TIME

Why Disney’s New Cinderella Is the Anti-Frozen

CINDERELLA
Disney Lily James as Cinderella in Disney's 2015 live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale, Cinderella

Don't be fooled by Ella's new look, this fairy tale is full of disappointing stereotypes

Ever since the cast was announced, I’ve been wishing hard on Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Cinderella. This was, after all, a product of the new Disney, whose last princess-based effort resulted in the girl-power juggernaut we know and love as Frozen. And now Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and even Agent Carter’sbutt-kicking bombshell” Hayley Atwell were on board. Surely this band of power women would have signed on only to a more modern Cinderella, one that finds a way to luxuriate in the lush beauty of the tale while also giving it a much-needed jolt of female agency.

How I wish I didn’t have to deliver bad news. I was a bullied girl who grew up on Disney’s classic animated version, dreaming that a fairy godmother might also reveal me as the radiant woman I knew I could be. I fervently wanted this reboot to be big enough to marry my childhood dreams with my adult belief that women aren’t ennobled by suffering or diminished by ambition. But I guess I forgot to wish upon a star. The new Cinderella is as retro as they come.

The film certainly is lavish. Everything is more beautiful than you thought it could be, from the hyper-real fairy-tale farmhouse to the ornately gilded pumpkin coach to the massive ball scenes at the palace to (of course!) the dresses. Oh, the dresses! Every frame is lovingly, sumptuously composed, and the performances live up to their setting. Aesthetically, Cinderella is an unqualified triumph.

If only the film’s heart were as good as its heroine’s. This Cinderella shares less DNA with Frozen and more with Snow White’s Evil Queen. On the surface it’s the fairest of the fair. But underneath it’s rotten.

You can tell that someone, somewhere had good intentions. There are multiple people of color in this film, and they’re not just playing servants. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother, is given a backstory clearly meant to humanize her — a beloved dead husband and a real fear that she and her girls will be left to starve without a man to provide for them. But what the film suffers from is a profound failure of nerve. Sure, the people of color are there, but the only two who speak at all are tertiary characters at best. It’s 2015. Does the Prince really have to be white for the story to work? Does Cinderella?

As for Tremaine’s motivations, for a moment they gave me hope that the story would go in a Jane Austen direction, exploring the limited and sometimes desperate life choices facing women who are forced to depend on marriage for income and class status. Instead it’s just a way to demonstrate how ambitious Tremaine has become, and how that unseemly ambition is the driver of her evil treatment of our heroine, who in contrast has no ambitions and is therefore purely good. More submissive than Anastasia Steele, Cinderella responds to every insult and oppression forced on her by suffering it prettily and with a song in her heart. That’s no exaggeration: even when locked in the attic by her stepmother, literally held prisoner in her own home, she doesn’t try to escape or even yell to the king’s men just below her in the yard. Instead she just floats about dreamily and sings. If it weren’t for some preternaturally clever mice, she’d still probably still be up there.

What’s truly galling is that we know Disney can do better. In recent years it’s reimagined classic fairy tales in groundbreaking (and lucrative) outings like Brave, Maleficent and, of course, Frozen. And it’s not like it didn’t intend to update the story. Kenneth Branagh, who directed this mess, is featured in a video on Disney’s site bragging, “There’s no damsels in distress here. Cinderella’s not a pushover. She sticks up for herself.” I couldn’t possibly say what he means by that, because all the viewer sees is her parroting her mother’s dying words — “have courage and be kind” — while accepting without protest every abuse Tremaine and her daughters conceive of. Agent Carter would be very disappointed.

And Agent Carter is part of the point. Atwell’s other recent project is but one of a whole constellation of television series currently featuring complex, fully formed female leads, including Orange Is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, Empire, The Good Wife, The Mindy Project, everything Shonda Rhimes touches, and the just-released Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, to name just a few. One glance at a TV (or streaming) schedule is all it takes to see how infinite the possibilities can be when it comes to women onscreen.

But somehow the film-studio bosses keep losing the memo. In 2014, only 12% of top-grossing films featured women in lead roles. Only slightly more than half of all films released since 2010 have even passed the Bechdel test, a pathetically low bar requiring only that a film feature two women who talk with each other at some point about something other than a man. This erasure of women isn’t even mercenary: films that do pass the Bechdel test are repeatedly shown to produce more profit for studios than films that don’t.

And many of the films that do manage to feature a woman suffer from a profound lack of imagination about who women can be. If I wanted to go see a film from last weekend’s top 10 earners with anything resembling a female lead, I would be choosing between watching a dim-witted blond protégé, a retired British lady on an adventure, a naive virgin seduced by an abusive billionaire, a literal monster or an “ugly fat friend.” Meanwhile the male leads in those 10 films are a soldier, a scientist, a con man, a middle-aged superspy, an abusive billionaire, a sports coach, a businessman and a sentient sea sponge.

The theater in which I saw Cinderella was filled with dreamers much younger than I am. No doubt some of them, as I did when I was their age, identified powerfully with that abused young woman, just waiting for someone to see that she could be so much more than her circumstances. Too bad they’ve been let down yet again by movie execs who can’t seem to see past the end of their wands.

TIME movies

Watch the Frozen Gang Return in Trailer for Frozen Fever

The seven-minute short will play in theaters before Cinderella

Just before spring arrives, the Frozen gang is sneaking back into theaters.

Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) will return to the big screen in Frozen Fever, a seven-minute short whose trailer just premiered on Good Morning America on Wednesday.

The short takes place after the events of Disney’s billion-dollar movie and will focus on a birthday party for Anna that doesn’t go smoothly after the princess falls ill. Catch it in theaters March 13, when Frozen Fever will screen before Disney’s live-action Cinderella movie, starring Cate Blanchett and Lily James.

TIME Bizarre

Kentucky Police Blame Cold Weather On … Elsa From Frozen

Frozen
Disney

"Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress and is known to burst into song 'Let it Go!'"

Cold weather hasn’t stopped a Kentucky police department from showing its sense of humor.

The Harlan City Police Department posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that it blamed poor weather on Elsa from Frozen, and that it had taken out a warrant for the snow princess’ arrest.

For the uninitiated, Elsa possesses the magical power to create snow and ice.

Shortly after, the Harlan police posted another message warning residents that, joking aside, the weather was still serious business.

While we might not be able to blame Elsa for the weather, how about issuing an arrest warrant for getting “Let It Go” stuck in our heads for the past year and a half?

TIME weather

Here’s What Niagara Falls Looks Like Frozen

A winter wonderland on the border

Frigid temperatures by the Great Lakes are giving tourists a whole new reason to visit Niagara Falls.

The famous waterfalls by the Canada-U.S. border were partially frozen this week as temperatures in the area hit 13 degrees below zero on Monday. Though the falls were hardly frozen solid—water continued to flow—layers of ice built up, giving the impression of a winter wonderland amid its icy mist and surrounding snow.

Temperatures aside, the cold weather doesn’t deter necessarily tourists. Last year, the site received more visitors during a week in early March than the average winter week as word (and photos) of the falls’ frozen appearance spread, USA Today reported.

Read next: Ithaca, New York’s Tourism Board Gives Up, Invites Visitors to Head to Florida Instead

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TIME Travel

4 Ways to Take a Frozen-Inspired Vacation This Winter

It's time to channel your inner Elsa

We already know the science of why you can’t resist Frozen. So if you’re looking for another reason to revisit the magical kingdom of Arendelle, there’s no need to let go of that fairy tale idea just yet. Here are four snowy European getaways that will help you channel your inner Elsa.

1. Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Alta, Norway. Every year, this frosty palace is remade entirely from snow, complete with an ice chapel for memorable wedding receptions. Visitors can warm up in the outdoor hot tubs (although the cold never bothered you anyway, right?).

2. Igloo Village Kakslauttanen in Saariselka, Finland. Spend a night in Kakslauttanen’s glass igloo pods and view the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. Guests brave enough to venture into the elements may try ice swimming, ice fishing or a reindeer safari fit for Kristoff and Sven.

3. Balea Ice Hotel in Cîrţişoara, Romania. A visit to southeastern Europe’s first ice hotel will have you dining on ice plates at ice tables while sitting on ice chairs. Pass the time with traditional winter activities like sledding, ice skating and a snowman-building contest where you can attempt to recreate Olaf.

4. Det Hanseatiske Hotel in Bergen, Norway. This real-life city inspired Arendelle, the movie’s fictional setting. The hotel is situated a short distance from old-world attractions like a fish market, museum and a cable car that takes tourists up Bergen’s highest mountain.

TIME movies

Take a Sneak Peek at the New Frozen Animated Short

The cast is back for a birthday bash

The cast of Disney’s billion-dollar hit Frozen is back together and ready to party in a brand new animated short film called Frozen Fever.

Original cast members Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) and Josh Gad (Olaf) will reprise their roles. The seven-minute animated short will show how the kingdom of Arendelle has changed since the events of Frozen and will also feature a birthday party for Princess Anna that goes awry when Elsa gets a cold.

Frozen Fever will play in theaters before Disney’s live-action Cinderella, which premieres on March 13.

TIME Opinion

The Trouble With Disney’s Teeny, Tiny Princesses

BRAVE
Pixar/Disney Queen Elinor and King Fergus in Brave

A culture populated by absurdly small princesses and hulking male heroes can change the way men and women see themselves

Disney has taken a lot of flak for perpetrating sexist stereotypes in its princess movies. In today’s competitive, every-moment-counts child-rearing culture, American parents want their kids’ entertainment to be not just fun, but also fulfilling. So if a movie sends the wrong message, many parents stay away. That’s why the company has responded to the criticism, shaping more recent princess movies such as Frozen and Brave around female characters for whom romance is not the primary motivation.

I welcome this evolution. But there’s still a lot to wonder about — and even complain about — in today’s animated children’s movies, especially in the radical differences between male and female bodies.

Yes, on average real men’s bodies are bigger, and more muscular, than women’s. And yes, animation is an art form not restricted to the boundaries of realism, which is what makes it great. But the exaggerations in these children’s movies are extreme, they almost always promote the same image of big men and tiny women, and they are especially dramatic in romantic situations.

Consider just the differences in hand size. Here are the hands of romantic couples in (clockwise from top left): Frozen, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Gnomeo and Juliet, Hercules, Tangled and Brave.

Disney (4); Dreamworks; Touchstone Pictures

The differences between men’s and women’s hands and arms in these pictures are more extreme than almost any you can find in real adults. The men’s hands are routinely three or four times larger than the women’s. For comparison, I checked a detailed report that the Army commissioned to design its equipment and uniforms. In real American adults, for example, men’s wrists are on average only about 15% larger in circumference than women’s. In that scene from Frozen, not only is Anna’s hand tiny compared with Hans’, but in fact her eyeball is wider than her wrist.

Disney

In the Hercules scene, his bicep is about 2.8 times wider than hers, while the very biggest man in the Army report had a bicep just 2.1 times bigger than the very smallest woman (that bicep difference is also greater than that observed between Shaquille O’Neal and his former wife, Nicole Alexander). The same is true of their neck and wrist measurements.

In the case of Hercules, we can actually compare the Disney depiction to ancient renditions of the demigod and his mistress. From 4th century mosaics to Alessandro Turchi’s 17th century painting, the demigod is portrayed relative to Megara in much more normal human proportions. I know Hercules is not supposed to be a regular human, but if he’s really a different species, maybe Disney shouldn’t feature him kissing a girl in a children’s movie.

(There are exceptions to the Disney/Dreamworks model of couples, even in modern animation. Consider, for example, the teen couple in Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s magical film Kiki’s Delivery Service, Marge and Homer Simpson — or, of course, Charlie Brown and Lucy. Even the older Disney classics, like the 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, had much more normally proportioned couples.)

Because humans reproduce sexually, there are obvious differences between males and females, called sexual dimorphism. However, in the grand scheme, as the sociologist Lisa Wade puts it, “men and women are overwhelmingly alike”; our similarities outweigh our differences. Still, we choose whether to highlight the differences that are apparent. And the amount of energy we devote to emphasizing and acting on the different qualities of men and women changes over time and varies across cultures.

Artists have been pairing men’s and women’s bodies for millennia. And even in art that was not intended to be realistic, the sex differences were usually not as dramatic as those seen in modern children’s movies.

Consider these three works of art. The first is Seated Man and Woman, a sculpture from Mexico about 2,000 years old, showing obvious but modest differences in body type. The second is Michelangelo’s famous rendition of Adam and Eve from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, completed in 1512, in which Eve’s robust physique is comparable to Adam’s. And the third is the classic American Gothic, by Grant Wood, from 1930.

Dallas Museum of Art; Getty Images (2)

I wouldn’t argue that differentiating the sexes in animated movies is the most pressing problem we face today. But I do think the choices that artists and producers make — and the popularity of their choices — gives us a window into important cultural dynamics.

In my own area of research, families and gender, many of our modern debates revolve around the different roles that men and women play. Can men warmly nurture children and work as nurses? Can women successfully lead families and companies? The differences between mothers and fathers can create comfortable compatibilities with obvious benefits. But unless we see that men and women have physical, emotional and cognitive qualities in common as well, we will continue to treat single parents — and same-sex couples — as fundamentally deficient instead of evaluating them as complex people with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Having written about this subject frequently in the past few years, I know many people will disagree, arguing that the fundamental differences they perceive between men and women are natural and should be embraced. But what we think of as normal is not simply natural; it’s a product of the interaction between the natural world and our cultural ways. When the beautiful and romantic stories we grow to love in childhood set a standard that exaggerates gender differences and makes them seem natural — built into our very bone structures — it gives us a more limited, and less complex, vision of our human potential.

TIME viral

Watch a Principal Announce a Snow Day With a ‘Let It Go’ Parody

Watch out, Idina Menzel

Schoolteachers must be sick of hearing “Let It Go” from Frozen by now, but there’s probably no better way to get kids’ attention than with the Disney tune. Just ask Matt Glendinning, the head of school at Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I., who announced his school’s snow day with his own “Let It Go” parody, “School Is Closed.”

Don’t be surprised if Glendinning has been waiting to break this out for some time — the production value here is suspiciously high for a blizzard that only just took the East Coast by storm. That, or Glendinning should become the faculty sponsor for the film club ASAP.

Read next: Blizzard Gives New York City a Miss, Hits New England

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TIME weather

Winter Storm Is Turning the Northeast Into a Wonderland

It's cold and getting colder

A winter snow storm that blanketed the northeastern United States early Saturday morning shows no signs of letting up. The storm delivered some nine inches of snow in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, while New York City got five inches according to Weather.com. More northern parts of the state got as much as 9 inches. In the afternoon, rain turned to snow creating slushy conditions. Another cold front is expected in the region on Monday.

TIME feminism

How 7 Disney Princesses Could Change the World

Without a magic wand

After a U.S. official suggested this week that Anna and Elsa from Frozen could be good ambassadors for fighting climate change, we got to thinking about how some other Disney Princesses could wield their mighty influence on young American minds.

Princess Diana raised awareness about AIDS and land mines after her fairy-tale wedding glow faded, so why shouldn’t Disney Princesses be do-gooders, too? Here are some ways these fictional characters could change the world.

Read next: Alan Menken Tells the Stories Behind Your Favorite Disney Classics

  • Mulan (from Mulan)

    Disney

    She could fight for increased protections for women in the military, especially when it comes to being sexually assaulted or filmed in the shower. She could also fight to reform the hairstyle rules for military women, so that no female soldier ever has to give herself a terrible haircut with her dad’s sword ever again.

  • Belle (from Beauty and the Beast)

    Disney "Beauty & the Beast 3D" Belle. ©2011 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
    Disney

    She could campaign for child literacy programs and for more online education options for people who live in boring towns. She could also be a vocal advocate for increased social security and adult-home-care programs to reduce wolf attacks among the elderly.

  • Ariel (from The Little Mermaid)

    Disney

    She could be an spokesperson to clean up the oceans and save the diversity of species under the sea. She could also fight for immigration reform, so that evil witches stop taking advantage of anyone who wants to cross a border. And she could do it all in mime.

  • Pocahontas (from Pocahontas)

    Disney

    Her conflict resolution skills could make her an excellent candidate to be a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, especially in areas with indigenous tensions. She could also fight to eliminate corporal punishment and serve on the board of Save America’s Forests.

  • Cinderella (from Cinderella)

    Disney

    She could fight for a higher minimum wage in the service industry and advocate for increased protections against child labor. She could also secretly fight to lower estate taxes so that other children of rich parents don’t end up poor like her.

  • Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog)

    Disney

    The star of the New Orleans fairy tale could demand a larger investment in small businesses and an increased environmental commitment to global warming to reduce the rising waters that threaten her hometown.

  • Jasmine (from Aladdin)

    Disney

    She could be a vocal advocate for the rights of women in the Middle East, and could fight for an expansion of girls’ education in that region. She could also oppose any laws that forbid women to drive cars or operate magic carpets.

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