Revisiting ‘Ever After’

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By Biz Hyzy
 
Almost twenty years ago, Ever After (1998) graced our movie screens, giving us a fairy tale that featured a scrappy heroine yet no magic. With girl power, fully developed characters, and Leonard da Vinci(!!), Ever After is the perfect Cinderella story. The melodious, romantic score sweeps you into warm contentment, and the dialogue is by turns snappy and rich with imagery. Even today, my sisters and I will quote da Vinci and reenact the botched wedding scene with gusto. So, slip on your glass slippers and take a bite of some “positively sinful” chocolate as we take a look at why Ever After, like Danielle, flies above the rest.
 

A Heroine We Can Root For

The 2015 live-action Disney adaptation came under some fire because Ella forgives her abusive stepmother before departing with her prince. Personally, I believe that kind of story does have its place; some people view their ability to forgive as their greatest strength, and we shouldn’t belittle them. However, I prefer Danielle’s doesn’t-take-any-crap attitude to Ella’s unprecedented kindness. Heck, the first time Danielle meets Prince Henry, she hits him with an apple! Here, we have an adventurous princess-to-be who swims alone, climbs trees in her undergarments, outsmarts gypsies, rescues her prince, rescues her servants, and rescues herself. All she ever wanted was a mother’s love, not a prince’s, but when she does stumble upon romantic love, she embraces it for all it’s worth. Most importantly, Danielle always has an agenda, whether it’s fighting for someone else’s rights or her own.
 

An Attractive Mind

When I read Utopia, I viewed it as satire, so sometimes, it bothers me when Danielle references it so literally. That being said, I love the ideals she’s extracted from it—and so does Henry! He’s initially attracted to Danielle because she uses passion and logic to persuade him to release someone lower than her station. From there, she philosophizes about equality, empathy, and helping others. Although Henry is educated, he starts out close-minded. But when he’s with Danielle, he, too, thinks deeply and complexly, and he finally realizes how he can use his powerful position to make a difference in the world. Her energy inspires him to create a college and to see the “gypsies” for what they are—people. Her brain brings out the one that he was letting go to waste. Call Cinderella overly romantic if you like, but this version has a healthy lesson about the foundations of lasting love.
 

Best Line, Danielle: “What else is to be concluded, sire, that you first make thieves and then punish them?”

 

Best Line, Henry: “You have more conviction in one memory than I have in my entire being.”

 

The Perfect Stepmother

When you watch Anjelica Huston as a kid, you write her off as a jerk. She’s mean to Danielle! She’s a villain! Wah! But when you’re a little bit older, you realize…wait, did she…? Yes, she did love Danielle’s father. You scrutinize the scene where daughter and wife hover over his body. Anjelica Huston calls his name. He ignores her, instead using his final breath to tell his daughter that he loves her—then DIES! IS THIS WHY SHE HATES DANIELLE?? BECAUSE HE LOVED HIS DAUGHTER MORE THAN HIS WIFE?? By now, you think you’ve solved the riddle—but wait! What about that important hair-brushing scene? In an uncharacteristically sentimental moment, Anjelica Huston tells Danielle, “You have so much of your father in you,” but before she can seem too soft, she blames it on Danielle’s “masculine” features. BUT WE SAW THOSE TEARS IN YOUR EYES, ANJELICA! Why does she want to cry? Does she regret treating his only child so cruelly? Is Danielle a constant reminder of the man she lost? This is subtle acting at its finest, and Anjelica Huston’s eyebrows deserve their own Oscar.
 

Best line (and oh, is she full of them): “My dear, nothing is final until you’re dead, and even then, I’m sure God negotiates.”

 

Stepsisters with Discernable Personalities

Remember how we all hated Jar Jar Binks in 1999? (Remember how we all still hate Jar Jar Binks in 2017?) If a character’s only personality trait is his/her clumsiness, it makes for lazy storytelling and leaves the audience unsatisfied—or worse, carrying 18+ years’ worth of resentment. (I’m looking at you, George.) Most versions of Cinderella paint the stepsisters as bumbling idiots who only care about snagging a prince—boring! Here, in the illustrious Ever After, we see two women with distinct personalities navigating sixteenth century France. Yes, Marguerite is a total brat (to put it lightly), but in the name of royal ambitions, she’ll shrewdly throw anyone under the proverbial wagon, which is fun for us to watch. Meanwhile, Jacqueline, the oft-forgotten daughter, struggles between following her kind instincts and pleasing her manipulative mother. She also never hides how much she enjoys eating, which is why I love her.
 

Best Line, Marguerite: “I was not shrill, I was resonant. A courtier knows the difference.”

 

Best Line, Jacqueline: “I’m only here for the food.”

 

That Scene That Makes You Scream

While we’re on the subject of stepsisters, let’s talk more about Marguerite. Danielle catches Marguerite stealing her mother’s wedding gown and glass slippers for the ball. Danielle says, “These are my mother’s,” and Marguerite cruelly replies, “Yes, and she’s dead.” Understandably, Danielle punches Marguerite in the face and chases her around the house. Marguerite snatches Danielle’s copy of Utopia, the last book her father ever bought for her, and threatens to burn it if Danielle doesn’t hand over her mother’s shoes. Danielle acquiesces, but Marguerite—terrible human that she is—burns the book anyway.
 
One time in college, my friend and I watched Ever After on the big gym TVs while elliptical-ing. Even though no one else could hear the movie because we were plugged in via headphones, we were screaming at Marguerite during this whole scene because OH MY GOD MARGUERITE YOU SUCK AND WE HATE YOU. Ugh, this scene is so powerful though, which is why it’s fantastic!
 

Leonardo da Vinci

I don’t know which writer said, “Hey, do you know what would make Cinderella better? Instead of a fairy godmother, we should have Leonardo da Vinci!” but that person is a genius. Da Vinci doesn’t have time for class differences, but he does build flying contraptions! And he walks on water! And he opens a door! He knows, before everyone else, that Danielle and Henry were made for each other. What isn’t fabulous about this guy?
 

Best line: “Then I shall have to make you wings.”

 

A Male Best Friend

This is one of the most underrated friendships from moviedom, and we must tout its praises! Is Gustave gay? Possibly. Is he straight but not into Danielle? Possibly. Either way, I love it. Here we have a great representation of a platonic male-female friendship, where Danielle and Gustave grew up wrestling in the mud and, as adults, still sass and support each other. Danielle changes in the same room as Gustave, and it’s not weird! She talks to him about Henry, and it’s not weird! Gustave is too preoccupied with his own goals, like painting, to mind, and he’s happy that his best friend is happy.
 

Best line: “You look down to no one.” (Anyone else hear that in Aragorn’s voice instead of Gustave’s?)

 

Awesome Gypsies

This movie takes a marginalized group of people and subverts the stereotype. Sure, they live on the road and steal, but they’re also more likeable than the courtiers! They respect Danielle’s quick wit and—unlike the society that have spurred them—are inclusive to all sorts of people. They’re musical, full of life, and—let’s be real—probably the most fun group at Henry’s ball.
 

A King and Queen That Try Their Best

No, Henry’s parents don’t love each other, but they learn to get along. More importantly, they care about the well-being of their son and country. Henry is basically BFFs with his mother, who is full of gentle wisdom, and let’s give a quick S/O to the King for a line that cracks me up every time.
 

Best Line, King: “I will simply deny you the crown and live…forever.”

 

Best Line, Queen: “Would you have listened?”

 

That Long Scene That Makes You Laugh Hysterically

Henry’s almost-marriage with the Spanish Princess is one of the funniest parts of this movie, on par with “Mawage” from the Princess Bride IMHO. You think she’s going to stop crying, but she doesn’t—and it gets funnier and more ridiculous the longer she goes on. We barely know you, Spanish Princess, but we love you.
 
So there we have it. Characterization, plot, dialogue—you name it, Ever After perfected it. The most emotional scenes—when Marguerite burns the book, when the stepmother casts aside Danielle’s affection—resonate as strongly now as they did in the ‘90s. Likewise, the funniest bits still make me laugh out loud, even when I see them coming. Most notably, the romance is built upon respect, admiration, and shared values, which is a lesson always worth learning. This classic gets better with every viewing, so revisit Ever After next time you’re in the mood for a lasting fairy tale.


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