Earlier this year, I did a series of Villains Profiles that were some of the most fun I’ve ever done looking at three different takes on Long John Silver. I’ve decided to return to this idea with something similar. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be looking at live-action Cinderella villains. Note, I did not say Cinderella’s Stepmother and that is because three of these villains do not fit that category. And ironically all of them are male but we will come to that when we get to them. Today though, we are starting with an iconic performance from the 1997 Wonderful World of Disney adaption of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella. This version by the iconic musical theater duo was first written for television in 1957 starring Julie Andrews. The Stepmother was played by Ilka Chase in this original version. And it was staged for television once again in 1965, I have seen this version alongside the 1997 version, and the Stepmother in that one was played by Jo Van Fleet.
Oh, and one of the Stepsisters in the 60s version was played by recently departed Disney Legend, Pat Caroll.
My heart does truly belong to the 1997 film adaptation as while not being the first version of Cinderella I’ve seen, it was the first version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Cinderella that I have seen and it is perhaps the version I have watched the most. For so many that grew up with this version, it’s iconic and well, it’s easy to see why so many love it considering ABC just aired a 25th-anniversary special.
Before I get to the usual categories, there are a few that will be replaced. I’ll still use Actor, First Appearance, and Fate but instead of Lackeys, that’ll be replaced by Stepsisters or in the case of one, Stepbrothers.
Yeah…. no. There’ll be one exception to this when we get to the OUAT villains (if I decide to include them) as Drizzella from season seven will get her entry. Now besides those categories, another key one that’ll be included at least for the step-parent’s entries, and that is the relationship they have with Cinderella. The Stepmother/Cinderella relationship is the most important aspect of understanding the Stepmother character in my opinion considering it is her hatred that drives who she is and what she does to torture her stepdaughter.
Bernadette Peters is a legend of stage and screen having more stage and screen credits to her name than I could list. And this also ties into something else that is key to bring up when looking at the actors playing the step-parents, and what they bring to the role. With Peters as the Stepmother, she brings a diva attitude that makes her performance all the more comedic. That works with the version of the Stepmother she is playing as this is a gentle fairy tale brought to life and it doesn’t need to be dreary or serious. Some might argue that there is a camp factor to her performance and I don’t think that’s exactly incorrect. Again, I think part of that comes from how Peters plays the role.
We first see the Stepmother with her family out on the town shopping as her two daughters are arguing over a frankly ugly purple hat and this speaks to something crucial about this version of the Stepmother in how she treats her daughters. It’s not that she doesn’t love them as I think she does but she also sees them as a means to an end. This is true of most versions but this seems to be one of the more blatant examples of this and I will touch upon this some more in the Grand Desire section. Now, I did not include this category when looking at Long John Silver as they all had similar goals and while that is true of the Stepmother character, I think it’s fair to include it in these entries as while most of them are rather similar, some are different from the traditional want of the Stepmother.
I briefly touched upon this when looking at Bernadette Peters in the Actor category but compared to some of the other versions of the Stepmother that I’ll be looking at, she is a more comedic take on the Stepmother character. This to me is an interesting direction as before this movie I was more used to the Stepmother being more serious and leering. Think Lady Tremaine in the animated classic.
While that may be the direction I’m typically used to for the Stepmother, a more comedic take can work. It doesn’t undermine the threat that the Stepmother presents to Cinderella but rather highlights it in a new way. This again speaks to how many different actors can take this character in many different directions. Having said all this, she’s not a comedic villain that is threatening a la Cruella as the movie never hides that she is going to lose.
Relationship with Cinderella
The casting alone for this movie adds an interesting dynamic to the Stepmother/Cinderella relationship. The 1997 film adaption was the first time that Cinderella had ever been played by a Black actor in the Rodgers & Hammerstein version. On the surface, this may not be something that many will think about and this movie was aiming for diverse casting and succeeded in that regard but this element presents an interesting angle in showing how white people aka the dominant race have often held people of color back from obtaining their dreams. This has always been a huge talking point but it has most certainly come to the forefront over the past couple of years and it is hard not to ignore it and view the Stepmother and Cinderella relationship in this light. This happens to add another layer to the character that people may not have looked at nor considered. This will not be the last time this comes up as this type of relationship is seen in the final season of Once Upon A Time (Just ugh about that Lady Tremaine)
However, that is a bridge that will be crossed in the future if at all. The relationship this Stepmother has with Cinderella is interesting as you do think there may have been a point that she believed in love once but has burned and Cinderella is a reminder of the hurt that love has wrought upon her.
Her grand desire is simple to understand and true to most versions of the Stepmother, she wants to marry her daughters off to the Prince. This is something that we see all the time and it comes down to how she trains her daughters. That is another big element of the character as she knows that her daughters do not have the natural charm to gain the Prince’s attention on their own. So she feels the need to train them as that is in her mind what is needed to reign in their more exuberant personalities.
Minerva and Calliope
The Stepsisters in this movie are just so goofy and fun. They feel like over-the-top cartoon characters and that once again works for the tone. Something that Colin of ColinsLookBack brought up during his look at the animated Tremaine’s is how the Stepsisters weren’t drawn to be ugly but rather their ugliness comes through how they act and I think that is also true of Minerva and Calliope. They are beautiful women but it’s how they act that turns men, especially Prince Christopher off from going near them. How humorous they are comes through in their song, Stepsister’s Lament.
Yet at the same time when listening to the song, you can almost hear the point they are making as it is a fair question to ask why can’t a man go for a normal-looking woman. Again though, this comes back to how they act. If they had a shred of kindness and carried themselves with grace, Prince Christopher might not have been so turned off.
Falling in Love With Love
This movie is a celebration of all the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein as this song comes from an early Rodgers musical called The Boys from Syracuse. In the original version, the singer seems skeptical of falling in love a la Meg in I Won’t Say I’m in Love whereas it’s given a new context here and reveals a tragic side to the Stepmother. She’s been burned by love twice before. We don’t know what happened to her first husband but it’s not hard to imagine that after Cinderella’s father died, she became embittered toward the idea of love and views the idea of true love as a farce.
While this does bring a sense of tragedy and it does a sense of depth to the Stepmother, it doesn’t excuse her mistreatment of Cinderella. It just makes it more understandable because it’s easy to think that she sees what believing in love took away from her when she looks at Cinderella.
Most Evil Deed
It is a rather small moment and something every other version of the Stepmother does, she keeps Cinderella from trying to keep Cinderella from trying on the glass slipper. She does this by locking Cinderella away in a separate room. This again speaks back to the type of person the Stepmother is, she isn’t willing to let Cindrella have any chance at happiness because she believes if Cinderella gets a chance at happiness, her life will be ruined.
The idea of her happiness being ruined when Cinderella is fulfilled is a way when we see Cinderella and Prince Christopher get married.
The fact that she couldn’t be happy without putting someone else down speaks to how broken her life had become at this point.
Is Cinderella’s Stepmother A Good Villain?
Bernadette Peters delivers a great take on the Stepmother character that is both comedic and tragic when you strip away the layers when taking a deeper look at how the Stepmother is presented in this movie. While she delivers a great take on a fairy tale musical villain, there is also so much to her beyond the surface. We aren’t quite done with musical takes on Cinderella’s Stepmother. Join me next time as we head…
Into The Woods