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The contest ends on the 16th of May.

Cinderella: A Twist in Time

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Some time around the mid 2000s Disney shook up the department in charge of the (generally pretty awful) direct to video/DVD sequels. There was a short period between this and Disneytoon becoming solely focused on the Tinkerbell movies(which are also surprisingly great) when they actually produced more or less full Disney quality sequels/prequels to some classics, which are often ignored and written off as simple money grabs. Around this time, Disney started latching onto the idea of de-constructing it’s own properties, leading into what we now call the Revival period - after all a lot of their biggest draws were half a century old at this point and their new releases were not drawing people to the cinema. This is the period that leads onto stuff like Tangled and Princess and the Frog which turn a lot of the traditional Disney tropes on their head, while still paying tribute to the classics that used them.

Possibly the most interesting one was Cinderella: A Twist in Time. The basic premise is this; some time after Cinderella marries her prince, the Fairy Godmother holds an anniversary party for them. One of the “ugly sisters”, Anastasia, laments the fact that she does not have her own prince like Cinders, and ends up wandering into the forest where she sees the Fairy using magic. She brings it back to Lady Tremaine saying it will solve all their troubles(possibly their house had run on hard times much like in Cinders). The wand is accidentally used against the Fairy, and impressed with it’s power, Lady Tremaine uses it to travel back in time with her daughters to redo the ending of the original story.

In this alternate timeline, Cinderella actually has to figure out what’s going on and work to get back her fairytale dream. Aside from it being kind of interesting that Disney, often regarded as the worst offenders in fairytales and role models actually went back and did a different take on things themselves, the animation is pretty top notch for direct to DVD, nothing like the earlier sequels. 

But that’s one thing, and the content is another. Being a Disney Princess movie - it is not without it’s problems. Obviously, the cast is still all white, it still focuses on traditional romance and falls back on bad some stereotypes. This does not in of itself make it bad - and I think that overall for progressive, feminist fans of Disney it’s a win.

The big seller on this for me was that the true Heroine of the movie, in many ways, was Anastasia - the “ugly” or “wicked” stepsister. I feel like, in of itself, this is amazingly positive as it suggests that such previous labels for characters as being tongue in cheek and a matter of interpretation. It legitimises the attempt of feminists or other groups to “claim” characters that may have been portrayed in a less than positive light initially, opening the door up to different points of view(of course - how many of these see the light of day is another story - we’ll see how Maleficent fares). 

Anastasia is not exactly prettied up for her new role as Deuteragonist. As mentioned, the style is mostly true to the original(in my view, in some ways, better). At no point does she receive or makeover or do you get the impression she needs one to justify her status as a sympathetic character. Nor does she need to act more ladylike to compensate for her looks - she tries and fails in a somewhat amusing but charming fashion. Throughout the movie - you are rooting for Anastasia more than anyone - a woman who is presented as being far from perfectly prim and feminine and not conventionally attractive either, within the world were such things were traditionally rewarded above all else.

Anastasia gets her own touching song, and even gets a shot at the Prince, even if it doesn’t ultimately work out. I was a little sad she didn’t receive a love interest of her own - but on the other hand, if you were to view her as the protagonist, it’s more progressive this way as she’s realised she doesn't need it to be complete. Much of the narrative here is in Anastasia breaking free of her mother and her expectations, but in a different way to the rebellious princess archetype as the story can be told from a different perspective. Cinderella outright asks her if this is what she actually wants - which from an optimistic feminist perspective is a question that could be asked of many girls who grew up on Disney princesses. Of course - there is an implied romance at the very end, but nothing concrete.

Of course, the movie also makes Cinderella and her Prince vastly more likable characters. If I were have to said there would be a movie where the Prince impulsively jumps out of a window or Cinders kicks her way out of an undead Pumpkin you might look at me funny. They don’t need to turn Cinders into a stereotypical tomboy type character, or follow the “rebellious teenager” mold that many of their princesses did during the Renaissance, they still make her feel like the original character, only, you know, with actual character.

At times the movie seems to channel the spirit of Enchanted, released around the same time, in the way in which it lovingly pokes fun at some of the ridiculous tropes present in the original (“You think there’s only one woman in the whole kingdom who wears a size four and half?”)

The ending in particular was of note - the Fairy Godmother tries to inform them that the timeline had been messed with and offers to return it to the way it was, giving them the year or so they’d lost - and is ignored; giving her the realisation that it’s better this way. This was a very powerful dismissal of the idea that the original narrative - while an iconic and charming story in it’s own right, is preferable to an expanded, deeper and more feministic narrative where Cinderella actually had to fight for her dreams. In a worse story - things would have been put back the way it was, bowing down to the original story, with some “sweet” scene that maybe Anastasia remembers something from the altered timeline, but no recognition of the trials she and Cinderella went through.

One other reason it caught my attention lot of the visual novel Cinders, and it’s prospective sequel. Cinders is generally marketed as being somewhat of a “Feminist Cinderella” and the popularity of one of the stepsisters within has lead to the possibility of a sequel told from her perspective(Sophia).

One of the worries for a Sophia based sequel would be that it would be too far from the original fairy tale. While obvious doing a similar story to this sequel would be silly and retreading old ground(as well as going against the plan for it to follow on from the running away ending) I think it does show that there’s a lot of ways in which you play around with the original mythos. I’ve seen some interesting defenses for Disney sequels based on this - it’s actually really interested to follow on from or do new spins on old fairy tales. Most new fairytales are just re-adaptions - trying to be more mature or modern - but following on or playing around with an existing interpretation actually makes for a really interesting story.

I recommend people watch Cinderella: A Twist in Time anyway, whether you loved or hated the Disney original. I am curious though as to how many people love or hate Disney things in general, given Cinders draws on those who have both a love and distaste for various interpretations of classic tales! Personally I’m a big fan but readily admit many of them are flaws. However, with movies like Princess and the Frog, and follow-ups like Ariel’s Beginning and Twist in Time that do a lot to flesh out cardboard cutout characters, I think they’re making a big effort, even if their marketing department presents a lot of their stuff in a somewhat disappointing way; most notably the whole Disney Princess brand - while I love most of the actual characters - I think we can all agree that the way they’re adding to the ocean of shocking pink and stereotypical femininity, despite more than half of the princesses in their roster deviating from it in some way, is something we really need to do better than - without succumbing to the alternative of a lazy hatred of femininity of course.

So in short, Cinderella: A Twist in Time is a great deconstruction of the original tale which speaks to me personally as it taught me that the ugly, awkward girl is still deserving of a story, and that even pretty girls have to work to earn their lot. Like all such movies, it is imperfect but the heart is certainly in the right place.

Also play Cinders from Moacube. It’s great.


Release Date (Windows, Mac OS, Steam)
English: June 20th, 2012

“This is a story of four women and what made them who they are, inspired by the classic fairytale of Cinderella. A story about balancing freedom and dreams with circumstance and harsh reality; about growing up and finding out the true meaning of independence. Distancing itself from the judgmental simplicity of the original, Cinders tries to explore the more complex nature of oppression, responsibility and innocence.

The game focuses on characters and their motivations, and is heavy on player choices and role-playing. With 120 decision points and over 300 options to choose from, Cinders allows you to shape the main character’s personality and the course of the story.” (Source)

Cinders is a visual novel with romance elements made by MoaCube. The beautiful art was made by the illustrator Gracjana Zielinska. The full version is available for USD$22.95.


You can get the Steam version here.

Watch the trailer here!