07 Sep Cinderella’s Never-Ending Story
In support of Cinderella re-adaptations and the evolution of her ‘happily ever after’
From the classic Disney animation to the new live-action film starring Camila Cabello that premiered earlier this month, Cinderella’s story is constantly being readapted and reimagined for each approaching decade of new and old audiences. The blonde, ball-gown wearing Cinderella we’ve come to know from the 1950s Disney animation is based on the twisted German fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm, famous for other 19th century stories such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which have seen their fair share of remakes as well. But even more ancient stories, even some dating back 2000 years, have been linked to inspiring Cinderella no matter their emergence from different countries across the globe. And while these stories are much darker and often gorier than what we are familiar with, it was Disney’s efforts that made Cinderella into the beloved and happy story it is today for children and adults alike.
Although the iconic physical and elemental qualities like the glass slipper, carriage and fairy godmother embedded in the story of Walt Disney’s blonde heroine do not appear in the ancient stories, the journey above her social status and away from the persecution she faced is the most important consistency between the ancient and modern retellings (Vox). Furthermore, given their origins in ancient lore and pre-modern society, for most of the earlier adaptations they each follow a strict path of patriarchal dependency where it’s always the man whisking the woman away from their hardships. As society changes with greater focus on female empowerment and on race and representation in film, so does Cinderella’s story. Through the already favoured opinions towards Cinderella, such lessons are placing subtle pressure on continuing to advance these efforts forward as Cinderella continues to be an influential figure to so many.
Although Cinderella’s journey in each film still involves her eventual happily ever after with Prince Charming, this specific settlement is no longer the only root of happiness being sold to their audience. In A Cinderella Story, a modern retelling of the story from the early 2000s, made obvious by the overwhelming presence of flip phones and low-rise jeans. Cinderella, or Sam in this case, finds love without losing sight of her priority of attending her dream college; it just so happens that she and her football-playing “prince” will attend Princeton together in the fall (ah…movie magic). While female empowerment was obviously present in this film as a result of the growing attention to the issue of appropriate female representation within the film industry in general, the focus on starring a diverse cast was, at that time, not a top priority within most films and clearly the same for this one given its sea of predominantly White actors.
Based on the castings of most movies so far, it is easy to suggest that the default appearance of Cinderella in our minds is Caucasian, the strength of this statement being supported by the majority of Cinderella re-adaptations starring a White female lead with unrealistic body shapes, and the idolization of the Disney version which constantly appears on merchandise in the form of dolls, shirts and within the various Disney theme parks. As time carries on though and Cinderella continues to be remade this focus becomes one that is much more achievable. Prime Video’s Cinderella, the newest of all the adaptations, shows how far Cinderella has come as a mirror of current changes in society that support the movie’s representations of race, sexuality, female success and independence among other qualities. The desire for both movie producers and fans to continue exploring Cinderella’s story in various lights is supported by the continued efforts of retelling her story.
A hallmark for this fairy-tale came with the 1997 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella adaptation featuring Brandy, its first Black female lead, and the most diversely representative cast that had graced such roles thus far from Disney. Through this small casting adjustment, it addressed the lack of diversity within the story and targeted the movie industry as a whole to be more racially inclusive as it continues to waver on the equal opportunities and stories it showcases for minorities. Never mind the powerhouse cast of notable stars in film and music, such as Brandy, Whitney Houston and Whoopi Goldberg, this movie tackled more than any version had previously through its inclusion of interracial couples, a Black female and Asian male lead and its focus on creating representation to young girls and boys who had felt outcasted from the idea of a ‘happily ever after’ given that they had not been able to relate to the fairy-tale characters on their screen before this time.
The ability to compare issues within one’s present surroundings with those in a fairy-tale proves to generate greater fondness by exhibiting how changes within the film don’t diminish the chances of a happy ending in real life as well. As refinery29 explains; “In its colour-blind casting and the diverse universe that went with it, Cinderella proved that casting people of colour in universal stories is actually a worthwhile and very profitable endeavour.” It’s fair to say that this movie broke barriers for women of colour to play leads within this film, including Camila Cabello’s greatly anticipated re-adaptation this year as the first Latina Cinderella. Further, through the 1997 Cinderella recently resurfacing on the Disney+ streaming platform, the movie is again being seen through a whole new set of eyes, who can acknowledge and appreciate the landmarks this movie made for representation within the film industry as a whole.
The success of such adaptations can be seen through how interested people still are in new versions when they come out. When the Disney live-action came out in 2015, 65 years after the animation classic predecessor, it grossed a worldwide total of $542.4 million, one, if not the most successful adaptation of the story thus far. Such love for this story and subsequently these films adheres to its ability to provide the ideal platform to tackle serious topics and present the changes happening in society subtly within its screen.
By holding on to the same classic elements of a young mistreated girl, a ball, a lost possession, a handsome prince, and her eventual “happily ever after”, each one of these movies is pushed into success given their immediate association and equally lighthearted nature with the beloved original. Arguably more important though, it allows them the flexibility of slightly changing parts of the story to adapt with real and current changes in society, giving a new life to this centuries-old tale. Diversifying the casts within more recent adaptations, providing more insight into Cinderella herself beyond her beauty and depicting her strength and perseverance while staying true to the beloved trajectory of the original story assists each other in showing these current issues on a worldwide stage, given this stories platform no matter what production studio it is coming from. For the work Cinderella is doing beyond the screen, serving as one of the loudest and most present voices of all the Disney princesses that have graced our screens in each of her many adaptations, it’s no wonder why her story is continuously retold as she keeps achieving her own happily ever after, arguably, in an effort of shaping society to find its own.