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.

1 comment:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This adaptation has received some criticism by modern audiences, some of which I think is undeserved.

Rewatching this after graduating into a less than stellar economy, I was a humbled by the presentation of Cinderella making the best of a bad situation. Not enjoying the circumstances but certainly not making them worse by complaining or doing a lousy job at her menial position.

Yet I’ll agree that wishing does not make a thing so.

She is leaps and bounds above Aurora's passivity in Sleeping Beauty and the eccentricity of the other side characters does drown out the tile character and I was shocked to recall how little the prince is in the film altogether.

It is also pleasantly simple. So many modern films for children aim their material at adults with meta narratives deconstructing previous adaptations or try to be hip with current culture. It’s refreshing to look at something and know that a small child can follow along and that parents and children can appreciate it on the same level together.


Related Posts with Thumbnails