when you can pop in a VHS and travel back to 1991. So that’s my favorite Cinderella, and it always will be. It just also happens to be a pretty random made-for-TV version from 1965.