Disney, Drew Barrymore, Anna Kendrick and the Transformation of Cinderella

News   Disney, Drew Barrymore, Anna Kendrick and the Transformation of Cinderella
Cinderella is back on the big screen, with Kenneth Branagh's live-action fairy tale following the holiday release of "Into the Woods." But how has the kind-hearted heroine been portrayed throughout the years? Playbill.com looks back at the character throughout the years on the stage and screen.


The good-hearted scullery maid who finds her happily ever after when she falls in love with a prince, Cinderella has been a part of pop culture and entertainment, as well as young children's bedtime stories, for centuries. The tale of kindness triumphing over cruelty, and true love conquering all, first came to the big screen in the 1914 silent film starring Mary Pickford.

Lily James
Lily James

Since Cinderella's cinematic debut, she has come to the stage and screen in various forms, the latest being Kenneth Branagh's live-action adaptation of the Disney animated film. Written by Chris Weitz and starring Lilly James and Richard Madden, the title character lives by the words her mother told her: "Have courage and be kind." As Cinderella's stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett, treats her cruelly, she remains determined to live her life by kindness. While the Cinderella of 2015 may appear traditional or old-fashioned to some viewers, the character has been portrayed in a wide variety of ways.

Click through to learn about how the character of Cinderella has changed throughout the years.

Disney's "Cinderella"

The 1950 animated Disney feature features the famed songs "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," "So This Is Love," "Sing Sweet Nightingale," "The Work Song" and "Cinderella." This Cinderella is friends with the household mice and birds, who help her by sewing her a dress for the ball, and is a more traditional heroine, sweet and passive, who finds her happy ending by marrying the prince.


Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created a musical adaptation of the fairy tale which was filmed and broadcast on television in three different adaptations. The score includes the songs Cinderella's solo "In My Own Little Corner," the duet with her fairy godmother "It's Possible" and the love duet "Ten Minutes Ago." The first adaptation starred Julie Andrews in the title role alongside Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Edie Adams and John Cypher.

Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews

The following 1965 broadcast starred Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella, with Celeste Holm as her fairy godmother and Ginger Rogers as the queen.

Brandy Norwood stepped into the glass slippers in 1997 in another TV broadcast that starred Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother and Broadway veterans Bernadette Peters as her stepmother, Victor Garber as the King and Whoopi Goldberg as the queen. This Cinderella is kind and generous, first meeting the Prince when she gives him a drink of water from the well in her yard, but also stronger and more independent than her predecessors.

"Ever After"

This 1998 live-action film introduced audiences to a more modern-day heroine named Danielle who, as a young child, is a tomboy and loves to play in the mud. After her father's death, she grows into a politically active young woman who is willing to fight for the rights of servants and whose most treasured possession is her father's copy of Thomas More's "Utopia." In a historical twist, the "fairy godmother" role is filled by the artist Leonardo da Vinci, who helps Danielle with her outfit for the ball.

Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore

A stage musical adaptation of the movie will receive its world premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in May. Directed by Kathleen Marshall, the cast will be headed by two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole as Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent, Tony Award nominee Tony Sheldon as Leonardo da Vinci, Emmy Award winner Charles Shaugnessy as King Francis, James Synder as Prince Henry and Drama Desk Award nominee Margo Seibert as Danielle de Barbarac.


Cinderella finally came to Broadway in 2013, in a musical featuring the Rodgers and Hammerstein score and an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane. The story featured a more progressive heroine and egalitarian love story, with Ella again fighting for the rights of the poor. It also gave the romantic relationship between herself and Prince Topher more time to develop.

Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes
Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes Photo by Carol Rosegg

The musical starred Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes as Ella, Tony Award nominee Santino Fontana as Prince Topher, Tony Award winner Victoria Clark as the fairy godmother and Tony Award winner Harriet Harris as Madame, the stepmother.

"I think she’s actually a Cinderella that people can look up to," Osnes told Playbill.com. "I feel like Cinderellas of the past have been maybe meek or almost abused in a way. This Cinderella is no different in that way, but she’s known for her charity, her generosity, her kindness and her forgiveness, and she has these qualities that are admirable and she cares about other people before she cares about herself. I feel like in helping other people get what they want, the Prince helps her find out what she wants as well. I feel like that element of our storytelling, what Doug did with our book, is different and more special than other versions of Cinderella."

Into the Woods Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical adaptation of fairy tales, Into the Woods, presents Cinderella in a completely new light, giving audiences insight into her insecurity and indecisiveness with regards to the Prince pursuing her, in the song "On the Steps of the Palace." The role was most recently performed in New York by Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park in 2012, and by Claire Karpen in McCarter Theatre Center's and Fiasco Theater's 2015 production at the Laura Pels Theatre Off-Broadway. Sondheim's Cinderella was also brought to the big screen by Tony Award nominee Anna Kendrick in Rob Marshall's movie adaptation, with Chris Pine playing her prince.

"The great thing about Chris is that he was so game to show this really unattractive side of Prince Charming," Kendrick told Playbill.com. "The sort of less-than-desirable, narcissistic, goofy side… It's sort of great to set the example that maybe the handsome prince might not be a fully rounded human....

Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick Photo by Disney

"I had never considered myself a Cinderella," Kendrick added. "I always thought of myself as Little Red because I'm a little weirdo… So playing Cinderella, not only did I have to wrap my brain around being the sweet ingénue, but I had to get my voice ready to be more sweet and light and more of a true soprano, which I've never been before."

An added element to the story culminates with Cinderella choosing to leave the Prince and her royal marriage to pursue a normal life independently.

"I think there's a wonderful thing to be said that you don't need a man in your life if you're a woman in order to be complete and rounded out," Pine said of their relationship. "But I think it's actually deeper and more wonderful than that. In any human relationship, you need to understand and know the other person."

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)

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