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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation for brief language and mild thematic elements.
Once upon a time, there was a young woman called Cinderella, whose wicked stepmother made her the family’s servant, while squandering its fortune. Cinderella served faithfully, devotedly and without complaining, until her godmother (who happened to be a fairy) rewarded her virtue with a new dress and an invitation to the ball, where her gracefulness made such an impression on the noble prince that he searched the entire kingdom in order to find her again. He married her, and doubtless gained in her a wife whose price was beyond that of rubies.
That young woman died in obscurity the moment Disney picked up the story, and while his pseudo-submissive heroine is more generally well-known, she too is nearing the edge of obsolescence, along with the virtues she managed to retain.
Now let me tell you the story of Danielle de Barbarac.
Once upon a time, there was an eight year old girl who actually looked like one… for a few minutes. Being a shameless tomboy, the young Danielle makes her grand entrance covered from head to hem in mud, having threatened and then proudly “slaughtered” her little friend Gustav.
Her indecorum is literally smiled upon by her father, though, and evidently the only imperfection we’re supposed to see in him is his taste in women. He is, after all, a very loving father. “Yes, a husband. And a father first and forever.” The kind of father who plays rock-paper-scissors with his daughter to determine who must obey whom. The kind who gives his dying words and caress only to her, when his frightened bride is kneeling right beside her. The kind who gives his daughter books about communism.
After everything fades to black and we’ve skipped ahead a few years, Danielle has become a servant in her own house—in a house of women who wear the kind of necklines so far removed from the neck that they should be called something else; the kind of necklines that prompted the gentlemen in my family to walk out, and stay out. Danielle is no better in this respect than the others, and while she is modest enough to undress behind a screen when Gustav is present (if that is modesty), she takes the camera behind the screen with her. And while she is modest enough to keep some sort of clothing on when she goes swimming, the dress she chooses is white… and very thin. Obviously, the camera follows her in this outfit, and, what’s worse, the prince does, too.
Henry, heir to the throne, crown and scepter of France, is hardly your typical Prince Charming. For one thing, “the man was still a boy in many ways.” Way number one: Grown men don’t usually climb out of the castle window at night with the help of a bed sheet rope. Way number two: When they do, they are usually trying to escape from the bad guys, not their parents. Way number three: Grown men have usually grown out of getting into tantrums—or at least they don’t get away with it any more. Indeed, this Prince Charming seems to get away with quite a few things that would make him immoral or annoying if he was a real person (or another character in the movie). He’s selfish. He’s quick to anger. He is clumsy. He won’t listen to a word the girl says… unless it was quoted from or inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia.
There are two important questions we should be asking right about now: Who is Thomas More, and what is Utopia? Thomas More is currently the patron saint of statesmen and politicians, according to the Roman Catholic church1. But it seems to me that, since the movie takes place about three hundred and fifty years before his canonization, Thomas More’s ghost, like another, more famous one, demands rather that we ask who he was. He was, manifestly, a devout Roman Catholic, but more than that, he was a fierce opponent to the Protestant Reformation, and to Luther, Tyndale and other Reformers, personally. He was a politician, too, and he wrote about politics.
“Utopia…” Danielle’s father tells us, “means paradise.” What the movie doesn’t tell us is what “paradise” means. In Thomas More’s own words, Utopia is a land “where no man has any property… where every man has a right to everything… for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that… though no man has anything, yet they are all rich.” Unlike “all the other governments,” which More calls, perhaps a trifle exaggeratingly, “a conspiracy of the rich,” Utopia sees “the use as well as the desire of money being extinguished,” in accordance with the author’s belief that “the frauds, thefts, robberies, quarrels, tumults, contentions, seditions, murders, treacheries, and witchcrafts, which are indeed rather punished than restrained by the severities of the law, would all fall off, if money were not any more valued by the world… Men’s fears, solicitudes, cares, labours, and watchings, would all perish in the same moment with the value of money; even poverty itself, for the relief of which money seems most necessary, would fall.”2
Danielle’s “paradise” is, in short, a pure communist society. Does the movie tell us this? Well, not exactly. It comes fairly close. Danielle’s faithful servant is sold off by her wicked stepmother to be sent to America as a slave along with convicted thieves. In an effort to get him back, Danielle gets into a rather interesting conversation with Prince Charming. All the interesting lines are, of course, hers. For instance (emphasis added):
“A servant is not a thief, your highness, and those who are cannot help themselves.”Be it remembered that the “one man” was not a criminal, and that he had been repurchased with lawful currency. The “others” were criminals, with no one to testify to their good character or to pay bail. But this still has a tremendous effect on Prince Henry. Shortly after this scene, we learn that “by royal decree, any man who sails [as a prisoner] must be compensated.” He does not, perhaps, have the power to set all the criminals in the country free, but he can certainly see that they get paid for their time.
“If you suffer your people to be ill educated, and their manners to be corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?”
“Excuse me, sire but there is nothing natural about [not conversing with many peasants]. A country’s character is defined by its everyday rustics, as you call them. They are the legs you stand on, and that position demands respect.”
“Well, you gave one man back his life, but did you even glance at the others?”
From that point on, Henry divides his time between arguing with the pretty Danielle and talking philosophy with Leonardo DiVinci, a man who (despite his having died only three years after the publication of Utopia, which Danielle had received ten years before his appearance in the film) is still “the very founder of forward thinking,” whereas Henry’s father is “the king of backward.” Indeed, parents in general are portrayed as stupid, haughty and insensitive, with the sole exception of Danielle’s father, who still had a terrible lack of discernment when it came to women. Even the “maternal instinct” is reserved for the most wicked of the stepsisters.
Leonardo’s philosophy, however, provides a great alternative to a parent’s advice… and to Christianity. He settles the question of “chance” with an insistent “You can’t leave everything to Fate, boy. She’s got a lot to do. Sometimes you must give her a hand.” It wouldn’t be so terrible (nothing you couldn’t just roll your eyes at) except that, whether by intention or by accident, God isn’t given any more respect than this imaginary lady Fate is. God, according to Henry, is someone to whom giving up your life is far from agreeable. According to Gustav, God is neither more nor less accessible than Leonardo DiVinci. The stepmother, who wears the cross and (unlike Danielle) attends church, claims that “nothing is final until you’re dead, and even then I’m sure God negotiates.”
It is true that Danielle briefly asks the Lord to give her strength. On the other hand, for that solitary acceptable use of the name “Lord”, there is an unacceptable one to match it. Of course, d---, h---, b-----d and sh-- are all used in the PG version as well, but then they are not explicitly forbidden in Scripture, and are therefore really a side issue at the moment. Taking the name of God in vain, however, is a very serious thing, indeed, and it’s done four times in a way that ought to make the audience positively shudder.
So the romance between Henry and Danielle progresses, despite their faults—or rather because of them, it seems. Danielle’s charm for Henry seems to be a mix of her physical beauty, her radicalism and her tendency to argue with everything he says. It’s a warped sort of attraction, but even it is topped by Danielle’s fondness for Henry, who apparently has no virtue except for his willingness to be enlightened by her. With all his temper, his arrogance, his stupidity and clumsiness, he is still “so wonderful” in Danielle’s eyes. The one small problem in this lovely romance (besides the probability that it will eventually crumble with such a twisted foundation) is that Danielle has become a chronic liar and tricked Henry into thinking that she is a countess. Of course, it is partly Henry’s fault, too, for not having realized that even a revolutionary, Utopia-quoting countess would have been better brought up than to call someone an “ill-mannered tub of guts.” Or, perhaps she’d been influenced by Thomas More’s other works3.
Danielle does indeed love books, and apparently her “faith is better served away from the rabid crowd,” so while everyone else is at Church, Henry takes her to a monastery famed for its library. In her delight at having been in the presence of so many books, however, and in his delight at her delight, they lose their way coming back. Danielle, naturally, volunteers to spare the prince the risk of serious injury or death by climbing a tree herself, in order to ascertain the right way to go. This accomplishes three things: It shows that Danielle is Henry’s athletic equal, it gives her an opportunity to remove another layer or two of her clothes, and it gives her a chance to rescue Henry from the gypsies.
As she has for everything else, Danielle has a piece of wisdom to offer Henry about these gypsies. “A gypsy…” she says, “is rarely painted as anything else. They are defined by their status, as your title defines you, yet it is not who they are.” Thus says the character in a movie that failed to paint gypsies as anything else. However, our way of looking at the stereotype might be a little different, when we see things through Danielle’s socialism. That these gypsies are criminals is, I imagine, excused under the same philosophy that paid and pardoned the criminals at the beginning of the story. That they have a code of honor to go with their criminality makes them gallant. That they are poor makes them virtuous.
The story gets grim after that (not that we couldn’t have called it that before). Henry and Danielle stay out almost all night with the gypsies, and Danielle finds it rather hard to get up in the morning—hard enough that she thinks it would be a good idea to incur the hot displeasure of her stepmother by telling her off. The stepmother retaliates by taking Danielle’s mother’s dress and giving it to her own daughter to wear to the ball. Danielle retaliates to that by punching her stepsister in the eye and violently chasing her through the house for several minutes in a way that even Henry would have been shocked to witness. The important thing, evidently, is that one’s motives be pure, because the stepsisters’ behavior was never less kind or ladylike than Danielle’s during that scene, and yet we are supposed to despise one instance of disgrace and brutality, and delight in another.
Unfortunately for Danielle, things unravel rather quickly. Her stepmother has been using a castle page (her flirtatious, at times physical relationship with whom is too sickening to describe at length) to spy on Prince Henry, in order to put her own daughter in front of him as often as possible, wearing as little as possible. Now that she has found out about Danielle’s deceitful scheme to spend time alone with the prince under a false identity, it looks like she has the upper hand, as, indeed, is evident when she locks Danielle in the cellar to keep her from going to the ball.
Of course, with the help of Leonardo DiVinci, Danielle escapes and shows up at the ball, only to have her attempts at confession ignored once again by Prince Henry, who drags her to the forefront… where everyone can hear her stepmother’s all-too-true accusations. Henry is devastated and angered by Danielle’s dishonesty (forgetting, for the moment, his mother’s beginning-of-the-movie “You promised,” and his own, “I know; I lied.”).
A couple of days later, however, Henry gets over his devastation and realizes that, even though Danielle is a liar, and he has no good reason to trust her, she is still his “perfect match” (a conviction I’m not going to argue with). Alas for him, Danielle has just been sold by her stepmother to a bad guy to be a slave, and is being held in chains in his fortress. Henry is filled with righteous indignation, courage, love for Danielle, and everything else that would give him the advantage over the bad guy in the fight, and rides off to rescue his damsel. He needn’t have been in such a hurry, though. He rides up to the fortress just as Danielle walks out, having gained her own freedom by means of her excellent swordsmanship, leaving nothing for Henry to do but look somewhat abashed and get down on one knee, glass slipper in hand.
A happy ending, in most cases, means justice, and since lying to the queen is, apparently, crime punishable by banishment (whereas lying to the prince is just a bad idea), we might expect to see the cruel stepfamily exported to the Americas. Danielle, however, is clement, and the last we see of the stepmother and older stepsister is their installation as cloth dyers in the royal laundry. One might think that this would make them, as peasants, “the legs Princess Danielle stands on,” but there is evidently an exception in this case. And of course she is Princess Danielle, now. She and her husband argue once more, they kiss for the sixth time, and the movie ends.
If I could use only two words to describe Ever After: A Cinderella Story, I would choose a phrase I’ve used before: Worth Avoiding. There is no virtue to the movie. There is no praise. There is nothing that hasn’t been twisted to fit a distinctly unbiblical worldview. If you want a study in how Hollywood can use a new take on a classic fairy tale to preach communism, humanism, feminism and the benefit of a host of personal vices, I strongly suggest you look for another movie to make your point—not because Ever After doesn’t showcase corruption well enough; it does that better, perhaps, than any other movie of it kind; but because the corruption is so pervasive and so repulsive that there is no amount of education worth enduring it. My father and brother walked out because of the rampant immodesty. My mother walked out because of the vulgarity. My sister and I made it through to the end that once, but if asked to see any part of it again, we would both say, never after.
1 “Apostolic Letter Issued Motu Proprio Proclaiming Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen and Politicians,” Pope John Paul II
2 Thomas More’s Utopia, quoted at http://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1888/more/ch13.htm
3 Responsio ad Lutherum, by Thomas More