Why the Cinderella Trope Doesn't Work in Modern Settings

After I shared my post about Hallmark princesses, I went ahead and watched every Hallmark movie I could find that involved royalty. Let me tell you; there are a lot. Sitting through one low-budget romcom after another, I found that the overwhelming majority of them have the exact same plot. A quirky American career woman falls in love with a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a prince from some obscure nation. She goes to live with him at the castle, finds that she doesn't fit in, runs away, and eventually, the prince comes back to her and proposes. At first glance, these movies appear to be attempts at modernized versions of "Cinderella," but upon closer inspection, they are vastly different. The protagonists in these romcoms are not being oppressed by abusive family members, nor are they living in a time period where the only way for a woman to get ahead in the world is by marriage. In fact, most of these women are doing just fine long before the dashing love interest even shows up. This faux "modern Cinderella" trope began around 2004 with the theatrical release of The Prince and Me.

The Prince & Me Theatrical Poster

Princess culture dictates to us that every girl can be a modern princess as long as she embraces the values of compassion and diplomacy and works hard to be her best self every day. We live in a world where most people have the freedom to do as they please without fear of persecution from a tyrannical monarchy. Being a modern princess has nothing to do with marrying a prince. In fact, these days, such a lifestyle could be more constricting than freeing. Just look at Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who chose to step down from the royal family due to its restrictive lifestyle. Finding true love is a classic theme of fairy tales, but princesses often feel tied down in this respect rather than uplifted. For instance, Princess Jasmine felt torn between her love for Aladdin and her duty to marry a prince. Princess Aurora was devastated when she learned she would have to marry Prince Phillip until she realized he was the same man she danced with in the forest. The 1934 movie Thirty-Day Princess heavily asserts this theme when the main character switches places with a princess for a month and realizes that being a princess means she can't marry the man she loves.

Referring to modern-day "Cinderella" stories as fairy tales denotes a lack of understanding for what makes the groundwork of a fairy tale. Fairy tale usually begin with characters who are sad because there is something missing from their life and are either rewarded or punished based on their subsequent behavior toward others and faith in their beliefs. The same year that The Prince and Me was released, Hilary Duff's A Cinderella Story came out in theaters. As bland and uninspired as this movie was, it actually conveyed a better understanding of the "Cinderella" trope than all these movies about marrying a prince. Hilary's character had an awful family that made her high school life miserable until the popular boy at her school fell in love with her, forcing those around her to give her more respect. He wasn't the prince of a foreign nation, but he was the equivalent to that just as her high school was a metaphor for a tiny kingdom. The women in Hallmark Channel's movies usually come from loving families and lead budding careers. It would in no way benefit them to upend their lives and learn a new set of customs from another country.

Royally Ever After, Hallmark Channel 2018

Where do all of these obscure monarchies come from anyway? How many tiny European countries are there with princes who aren't already in arranged marriages and need to find a bride immediately? The trope is so outlandish that it barely makes sense most of the time. Even though cinematic romcoms are becoming outdated, it makes more sense to tell a "boy meets girl" story where both love interests were brought up in the same culture and neither one requires the other to give up everything they've ever known and worked for. Is it about the fantasy of living in a castle? There are some movies where this trope works better than others, such as The Princess Diaries. Mia never knew her father and ended up being heir to the throne of Genovia by birthright, which meant that it was her duty to give up her modern American life, not her choice. This is a more believable story about an unexpected shift from being a modern woman to a royal. Plus, she was bullied in school, so her life prior to becoming a princess wasn't that great. Her story contained romance as well, but sequel aside (which also come out in 2004, the same year as The Prince and Me and A Cinderella Story), it wasn't because he was a prince.

Mia's love scene in The Princess Diaries (2001)

What Hallmark Channel doesn't seem to realize is that marrying a literal prince isn't a fantasy for modern women anymore, even those who see themselves as modern-day princesses. In fact, it is especially true for women who already have enough privilege to make a difference in the world without being tied down by a throne. Every princess wants the freedom to marry the man she loves, whether he is royalty or not. Being a modern princess does not mean living in a castle or owning a diamond tiara. It means using your freedom and power to make the world a better place and uplifting the lives of those around you by being charming and pleasant. In Cinderella's time, the only way to gain such power and status was by marrying into it, but today, that is far from the case. Today, every girl has the power to be a modern princess through technology and opportunity.


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