As a girl who grew up watching Disney movies, and now as the mother of a little girl who incessantly watches Disney movies, Cinderella was never a favorite. I related more easily to headstrong, defiant Ariel, better understood Belle’s feminist underpinnings. Cinderella herself was just a bit too vapid for me – all her hopes tied to wishes, dreams, and magic – and no one looks that happy about scrubbing the floor, except wives in vintage Miltown ads.
And Prince Charming? More like Prince One-Dimensional. He offers nothing to the plot besides showing up and having his head turned by the loveliest girl at the ball, without even exchanging two sentences with her. He’s little more than a judge in a beauty pageant, and can’t even be bothered to go out on his own with the damn glass slipper – he sends his minions instead to do the dirty work.
No, Prince Phillip was my boy. At least he had two brain cells to rub together, the guts to challenge his father’s antiquated notions, and the courage to slay a fire-breathing dragon on Aurora’s behalf. Now that’s a real man for you.
After watching previews for the 2015 live action version of Cinderella (aforementioned little girl; youtube; ad nauseam), I essentially expected more of the same. They prominently featured a really, really creepy stepmother and her equally creepy cat, a young Cinderella who appeared to be comprised of goodness and light, Prince Charming with a winsome but still cheesy grin, and the dress. Adorned with glittery butterflies, for crying out loud.
Well. I can’t even begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was with this movie. I loved it. I loooved it. It had so much heart, and depth, and yet somehow retained just enough of that good ol’ Disney magic to remind you who was behind this little gem. And more than once, I was actually moved to tears. Moreover, I was just really, really grateful to sit beside my daughter with my arm wrapped around her shoulders and view this film together. Because unlike the original version, which (albeit in a completely charming Disney way) has always sent her the message “you just keep wishing and dreaming and a Prince Charming will come to find you beautiful and rescue you from your life,” this movie was rich with other messages I couldn’t wait to reiterate and discuss with her. Some are rooted in the original, and some are brand new. I believe all are valuable.
1) People can be really nasty. And there’s usually a reason why. A lot of people, after experiencing people being nasty to them, turn nasty themselves. It’s easier this way. It’s easier to shut down, and not care. Take that nasty else on someone else.
Don’t ever do this.
In the original movie, we see Cinderella straighten her shoulders and say “yes Stepmother” and go about her business with silent grace. She almost makes it look easy. Guess what, it’s not. 2015 Cinderella is broken. She collapses to her knees, she falls apart in tears. She shows us exactly how hard it is to remain gracious and kind when others are not. It is not easy to be the bigger person, but she shows little girls it’s possible. Living amidst a “mean girl” culture, we’re all trying to teach our daughters to be kind, even when others are not. Thank you, Ella, for being a role model of this ideal, whilst not downplaying how completely difficult it is to do so. You make kindness cool. But also a little gritty and completely real. Your battle to take the high road over the easy road was so much more relatable than that of your predecessor’s.
2) Your Prince Charming doesn’t just save you. You save him, too.
As I said, the previews only provide a quick glimpse of “Prince Kit.” Bright blue eyes, shit-eating grin. I didn’t expect to swoon. But oh, swoon I did. I simply adored Prince Kit and the direction they took his character in the 2015 live action version. I’m not a G.O.T. girl, and I have no idea what type of character Richard Madden portrays in the series, but I gained a ton of admiration for the genuine fragility he brought to this role.
In this version of Cinderella, we see that true men sometimes show their strength in allowing themselves to be weak. By acknowledging that it’s the women in their life who make them brave, who help them be strong. (SPOILER ALERT) We see Kit curled up in the fetal position in tears beside his dying father, we see him stumbling over his words when asking Ella for the first dance. Sometimes Prince Charming isn’t smooth, and sometimes that makes him all the more charming, right? He’s real. He’s so far from one-dimensional.
He allows himself to be challenged by Ella. Challenged to stand up for ideals, even if they’re uncommon, challenged to fight for his heart. Salvation isn’t a one-way street, and princesses are just as capable of it as princes.
3) Your true prince? Will love you at your worst, not just your most beautiful.
In the original Cinderella, the only time the prince lays eyes on her is at the ball. He’s not even present when the “peasant girl” with her hair tied back in rags is revealed to be the one who the slipper fits. Next time he sees her? She’s in a wedding dress, once more turned into the beautiful princess.
In the 2015 remake, the Prince is first enchanted by Ella when her face is smeared with ashes and her hair is more or less a mess of tangled dreadlocks. That’s how she looks at the end of the movie when they’re reunited, as well. The movie does a fine job of clarifying this point, with the narrator saying something akin to: “And this is the greatest risk of all. Showing someone who we truly are, and asking them to love us for whom we truly are.”
You don’t always have to look good for your man. He should indeed love you when you first roll out of bed, without make-up, with your hair a mess. You don’t have to look like a princess for the man who loves you to see your beauty, inside and out.
(Obviously she is still undeniably beautiful, but...ya know)
4) Forgive. There is inherent value in doing so.
Cartoon Cinderella never gets to have the last word with Lady Tremaine. Ella does. And in that last second, when she is on her way out the door with the prince and her stepmother is left cowering on the stairwell, she only says three little words. “I forgive you.”
It doesn’t matter that she will likely never have to see her again, or deal with her again, or even if the woman is looking for forgiveness, which likely she is not. But there is still value in pardoning her. And not just because Ella might feel better by doing so.
Everyone has a back story. Most people who are driven to cruelty have suffered cruelty themselves, or in the case of this story, some type of devastating loss. It does not justify their behavior, but it’s important that we remember they suffer too. Forgiveness is compassion, forgiveness is remembering. Forgiveness is its own act of kindness.
5) You are your parents’ legacy. You honor them with your behavior.
Ha, perhaps my favorite as far as messages for my daughter are concerned! But seriously, this was such a subtle yet powerful theme of this movie. Perhaps because we were given the opportunity to really meet Ella’s parents and see the beauty of their familial relationship, perhaps because we suffered the loss of them alongside her, her parents were a much stronger force in this version than the original.
Ella is kind, and good, and happy, because her parents instilled these qualities in her. When the world did everything in its power to destroy these traits, she fought to hold onto them in the name of her parents. She maintained ties to her childhood home with them when circumstance would urge her to do anything but. Even after they’re gone, her parents are her guiding force. Her choices are a reflection of them, and she takes this responsibility seriously.
One of my favorite aspects of the 2015 version is when the fairy godmother is standing before Ella with her wand. In the original movie, Cinderella is pleased as punch to lose her rags and don that ball gown. (SPOILER ALERT) But in this version? Ella protests. She wants to wear her mother’s dress, she makes a point in saying it will be like having a piece of her mother with her and that will be a source of comfort. Yep, cue the waterworks one more time.
Yes, little girls become their own persons. But that person they choose to become is rooted in what their parents have instilled. So I guess this message was for the both of us, wasn’t it?
Those are the big ones for me. Yes, there’s lots of other Disney goodness in there too, like “see the world not as it is, but as it could be” and how sometimes you do have to believe in a little bit of magic here and again. But I can’t speak highly enough of the more thoughtful, intelligent points this movie managed to touch upon, all whilst keeping my four-year-old completely entranced with the imagery and action and beauty on screen. The movie was a bit mature for her, and some of the dialogue may have been over her head, but I cherished the opportunity to talk with her about some of these ideas in the car ride home. Which was totally unexpected, a special type of magic I hadn’t anticipated this movie delivering.
Well done, Disney. Well done.