'Cinderella' Writer Reveals How To Reimagine A Modern Disney Princess

Chris Weitz tells us how non-violence made for a stronger "Cinderella."

Throughout the summer of 2015, moviegoers were treated to a whole gaggle of kick-butt feminist heroes, from "Mad Max: Fury Road" rebel Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to the sassy and raunchy Barden Bellas from "Pitch Perfect 2." But earlier in the year -- way, way back in February -- a different sort of leading lady ruled the big screen, making a solid argument that kindness and non-violence work just as well as attitude and a big gun when it comes to bringing diverse female stories to the big screen.

"Cinderella is not a very contemporary heroine," Chris Weitz, who wrote the screenplay for the Lily James-starrer "Cinderella," told MTV News over the phone. "She doesn’t kick ass, she doesn’t start her own business, and she doesn’t run away from home even though she’s being abused. The question is, how you can make that something that contemporary audiences can accept at all? And I guess for us, she was a non-violence, passive resistance heroine. These are not fashionable ways to behave, but it was really interesting that she wins by having tremendous resilience."

It's definitely a fair argument that Ella -- who faces severe abuse at the hands of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) -- could be seen as a bit of a pushover during certain moments in the film, like that time her stepsisters took over her bedroom, relegating our heroine to the attic. But according to Weitz, Ella's way of surviving is a lot more realistic for most people than, say, Jennifer Lopez's escape mission in "Enough" -- especially because there were "no social services" and little to no employment opportunities for women in Ella's time.



"There are many, many contemporary films and TV shows where the heroine is empowered by striking back -- and that’s great, but that’s not the position that people always find themselves in," Weitz explained. "Sometimes, [people are] in a bad situation, and they are going to have to love it or they’re going have to figure their way out. Through not some kind of act of violence or some amazing strategic coupe, but by actually having more resilience, more courage, more strength than what’s being thrown at them.

"And you know, the knock on 'Cinderella,' the story, is that you have to wait around for a prince to come and save you, but we wanted to address that by making the prince somebody who’s worthy of Cinderella’s attention, and who had been through a similar kind of suffering, so that it really made sense," Weitz continued. "The interesting thing to me is that Cinderella is never a princess at any time in this movie, by the end of the film she’s a queen, and it’s because of her character that she’s going to end up running the joint. So, unlike a princess who kind of sits around and looks good and gets to wear nice clothes, she actually is going to be on top."

Creating this version of Cinderella -- a version who is strong enough to deserve to win out at the end of the day, while still holding true to the more classic version of the iconic Disney character -- was important to Weitz when he was writing the script, since making something as classic as "Cinderella" comes with a lot of social responsibility.

"It’s going to matter a lot to people," he said. "A lot of adults are going to go in and it’s just a film like any other, but many children will go in and it’ll be one of the first movies they’ve seen, or it’ll be a movie they’ll see over and over again. It’ll be a movie that will really get to them. So you’ve got this amazing territory that you’ve got be very responsible with -- that’s the challenging part of it, is that you or I want to tell a Cinderella story that doesn’t end up being socially retrograde, that manages to take this character with a very traditional sense of romance and morality and gives children something that they can actually use."

A big part of how this worked, in addition to the aforementioned resilience, and James' strong performance, was actually due to a major makeover for Prince Charming -- or Kit, since our leading man finally has an actual name.



"It was great that we had Richard Madden, who’s incredibly winning and charming... he was actually a character worthy of being interested in; worthy of meeting of somebody like Lily James’ character," Weitz said. "Most of the time [Prince Charming] is a creep. Most of the time he’s kind of a stuffed white shirt; a really rich, good looking guy. So, yeah, it was really fun to do that. I think it’s great when casting comes through... he was never going to be Robb Stark, but that being said, I was a big fan of Richard Madden from 'Game of Thrones.' So, it was terrific. [Ella] goes into a real relationship with an equal."

With all of the thought that went in to making a Cinderella who stays true to the iconic Disney princess style while incorporating more feminist elements, it's good to know that Weitz's next project, the Felicity Jones-starrer "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," is in good hands... though Weitz, who just welcomed a baby daughter earlier in the summer, maintains that cinema in general will be far better off when more Ellas are given a chance to tell the story.

"I think that it’s great that the 'Star Wars' franchise is really putting its chips down on strong heroines, and I think it’s about time," he concluded. "So, yeah -- listen, the situation isn’t really going to be rectified until there are as many female writers and directors as there are people like me, but meanwhile, I’d like to try to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem."

"Cinderella" hits DVD, Blu-Ray, and Disney Movies Anywhere on Tuesday, September 15.