Today, and for absolutely no reason, I decided to watch Disney’s 1997 adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella for the first time since I was little. I went in fearing that it would be another childhood gem that my adult gaze would ruin (sorry, Space Jam), but how delighted I am to report that the movie is still as magical and fantastic as it was when it first aired! But of course, it is; it has Whitney Houston and Brandy in it!
Ahead of It’s Time
Often mistaken for a live-action remake of Cinderella (1950), this version of the classic tale is the third version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s television musical from 1957, which starred Mary Poppins herself – Dame Julie Andrews.
The 1997 version first aired on November 2nd, 1997, as part of The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC. It was a huge success, reaching over 60 million households and becoming the most-watched TV musical.
The film was ahead of its time, even by today’s standards, because of its cast. With Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston (also co-producing) as the Fairy Godmother, they lead a diverse cast that features Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Natalie Desselle-Reid, Veanne Cox, and Victor Garber.
The Cinderella team made the bold and brave decision to not only colour-blind cast a few roles as many movies do, but they did it for virtually every character in the film. Such a decision is so rare outside of the theatre industry that it has made this version of Cinderella stand out above the rest.
Some have told me that the decision to blind-cast is distracting, but it adds a layer of fantasy to the movie. Having Paolo Montalbán, a Filipino-American, plays the son of a Black queen (Goldberg) and a white king (Garber) may sound unrealistic on paper, but it works perfectly.
Cinderella is quite clearly a television movie, but the team handled the small budget perfectly with glamourous and extravagant costumes and larger than life studio sets; it looks higher budget than many movies of today’s age.
Whitney Houston is a triumph in her role of the Fairy Godmother, giving one of the best versions of the famous song – “Impossible.” Being a mega-star and a producer on the film, you would think she would appear frequently, but Houston’s small and infrequent scenes help keep the spotlight on Brandy’s leading star.
Speaking of Brandy, she is more of a Cinderella than most actresses can ever dream of; she gives a delicate yet powerful performance in the role that remains unmatched, even today.
Paolo Montalbán is as perfect and handsome as Prince Charming should be and unlike most Cinderella adaptations, the prince’s scenes where Cinderella doesn’t appear are never dull. This is partly due to the film’s pacing, which is sublime, but also how naturally Montalbán slips into the role.
My only detractor for the movie doesn’t come with the casting but with the songs. While most of them are fantastic, the movie starts with a song called “The Sweetest Sound”, which is well-sung, but there is something off about it. It might be because it was borrowed from No Strings, another musical from Rodgers & Hammerstein, but it is a song I would not have chosen to open the movie with.
The Best of the Best
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella remains one of the best adaptations of Cinderella that we’ve ever had, and if judging by recent versions, the best we might ever get for a long time.
Directed by Robert Iscove, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is available to stream on Disney+ now (depending on your region).