Brandy and Paolo Montalban in Cinderella. (Photo credit: Disney)
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, featuring a star-studded cast including Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Paolo Montalban, is finally dropping on Disney+ Feb. 12, to the delight of fans everywhere. I’m certainly one of those fans–I can’t wait to see my favorite version of the time-honored tale in what I hope is remastered film quality and surround sound.
If you didn’t watch the 1997 Wonderful World of Disney TV film–or, if you weren’t even alive at the time–here’s a quick list of essential posts to learn more about the production and the people behind it.
First on the list is my 2018 SyFy Fangrrls article about Paolo Montalban’s character Prince Christopher. Like everyone else, I was captivated by Montalban in the film. I wrote about my experience watching the film growing up, including how Brandy’s Cinderella gave me a princess I could identify with in more ways than one. To quote me:
Seeing Brandy being desired by Montalban’s Prince Christopher was a pivotal moment for me as a teen, since up until that point I hadn’t had many examples of black women being desired by anyone. The few examples that were out there didn’t necessarily speak to me. A Different World had Whitley and Dwayne Wade, and Whitley was definitely every inch the sophisticated, genteel Southern Belle, antithetical to the general portrayal of black women in Hollywood. In some ways, she reminded me of my own mother, which made her a comforting character for me. But Whitley was also someone I knew I could never be like. She was lighter-skinned, fashionable, and flirty. Meanwhile, I was paper-bag brown, with undiagnosed body dysmorphia, believing I was much fatter than I actually was. On top of that, I had to dress in the women’s department at an early age since I had already outgrown the small-size 00 Juniors section, so my bad relationship with clothes was not at all like Whitley’s fantastic one. Family Matters, a show I watched every week, always had Laura Winslow batting away Steve Urkel’s pesky attention. I resonated more with Laura, but I also didn’t want to be desired by someone like Steve, who was way too annoying despite his moments of genuine sincerity. I also couldn’t relate to Tia and Tamera Mowry of Sister, Sister, since they seemed like the quirky teens I wished to be; I was way too neurotic to be considered “normal.”
Brandy’s Cinderella, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. She was meek and shy, had low self-esteem, and was respectful to a fault, never telling off her wicked stepmother or leaving home for fear of breaking her father’s final wish of her being with family. She was darker and wore braids like me. She was looking for relief from a life that seemed designed against her, like me. And throughout all of it, she was still able to find someone to love her for her, damage and all.
Best of all–Montalban replied to me!
Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the pomp and circumstance that goes into wedding planning, I was inspired to write about Cinderella‘s costumes under the guise of wedding planning. Wedding or no wedding, I’m always on the lookout for a dress that could work for a Cinderella-inspired ball gown.
If you want to read more of my Cinderella-based writing, check out my curated Twitter thread.
Shondaland’s Kendra James put the entire history of the making of Cinderella down on paper, with commentary from the film’s producers and cast members. One of my favorite parts is how Victor Garber and producer Craig Zadan recounted how girls of color reacted to the film. As quoted below:
Craig Zadan: About a week before [the premiere], the LA Calendar section had done a story on the movie. They had a huge photo of Brandy in her blue dress, and we got a letter from a woman who said that her daughter cut the picture out and pinned it to her pillow. She slept with it every night. And so we decided with Debra, we would invite them to the premiere. But at that point, even before the movie aired, we were feeling that it was going to be impactful. That was the first sign of how needed it was.
Victor Garber: What impressed me most when it aired was how beautiful it was, and what a great thing it was for young girls to see. There was a kind of authenticity and sweetness about it that I thought was rare; Brandy brought so much of that to the role. And Craig and Neil have a gift of reinventing classics in a new and beautiful way. I was just really moved by it, and taken by the scope of it.
Natalie Desselle-Reid’s recent death presents a sad cloud over the film’s streaming premiere. It would have been great to see what she would have said or tweeted about once the film made its debut on Disney+. I wrote an article for Shadow And Act about Desselle-Reid’s most memorable roles, including, of course, her role as Minerva in Cinderella.
Shadow And Act has also given flowers to Whitney Houston’s career as a film producer, bringing millennial Black girls the content that spoke directly to them, such as Cinderella. Trey Mangum wrote for Shadow And Act about the amount of work Houston put in to bring groundbreaking films to the mainstream.
Happy viewing and happy reading!