'Have courage and be kind:' This is the mantra insistently repeated by young Ella's dying mother in Disney's sumptuous, unashamedly lavish live-action remake Cinderella.
Ella subsequently strives to constantly adhere to this philosophy in spite of the unfortunate hand life deals her. She is forced into subservience by her cruel stepmother Lady Tremaine - played with a devilishly delicious flair by Cate Blanchett - abused by her selfish stepsisters, and is unable to truly grieve for her lost, beloved parents due to a stark lack of sympathy from her father's widow.
Nevertheless, Ella perpetually maintains her unfailing optimism, empathy and wholly selfless nature. And that, consequently, is why the Cinderella of 2015 has a considerable amount to say about the fundamental meaning of feminism. Being a feminist is not just about being mentally and physically strong, like Mulan, or functioning independently without the need for a Cinderfella, like Frozen's Elsa. Whilst these are indeed crucial feminist attributes, Cinderella sets out to teach us that strength of character and remaining true to yourself and your values are the most important qualities of all.
Much criticism has been directed at the film for not being 'progressive' like Frozen, for not updating the story from the original 1950 animated classic, and for primarily focusing on Ella's pursuit of the handsome Prince Kit to rescue her from her predicament. Such criticism however is entirely unfounded, as director Kenneth Branagh is much more subtle than to provide the audience with literal indications of modernity. No, Branagh's Ella is not a wisecracking, sassy, shade throwing Tweep, like I and so many of us may be. However, that doesn't mean she's not an intelligent, strong-willed, and thoroughly capable female. Branagh is paradoxically progressive by not being; he ensures the film is entirely devoid of cynicism and shows us that getting dressed up in a breathtaking ballgown and falling in love at the Royal ball does not make you any less of an autonomous, empowered woman.
For example, Branagh goes to considerable lengths to make sure that Ella is never once portrayed as a victim in spite of all the terrible events she has endured. Her simple, careful reply to Kit in their initial meeting when he asks if she is treated well by her family is merely, "They treat me as well as they are able" and she then neglects to provide more detail. Her stoicism is once again demonstrated at the film's climax; even as it seems that all hope is lost for her as she is locked in the attic by her ruthless stepmother, she sits at the window and sings her mother's favourite lullaby. Unwittingly, this stroke of optimism gives away her presence and allows the Prince to find her at last. Branagh also highlights here that the Prince essentially pursues her; Ella is content to let their encounter become a hopeful, "beautiful memory" like that of her parents and is not relying on him to save her, nor is she defined by his affections.
Finally, Ella's speech to Prince Kit before she agrees to try on the famous glass slipper encompasses the nature of this story and its feminist implications as she implores him to accept her for exactly who she is. And the Prince without hesitation does exactly that. Disney's 2015 reimagining of Cinderella may not necessarily appear modern at face value, but its philosophy that having courage, being kind and completely true to yourself does more for the advance of feminism than anyone could ever have expected.