Saturday, May 25, 2019
The Fairy Tale Project | Cinderella (1950)
Who's in it?: Some cartoon people; a bunch of mice.
What's it about?: An animated, musical adaptation of Charles Perrault's version of "Cinderella."
How is it?: I love the mice and the stepmother is deliciously wicked, but I've often had trouble connecting with Cinderella herself and the apparent message of the film (offered in the closing lines of its signature song): "If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true." That's ludicrous.
Having recently re-read Charles Perrault's fairy tale though, I think the song "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" undermines the actual message of the movie, which is borrowed from Perrault and legitimately profound. It's not mere faith or wishing that makes Cinderella's dreams come true; it's the kindness that she insists on putting into the world, whether it's to helpless animals or her foul, mean-spirited, persecuting step-family. She's lovely to them all.
But even though it takes that moral and other elements from Perrault, Disney's Cinderella does borrow from the Brothers Grimm in some interesting ways. Her kindness to animals leads to their helping her out in all sorts of ways, including pitching in with her chores, which is something that Cinderella's birds do in Grimm. The Disney animals also provide a dress for Cinderella to wear to the ball; another Grimm Brothers reference, though it ultimately doesn't last (in a truly harrowing, heartbreaking scene) and Perrault's fairy godmother has to step in.
It's the involvement of the fairy godmother and the prince in Cinderella's salvation that gives her a reputation for being helpless. But she deserves better than that. It's her kindness not only to animals, but especially to her enemies, that earns her the attention of the fairy realm and her adoption by a (god)mother who actually does care for her. It's a subtle kind of agency, but Cinderella is more active in her own salvation than she gets credit for. The prince doesn't rescue her either; he's just the prize that she gets rescued to.
Rating: Four out of five pumpkin carriages.