The Everlasting Trope: Cinderella

 Until the movie Mulan came out—whereupon I collected all my babysitting monies, got a ride from sisters or cousins or whoever and saw it FOUR times in theaters—Cinderella was my favorite Disney movie. On the surface, it’s hard to say why. I am not big on cutesy talking animals, the prince is generic to the extreme, and I was far more Peter Pan than princess. I lived in my imagination, crowed (literally) at the top of my lungs, and repeatedly jumped off the old wooden swing-set, convinced to my very bones that if I did it just right, I would fly.
So why Cinderella? Recently I read two blog posts reviewing the new live-action Cinderella. At first I wasn’t sure I’d like it—figured it’d be too sugary for me—but these two blog posts reminded me why I love the story and convinced me that I desperately want to see it. I have not had a chance yet, because two-month-old babies don’t easily allow for things like theater-going.* But I will see it as soon as I can, just like I saw Ever After in theaters (and about fourteen times since then) and despite the fact that the whole “gussying-up-going-to-the-ball-charming-the-prince” thing doesn’t really appeal to me at all.
What I love about Cinderella is that it is the distillation of almost every other classic story that I love: a hero who honorably endures unkindness, abuse, cruelty, etc. Maybe they can’t fight it—maybe they’ve tried and failed—but they do not let it make them cruel and bitter either. That, to me, will always, always be a powerful story. I don’t care about dresses, or dances, or princes of the charming variety. I don’t care about magic, or mice, or godmothers of the fairy variety. I like heroes that tough it out, and don’t lash out against humiliation with compensatory pride, but with honor and endurance. Heroes that experience injustice but don’t let it destroy their moral compass.
Perhaps I admire quiet, calm strength because it is not the kind I possess. I was not a shy kid. I was not calm. I was not quiet. I never had trouble speaking my mind and I wasn’t ever very gracious in the way I expressed it. When I didn’t agree, I fought—verbally or physically—and “quiet, noble endurance” is not something that one could ever put in the same sentence as my name. (My siblings and cousins with whom I have had some fisticuffs can attest to this. As can that one kid, so many years ago, who thought that I was kidding when I said I don’t like to be tickled.)
This is going to seem an odd dot-connect, but I remember watching Roots for the first time when I was eight or nine years old. I became obsessed with Kunta Kinte, (who my PBS-watching brain couldn’t entirely separate from the already loved Reading Rainbow host.) I wanted to either be him or marry him or travel back in time and work on the underground railroad or something. I had to do something. My guts were stirred in a deep, inexplicable way by all he had to endure, and by the way he endured it. I was young and didn’t know much more than an eight-year-old can about the havoc wrought on our history beyond the confines of that particular story, but I knew that I wanted to be strong in the face of terrible injustice. Also I wanted to stop that injustice, but that is a different aspect of the story.
I don’t think Cinderella connects with people because of dresses and balls, or even because of romance—although that’s all fine and good—I think it connects with people because of REAL times in REAL history where people were courageous (isn’t the line “have courage and be kind”?) and perseverant and honorable in the face of brutality, injustice, and simple meanness. People who didn’t lose their soul—or their history, or the wise words told to them—to the horror that was visited upon them.
It’s the simple, fairytale version of a real story, and the kind of person I hope and pray I will be in that story. Not vicious or vindictive. Courageous and kind.
Man, I hope this thing comes out for rent soon. In good spirits, feel free to make fun of me all you want : ) **
*Other movies that come out this year and will have to wait for home theater viewing: Jurassic World, the new Terminator, the new Avengers, the new Star Wars…sigh.
**I would do a GIF here but I don’t know how to yet.
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