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ABC's Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, has stood the test of time after being ridiculed when it premiered in 1997

  • "Just before Cinderella premiered in 1997, major outlets published their critics’ disenchanted reviews," says Ashley Lee. "Cinderella’s glass slippers are far too big for Brandy to fill,' wrote the Chicago Tribune. 'To put it bluntly, the girl can’t act.' Variety described Whitney Houston’s Fairy Godmother as 'a frightening caricature, one certain to send the kids scurrying into Mom’s lap.' And the New York Times called it 'a cobbled-together Cinderella for the moment, not the ages.' More than two decades later, as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical makes its streaming debut Friday on Disney+, it’s clear that Cinderella — which attracted an estimated 60 million viewers in its initial airing, sold 1 million home entertainment units in its first week and was named the most profitable TV movie of its time — was both for its moment and for the ages. In fact, the creatives behind Hollywood’s current movie-musical boom could learn a thing or two from its clever spin on a classic text. Brandy Norwood stars in the multicultural fairytale in a first for the centuries-old plot, with previous live-action treatments led by Mary Pickford in 1914, Julie Andrews in 1957 and Lesley Ann Warren in 1965. Just as Carmen Jones and The Wiz did with the opera Carmen and the movie The Wizard of Oz, respectively, Cinderella takes a well-known (and usually white) story and put actors of color at the forefront, something only a few studio-released movie-musicals — such as 2004’s Bride and Prejudice, 2014’s Annie and, arguably, 2019’s Cats — have attempted since. Of this admittedly limited field, Cinderella remains the best example of colorblind casting of a screen musical to date, and the movie still offers a useful template for potential successors: Not only does the company, including background actors, collectively reflect our world, but the principals are also carefully selected to suit their roles regardless of appearance. It doesn’t matter that Cinderella’s stepsisters look nothing alike; Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle Reid deliver the best broad humor of the movie, playing off each other as well as any seasoned comedic duo."

    TOPICS: Brandy Norwood, ABC, Cinderella, Whitney Houston, Diversity, Retro TV