The Legacy of Cinderella

It's time to talk about everyone's favorite makeover story. Cinderella has been done and redone so many times that she's turned into more of a trope than an actual character. Every time I have dressed up as a princess for Halloween that I thought was at least fairly recognizable someone has asked me if I was supposed to be Cinderella. It never fails. I've been asked it as Belle, Ariel, Princess Peach, and more. She is by far the most common character to pop into anyone's head when they think of the word "princess." With Disney's 2015 remake and the the recent Broadway revival, that is unlikely to stop any time soon.

What is it, exactly, that makes Cinderella such a timeless character? The story goes so far back through so many cultures that no one actually knows where or when it began. The most famous version is the one by Charles Perrault, which incorporates the fairy godmother, pumpkin, mice, and glass slippers that have become so iconic of the story. There have been misconceptions that the slippers were supposed to be fur due to a mistranslation, but that was probably mistaken as a reference to the story of "Donkey-Skin" or "All-Fur", which also reads much like alternate versions of "Cinderella." Perrault's version of Cinderella was used by both Disney in 1950 with their animated classic and Rodgers and Hammerstein's long-running musical that began as a live TV special starring Julie Andrews in 1957. The other version, by the Brothers Grimm, involves Cinderella praying over her mother's grave for her dress, singing to the birds to separate lentils per her stepmother's wishes, and attending three balls before the prince literally caught her in his trap by spreading pitch on the stairs to capture one of her shoes. This version was portrayed in Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, Into the Woods, in 1986 and became a Disney movie in 2014, starring Anna Kendrick as a somewhat neurotic Cinderella.

One of the reasons people can't seem to get enough of this heroine is that she represents every girl who's ever dreamed of a better life for herself. Cinderella was not born into royalty. She did not have an easy life by any means. Yet, by doing as she was told and not telling off her step-family like many in her situation would have, her patience was rewarded with a lifetime of love and happiness. It's a story of hope, teaching us that difficult times can be overcome if you remain true to yourself. In an ever-changing world, the need for hope remains constant. Everyone wants to have a better life. Everyone wants to be loved. That's probably why Cinderella has gotten more attention than any other fairy tale.

Between Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and Sondheim's Into the Woods, Cinderella has been played by more women than practically any fictional character in existence. She truly is every girl. As we all know, princesses are no strangers to the stage. Even Lea Salonga, the lovely singing voice of Princess Jasmine and Mulan, has a recording available from her run from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Brandy played a black Cinderella in the outstanding 1997 version. There was even a British production of it in 1976 called The Slipper and the Rose, featuring the haunting song "Tell Him Anything" in which Cinderella selflessly makes a deal with the royal court to go into hiding so the prince does not have to be faced with the embarrassment of marrying a commoner.

Besides hope, another major theme of the story is that even someone who spends her time scrubbing cinders in the fireplace can put on a pretty dress and look like royalty, but it takes a strong heart to remain kind and gracious through years of abuse. It's the reason makeover movies were so popular in the late '90s and early 2000s, such as She's All That and The Princess Diaries. Nerdy girls who were already beautiful on the inside got turned into princesses on the outside so they could obtain the love and attention they had always deserved. These movies, too, were inspired by Cinderella. In fact, Cinderella sings a song about this in the Disney Cruiselines stage show, Twice Charmed, where she states that a princess and a peasant cry the same tears. This show inspired the only good sequel Disney has ever made, Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time. We don't like to talk about the second one.

Even though the themes of hoping for a better life and having the heart of true nobility are timeless, there have been naysayers who love to complain that the character of Cinderella is too passive. In response to this, a few attempts have been made to modernize her over the years, but not nearly as drastically as Snow White. In 1998, Drew Barrymore starred in Ever After: A Cinderella Story, which hoped to introduce the world to a more independent Cinderella. Unfortunately, the film had so much dialogue that much of the magic of the story got lost in translation. The novels Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Just Ella by Margaret Peterson-Haddix granted us with Cinderellas who did not do as they were told and refused to wait around for their prince. A new version of Cinderella is also being featured as Henry's love interest in the upcoming season of Once Upon a Time, and as we all know, princesses in that show are no pushovers.

Just as she remained resilient through her step-family's treatment, Cinderella continues to dance her way into the hearts of everyone who believes that deep down, they have the soul of royalty. She is the ultimate underdog living out the ultimate princess fantasy.


Cupcakedoll said…
If you haven't read it, I particularly liked Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a retelling of Cinderella with androids, plagues, and people living on the moon. (The author is a Sailor Moon fan and if you read between the lines you can see that.). It's a fun story, and Cinder and her prince have a romance I enjoyed much more than I do the romances in many of the current crop of YA fantasy.

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