Posted on Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 by Germain Lussier
“Write Cinderella.” On the surface it sounds like a pretty easy task. It’s a well-known story, all the characters are pre-packaged and every major story beat is already locked in. But then you break it down. The original Disney film is about 75 minutes long, the Prince hardly speaks, the mice talk, and we learn very little about the the characters themselves. In fact, writing Cinderella, especially in live-action for for a whole new generation, is much more difficult than you’d think.
For the new Cinderella, which hits theaters March 13, writing duties were entrusted to Chris Weitz. Weitz first hit the big time when he and his brother Paul made American Pie. He’s since gone on to direct The Golden Compass, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, About a Boy and most recently A Better Life. Currently, he’s writing the 2016 Star Wars standalone movie directed by Gareth Edwards. But before that could happen, Weitz was tasked with simultaneously modernizing and keeping the heart of one of the most famous fairy tales of all time.
We spoke with Weitz about the difficulties in adapting such a well-known story, keeping it fresh, the fact he started the project with Mark Romanek and ended with Kenneth Branagh, as well as making changes to that beloved 1950s Disney cartoon. Then, of course, the conversation turned to Star Wars (which we published a few days back). Read our full Chris Weitz Cinderella interview below.
Chris Weitz Cinderella Interview
/Film: With Cinderella you were adapting a pretty well known story.
Chris Weitz: Yes.
When you sit down to finally do some writing, how do you go about making something that’s familiar but also different enough for it to warrant itself?
Yeah, it’s tricky. There’s a lot of responsibility because not only is it this sort of beloved story, but you know that so many young girls are gonna come and watch this film and it’s going to affect them, inevitably. And you want it to be good enough that it affects them quite deeply. So how do you change it? Well I think a lot of people nowadays would look at the character of Cinderella and wonder why she doesn’t fight back, why she doesn’t talk back. Why she doesn’t have her Stepmother arrested by Social Services.
And so the question is, first of all, how to justify that and not make her feel like she is wimpy or a doormat? And also how to deal with the question of the Prince? And trying not to say “You should just hang around and wait for some kind of magic to happen or for a really rich and powerful guy to come and take care of you.” So the key was making their relationship something that was credible and believable and not based on differences in class. And also how to understand why she would stay at home in such a sort of abusive environment. Part of that really is down to the production design and it’s absolutely gorgeous with this tremendously emotionally involving place. As Dante Ferretti has designed it. And so there’s every reason she would want to stay there. And also understanding her relationship with her parents and why she would stay in parental home and not run away. So all of these things kind of go into it. And then, having done that, you wanna make sure that it’s not a sort of such a revisionist version. That it’s recognizable as the fairy tale character.
So in that, fleshing out the story and making the characters more believable, is that what leads to some of the changes from the cartoon? Like, in this version she doesn’t do the chores before the ball, she meets the Prince earlier, all the things like that. Do those things sort of inform each other?
Yeah. I think everybody knows that Cinderella suffers. Absolutely. The key is how to play up her resilience in the face of that. And also her kind of sunniness and yet still give her enough self possession that a contemporary audience doesn’t think she’s a wuss.