In a world where no public-domain story is safe from a dark, gritty reimagining—one that features a tweaked mythology and a heroine who’s been transformed from damsel in distress to full-fledged Action Girl—those bastions of old-fashioned values known as fairy tales are especially vulnerable. So it’s downright shocking to discover that Kenneth Branagh’s live-action take on Cinderella sets itself apart by doing the one thing movies like this hardly ever do anymore: displaying total reverence for its source material.
As played by Lily James, Cinderella isn’t a Snow White and the Huntsman-style badass, or a Shrek-esque postmodern princess, or whatever the female lead in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was supposed to be. Instead, she’s a kind, hardworking, totally traditional (if slightly more courageous) take on one of the oldest protagonists in fiction.
It could be that Disney purposefully made a by-the-books Cinderella because straightforward fairy tales have become such a rarity lately. Maybe, though, the studio chose to go old-fashioned because the tale of Cinderella has seen more revisions, reboots, and downright odd refurbishments than perhaps any other story—and not just in the years since revamped fairy tales became all the rage.
Want proof? Try this list of weird, quirky, surprising, horrifying, and otherwise offbeat lesser-known Cinderella interpretations—beginning with a story that hit theaters a full five years before Disney’s canonical feature film.
Swing Shift Cinderella (1945)
There’s no Prince Charming in this typically frenetic Tex Avery joint, a semi-sequel to 1943’s Red Hot Riding Hood. It does, however, feature a lustful Big Bad Wolf, an even more lustful Fairy Godmother/Grandmother, and a Jessica Rabbit-esque Cinderella who sings a sultry song for the wolf at a nightclub called “Castle Manana”… until she has to head to her second job at an airplane factor. The ’40s!
This Soviet-produced musical is fairly traditional, right down to the overt pro-Communist messaging. Wait—you say that after giving the title character (aka Russian Cinderella) her big makeover, the Fairy Godmother isn’t supposed to say, “I can see clearly that, although dressed in a lavish ball gown, you’ll remain the sweet and hardworking girl you’ve always been. And please stay that way. It will bring you happiness”?
As the name implies, this one’s a gender-flipped Cindy story starring Jerry Lewis as the titular Fella, who’s reduced to indentured servitude at the hands of his wicked stepmother. (Yeah, the villain’s still a woman. Go figure.) The movie also stars Count Basie as himself, as every good Cinderella saga should. The ’60s!
Of all the risque variations on Cinderella—and as you’ll soon see, there are a lot—this one may have the funniest title. (Do not, however, expect actual pornography, or you’ll end up like this disgruntled Amazon reviewer: “If you’re looking for sexual interaction, this is the WRONG movie for you. You’ll never even see a full frontal nude scene. The girls are beautiful and for a 50′ style flick, it would be considered a pg-17, but not an R and definitely not an X.“) Bonus: Buy the 2003 special edition, and it’ll come bundled with Goldilocks and the Three Bares.
Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973)
Another international entry, also with Communist origins—though this one’s a Czechoslovakian/East German co-production. In several ways, though, the movie (known alternately in English as Three Gifts for Cinderella and, ahem, Three Nuts for Cinderella) is remarkably contemporary. The heroine, here called Popelka, is independent-minded and witty—you can tell because her best friend is an owl—and she doesn’t simply fall into the prince’s arms. Instead, she playfully competes against him in an archery competition and trades riddles with him. Who woulda thunk that one of our more modern Cinderellas was born on the other side of the Iron Curtain?
Cinderella 2000 (1977)
This one’s got a description that must be read to be believed: “In the year 2047, sex is forbidden and Big Brother uses robots to keep on eye on everyone. One young girl tries to outwit the government so she can be with the man she loves.” Not gonna embed a video here, because obviously.
Ahem: “An adaptation of the fairy tale, Cinderella traces the misadventures of our heroine, who, via the help of her ‘fairy’ (i.e. gay) godmother, is granted heightened sexual prowess to win over Prince Charming. After a blindfolded orgy at the royal castle, the nerdy Prince must sleep with every willing woman in his kingdom until he finds that one, mysterious lover who so ‘stood out’ on the night of the sex Ball.” The ’70s! (Also, ewwwwwwww.)
Alf Tales: Cinderella (1988)
Know what’s weird? Seeing a cartoon lady-Alf with heavy pink eyeshadow mooning over an Elvis-inspired dude-Alf, complete with strangly phallic pompadour. Know what’s weirder? The fact that in this version of the story (set, for some reason, in 1962), Cindy’s stepsisters are named Janet and La Toya. The ’80s!
If the Shoe Fits (1990)
Did you know that post-sex tape scandal, Rob Lowe was reduced to playing the prince figure in a made-for-TV Cinderella story costarring Jennifer Grey as, gulp, a mousy assistant who transforms into a supermodel named Prudence thanks to a pair of fairy-enchanted shoes? The whole thing’s available on Hulu, if you think you’ve got the stomach for it. The ’90s: Not a great time for Rob Lowe and Jennifer Grey!
The Story of Cinderella (1996)
An anime version that dives more deeply into the traditional story, giving Cinderella a small army of cute animal pals, giving her and Prince Charming (here named Charles) an early, Aladdin-esque meet-cute, and ending with a long-awaited marriage… that’s derailed when the evil Duke Zaral, whose daugheter was betrothed to Charles, decides to murder the prince and kidnap Ella. Whaaaa? Don’t worry; there’s still a happy ending.
Dream Princess (1997)
Like your Cinderella story with a hint of melancholy? Look no further than this Malaysian rom-com, which follows a factory worker who wins a “princess for a week” competition. There is a makeover; there is a palace (hotel); there is a prince who’s charmed by our simple, good-hearted heroine and ends up proposing. Spoiler: She ends up rejecting him and going back to work at the factory. Er… this is what dreams are made of?
File this one under “delightfully odd”: It’s another gender-swapped tale, except this time with the lovable red Muppet playing the Cinderella part. (The stepsisters have become stepbrothers played by Telly and Baby Bear, the fairy godmother has become a “fairy godperson” played by Oliver Platt, of all people… yet Cinderelmo’s wicked guardian is still an evil stepmother, played by Kathy Najimy. What’s up with that?) The ending is particularly weird: Princess Charming (Keri Russell!) wants to wed Cinderelmo, but he thinks he’s too young to get married (because, uh, he hasn’t even been to kindergarten yet). His solution: “Elmo would still love to be the princess’s friend! And we could dance together, and play miniature golf!”
A British production that casts Kathleen Turner as the wicked stepmother—which, yes—and transports the story to the mid-20th century and replaces the old-fashioned fairy godmother with a mermaid named Mab (fashion muse Jane Birkin) who lives in a cave. Also, the stepdaughters are named Goneril and Regan, King Lear-style. Also also, Cinderella’s father isn’t dead; he’s being slowly poisoned by Kathleen Turner. Why are we not all watching this movie right now? The ’00s!
Zolushka 4×4 (2008)
Another Russian take, as you can tell from the title—though it doesn’t have the Soviet whimsy of the 1947 version. Here, Cinderella’s known as Dasha, and because her father’s an auto mechanic, the ball becomes a car race. The whole thing’s gritty and grim, ending on a melancholy note when things don’t work out betweeh Dasha and her prince.
A cheapo computer animated variation that takes place in the old West (why?), turns Prince Charming into a Russian dog named Vladimir who talks more like Antonio Banderas than Pavel Chekov (what?), makes Cinderella into a dog/cat/deer-looking cowgirl who can throw a mean punch but still has a 15-inch waist (of course), and throws in desert gorilla pirates (which are totally a thing) and a missing tooth (instead of the shoe) for good (bad?) measure. P.S. The stepmother is a bulldog designed to look like Divine. Just call it Weirdo Anthropomorphic Kitchen Sink Cinderella.
And finally, we’ve got one last gender-swapped take, a Nickelodeon TV movie starring Keke Palmer as the prince (a superstar singer named Kadee Worth) and Max Schneider as Cinderella… except just to make things a little more confusing, his character’s name is Charlie Prince. Because it is legally mandated that all entertainment properties aimed at tweens focus on the pursuit of fame, Ello—er, Charlie—harbors secret dreams of stardom himself, despite the putdowns he endures from his evil stepbrothers (named Andrew and Lloyd—ha!) and his evil stepfather (finally, one of those!). There’s a lot of plot—1300 words worth, if you ask Wikipedia—but all you really need to know is that instead of a glass slipper, Charlie leaves behind… a demo CD. The 20-teens!