The story of Cinderella was first made famous in 1867, when Charles Perrault took an old folk tale about a girl at a ball with a shoe and made it his own, adding the iconic elements of the Fairy Godmother, the pumpkin coach, and the Glass Slippers. This story was titled Cendrillon (French for Cinderella). Later, the Grimm Brothers added their own elements to the story, while omitting others. (These elements are better known today thanks to the Into The Woods adaptation of Cinderella.) While each story mentions that Ella -- for that was originally her name, until her step-family mockingly changed it -- was good and sweet tempered, this was truly as far as the character development went.
Cinderella has been adapted time and time again for film and theater, arguably making her story the most retold fairytale of all. But of all of these adaptations, the most famous is Walt Disney\'s Cinderella, released in 1950. This is the version most of us think of when the character is mentioned, and for good reason! An entry in AFI\'s Top 10 animated films, the movie\'s release turned things around for the Disney Studios, which were on the verge of bankruptcy. Not only did Cinderella save the company from going belly-up, but the film has been forever solidified in history thanks to it\'s story, songs, and characters.
Like with most Disney films, the barebones of the original source fairytale were fleshed out, giving the characters personality and history, making them people we care about as we view the story. But over the years -- thanks to the Disney Princess franchise marketing, among other things -- I feel like... people have forgotten who Cinderella is. Her personality, her characteristics, her attitude. As the \'ringleader\' of the Disney Princesses, we see her almost as a blonde Barbie, with no real personality other than the \'I\'m a royal; I must be perfect and flat and regal 24/7\' mentality. None of the Disney Princesses are like that, but of the marketed thirteen (including Elsa and Anna, who aren\'t yet official, but most likely will be before the year is up) Cinderella and Aurora tend to see this stereotype the most. (Snow White too, but I have already covered her in a previous article!)
Here are some of the things I\'ve heard others say about Cinderella.
The list goes on. (And actually angers me as I write it.)
Basically, people think Cinderella has no personality, is a boring character, needs a man to save her, is not active in her own story, gets what she wants just by wishing for it, etc etc. Sadly, even Disney itself seems to misunderstand her these days, which is made evident in the parks themselves. Park management tells Cinderella to basically \'stand there and be pretty, calm and quiet\', rather than be her optimistic, cheery self and actively engage the guests that have come to her kingdom to visit.
I just can\'t say it enough. And now I\'d like to remind everyone just how wonderful Cinderella truly is. So sit back, relax, and view Cinderella through new eyes.
Cinderella, along with Major, Bruno and her father.
Let\'s start at the very beginning. Cinderella lost her mother at a very young age, and for a while, it was just her and her father. He was clearly a rich man, and doted on his daughter continuously. They were surely very close. But always wanting the best for his daughter, the man sought out a wife to provide a mother\'s touch, and stepdaughters to provide playmates of Cinderella\'s own age. This plan ultimately backfired on him, as when he mysteriously died, his new wife took control of the household, revealing her true colors. All of Cinderella\'s inheritance was squandered on the stepdaughters, Drizella and Anastasia, while Cinderella was demoted to a scullery maid position in her own home. She was even forced to give up her room, taking new residence in the attic.
So to recap: Cinderella lost her father, who she was undoubtedly very close to, and at the same time discovered that she would find no comfort from her stepfamily. They took all of her belongings, made her their slave, and forced her to live in the attic because they didn\'t consider her part of the family. They didn\'t consider her
worth living amongst them. Judging from the scene in the opening, Cinderella had to be six or seven. Six or seven, and her life was turned upside down.
Things only got worse over the years as the money ran out, and the stepfamily only grew more bitter, desperate for a new scheme. That was all it had been, after all -- a scheme. And now that the husband was dead and the wealth was gone... it was time to move on. Cinderella was no longer worth anything to them, but at least she could do the chores.
All this time (and assuming Cinderella is eighteen or nineteen during the events of the first film) Cinderella has been a victim of domestic, psychological abuse. For 10+ years. That\'s a long time to go without love, companionship and positive social contact. Of course, she had her animal friends, but that\'s not the same as human contact. Cinderella suffered those long years. The days must have dragged on, endless. But rather than come apart believing that nothing would ever change... Cinderella chose to hope. She chose to believe that one day, the opportunity for change might arrive. It didn\'t matter what form it came in, she just wanted happiness -- even just for a night. She just needed something to look forward to. And this was how she kept her spirits high, how she survived. Because she believed. And that gave her something to live for.
While in the presence of her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella always remained kind, for that was the safest option. (Though there are times when she stands up for herself/argues back, though we\'ll discuss those in a minute.) But out of their sight, is actually... sarcastic. She\'s never outright disrespectful, but she does playfully point out the unfair and ridiculous ways of her stepfamily.
"Oh, that clock! Old killjoy! I hear you. \'Come on, get up!\' you say. \'Time to start another day.\' Even he orders me around."
"I\'m sorry if Your Highness objects to an early breakfast. It\'s certainly not my idea to feed you first."
"Lucifer has his good points too. For one thing, he... Well, sometimes he... Hmm... There must be
"Maybe I should interrupt the... \'music Iesson\'."
None of those scream \'doormat\', \'simple-minded\', \'flat\' or \'boring\' to me. Cinderella has a fire beneath those innocent looks of hers that people seem to forget about. And unlike a \'passive doormat\', she DOES attempt to stand up for herself in several situations. More often than not, she is promptly shut down, but she DOES make the effort. And the fact that she is bold enough to argue with Lady Tremaine squashes that silly \'passive doormat\' theory flat.
In addition, Cinderella also argues her case about attending the ball.
"Well, why not? After all, I\'m still a member of the family. And it says, \'By royal command...
But please keep in mind: Cinderella is NOT going to the ball for a chance at the Prince. In fact, she doesn\'t even realize that the man she met at the ball was the Prince until the day after. She is going for a night off. She wants a night where she can dress up, be treated like a person, and interact with real people. She wants a night where she can forget who she is, and what her life is, so she can hold to that magical moment when it\'s over and everything is as it was before. She is not \'seeking a man to rescue her\', by any means.
Cinderella\'s night of happiness is ripped right out from under her when her stepsisters ruin her mother\'s old gown. And in this moment, we finally see Cinderella reach her breaking point. All the years of torment and abuse finally crush her as that hope for happiness is yanked away, with the knowledge that any other chances that come her way will suffer a similar fate at the hands of her cruel stepmother. Though she has held out for so long, and has been able to survive all the abuse until this point... it hasn\'t been enough. (And anyone who thinks someone who has survived and overcome all that is \'helpless\'... I don\'t want to talk to you.) Cinderella cries that "there\'s nothing left to believe in", and yet... deep down, there is still a part of her that clings to her faith, even despite all of this. She just can\'t fully let go of her belief. And it is this which brings the Fairy Godmother into existence.
Cinderella has been dreaming of this moment her entire life. But even when it finally happens for her... she admits it\'s more than she ever hoped for. Another personality trait (and the fact that she has several we\'ve uncovered so far argues that she is NOT \'flat\'): she\'s humble and gracious. And even in her wildest dreams, she still just wished for one simple thing: that moment of happiness. Proving yet again that it could have come in any form, and she would have been glad for it. (It didn\'t have to be a man, and that wasn\'t what she was looking for!)
Though a man wasn\'t what she was looking for, Cinderella DID find one, and her evening was spent blissfully with someone actually looking at her with love and adoration. Someone who spoke kindly, who held her gently. Someone who treated her as an equal. She has not had this sort of human interaction since her father died. It was icing on the cake. But the night did have to end, and Cinderella tells herself that it\'s over, and that life must resume. At least now, she has something lovely to think about.
Everything changes the next day, when Lady Tremaine informs her daughters that Prince Charming has fallen in love with the girl from the ball, and he intends to marry her. Cinderella learns two things in this moment: that she danced with the Prince the night before, and that he wants to marry her. Suddenly, everything is different. Someone
loves her. Someone loves her, and wants to take her away from her miserable life and give her the things she has been lacking for so long. All of the things she was able to experience the night before... but now for forever. Cinderella feels untouchable, floating on cloud nine, forgetting all about her stepfamily and focusing on her new future. Unfortunately, her stepmother connects the dots, and locks her stepdaughter in the attic to both ruin Cinderella\'s chance at happiness, and give her own daughters a chance at the Prince. Cinderella is beside herself at this turn of events, but who could blame her? Yet again, her chance at happiness is being ripped out from beneath her, but this time, the stakes are much higher. This is her chance at life. Being upset about this does not make her whiny, or childish, or helpless. And being locked in a tower, she has no real opportunity of getting herself out of this fix alone. Luckily, those she has been kind to in the past (by saving them from traps and the cat, by feeding them and clothing them, and by being their friend) come to her rescue. And when they run into a little trouble on the way, she has the idea to call on Bruno for assistance with Lucifer. If not for her quick thinking, Gus and Jaq might have been eaten, and Cinderella would have remained in the Tremaine household. She could not do it alone, but that does not make her a damsel. It makes her a team player.
The film ends on a happy note, with Cinderella finding love and happiness with her prince. But it is not the end of her adventures. The two Cinderella sequels further punctuate the character\'s personality as learns how to be a princess, only to later decide that the stoic, \'flat\', royal life needs a bit of her own personal fun-loving touch to it. She opens the castle banquet to everyone in the kingdom, and hand-delivers the invitations herself. (Remember this, Disney?) She also helps her stepsister, Anastasia, with winning over the town baker and breaking free of Lady Tremaine\'s hold over her. Let that sink in: she selflessly helps a person who has been cruel to her her whole life, because she believes EVERYONE deserves their happiness. In the third film, Cinderella outright defies her stepmother, and breaks into the castle to reverse the magic spell done on her happy ending. She also escapes an enchanted pumpkin coach prison, and crashes a wedding. So damsel in distress my (glass-slippered) foot.
Cinderella is not \'flat\'. Cinderella is imaginative, kind, humble, sarcastic, sharp, witty, loving, playful, and assertive. She trusts her heart, and she follows it. She will stand up for what she believes in. She will chide you if you give her crap, just as she always chided Lucifer and Bruno, and sometimes even herself. She is a princess, but she was also a maid, and while she can play the grace and poise well, it\'s not who she is. It does not define her. She can laugh, clap, play, dance and sing just like every other princess. Cinderella has chosen to see the good in life, and has lived that philosophy from the very beginning. So don\'t call her boring. Don\'t call her flat. Don\'t call her a damsel. Don\'t limit her. At the end of the day, she is a girl, just like every other girl. And we all have our strengths, weaknesses, faults and dreams.
On March 13th, Disney will be releasing the latest adaptation of
Cinderella, featuring Lily James in the title role. I sincerely hope that while making this film, Disney took a step back to remember who Cinderella is, and that we truly see her again for what she is: a strong woman. And I hope that you will view the film -- and go back and watch the 1950 animated film as well -- and see Cinderella through new eyes.
Thanks for reading! You can find the author on tumblr @ mandymarieb! And be aware, most of her Disney articles are cross-posted to her Disney forum! Cinderella photo taken and edited by me as well. ;)