There are a couple of things that I really hate about my generation, but I think the biggest one is our apparent desire to ruin everything. It doesn’t matter what it is, we will drag it through the mud. Sometimes it’s kind of deserved like the fact that Christopher Columbus was a jerk but that’s not the most common complaint. It’s all “he discovered a country that was already discovered by the vikings” or “he discovered a place where people already lived.” Yes, the vikings were here first but all records indicate that they hadn’t been here for about 500 years and no one in the Norse areas remembered it. As for the other point, if we were to land on a planet that had water, vegetation, and a breathable atmosphere, we wouldn’t give a crap if intelligent life was there. We’d just all be saying, “Holy crap! A new planet that we can get to and live on.” Native Americans were already here but no one in Europe, Africa, nor Asia knew it existed. To them it was discovered.
Back to ruining things. Even this past March, on St Patrick’s Day, I had at least ten friends post something to the extent of “You know, St Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in England.” Yeah, but he’s the Patron Saint of Ireland. Shut your face.
Historical rants aside, another thing that those born near me seem to love to try and destroy is Disney movies. It’s no secret that I love Disney movies but my generation seems to do everything they can to ruin them. Every other week there’s a new post about how a classic Disney movie is sexist, racist, and immoral. I, for one, am sick of it. So I’m going to start doing something with this blog. I’m going to start defending stories because, dadgum it, it’s okay to like something.
Let’s start with Cinderella. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have been feminist piñatas for years. We’ll take care of Sleeping Beauty later. Feminists hate Cinderella because it’s about how a woman can only be rescued by a man and how a woman’s proper place is in the kitchen (because that always gets brought up if you show an attractive woman in a kitchen) and how you should just wait on magic to solve your problems. All of these miss the point.
Let’s look at the beginning. Cinderella starts off as the daughter of a wealthy man (possibly a noble of some sort) who is also a widower. He decides that his young daughter needs a mother, because he loves her and it’s true. Now, put yourself in Cindy’s place for now. We’ll say you’re seven or eight years old and you never knew your mother and all of your friends have mothers and you really want one. One day, your father tells you you’ll be getting a mother soon. Oh joy and rapture. You see this new woman as someone who will love you and you’ll want to imitate to become a real lady.
Then the unthinkable happens. Your beloved father, whose entire life was devoted to you, grows sick and dies. After that horrific incident, your mother, the person that is supposed to be a comfort to you, begins to coldly neglect you before making you a full fledged slave in your own house. Your father spent years building his estate and your home and now you watch as your mother slowly spends it into ruin. The house is in disrepair and you’re the only one doing anything to maintain it.
Now, this girl, Cindy, should have some serious psychological issues. She should be vindictive, angry, cruel, and possibly psychotic. But is that the case? No. This girl has managed to maintain the traits her kind and loving father instilled in her. She treats everyone, even the woman who has been actively working to destroy her life, with kindness and respect. She’s kind to animals and treats them as friends (except the chickens because screw chickens) and they love her for it. This girl has incredible strength of character, daily living out “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”.
After years of this, comes the ball announcement. Everyone is excited about the ball and especially Cindy. This is a chance to actually have some level of fun and be a normal girl for once in her life. Even so, she doesn’t have much hope of going because of all the extra chores she’s being given to keep her from attending. When the time to leave arrives, she stoically states that she’s not going and manages to hold back the tears only admitting her disappointment when she’s alone.
Suddenly, from the ashes of disappointment, her friends the mice have prepared a dress for her. She’s the most excited and happy she’s been in years and it’s over something as simple as a dress because that’s how terrible her life is. She hurries downstairs, full of excitement and once again, the woman who should have made it her job to love Cindy instead gets her daughters to destroy Cindy’s dress.
Cindy stands in what was once her home, half naked because the dress, which had briefly been her most prized possession because it once belonged to her real mother and was the first gift she’d been given in years, is nothing but tatters. We now see how truly strong Cinderella is because she manages to hold herself together until Lady Tremaine and her daughters leave, then she bursts into tears and runs into what was once a nice garden while her friends look on; wishing they could do anything to help.
Cinderella is now at the lowest point she’s ever been. Just that morning she was singing about the wonder of dreams and the hope that they come true and now, if you listen to what she says, it’s not much of a jump to believe that she’s considering suicide. Her last bit of hope is holding on by a thread and in this moment, her fairy godmother appears.
Sidenote about storytelling now. This is a Deus Ex Machina done right. We, the audience, love Cinderella and we’ve watched her go as low as you possibly can. We want something, anything, good to happen to her. When it does, we’re okay with that. Back to the summary.
Miracles are performed and Cinderella is in a magically beautiful dress. She arrives at the ball, late. She’s given no announcement, but the prince sees her and thinks that she’s stunning and he has to meet her. So, they dance the literal night away until midnight comes and she hurries away before the spell breaks.
A few things about that sequence. One, Cinderella thinks that she’s scum. She has been less than worthless for years. She doesn’t think that she’s pretty, or intelligent, or anything of the kind. Now, she’s in a wonderful dress that is literally the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. For once in her life, she feels even remotely attractive. She goes to the ball and she’s terrified. She really doesn’t know what she’s going to do there. Then a man appears and asks her to dance. For years, she has been an unloved, unwanted, slave covered in so much dirt and ash she was given a nickname about it and within a minute of arriving, a man asked her to dance. For once, she feels wanted. This moment, dancing with a man, is the greatest moment in her life. Not because women need a man to be complete, but because people need love to live. She was an inch from death minutes ago, and now she feels more alive than ever before.
BONG! The bell rings, and we see how Cinderella still feels about herself. She’s had the greatest night of her life, but she “knows” that without the dress, she’s a hideous nobody. This amazing, kind, and gentle man would never stand for her looking like that, so rather than see him react to her “true self”, she runs away and she’s back to being a slave. The fairy godmother gives her one final miracle though in allowing her to keep the glass slipper as a keepsake, to always remind her that life doesn’t have to be the way that her life is.
The next day, everything changes. The prince is looking for the girl who fits the slipper Cindy left. Lady Tremaine realizes that Cindy was the mystery woman at the ball and locks her in her room to keep her from trying on the slipper.
That brief sequence is incredibly important and huge from a storytelling perspective because a lot happens in a very brief timespan. First, Cinderella finds out that the man she had danced with was the prince. Remember, Cinderella thinks that she is less than nothing. The fact that any man wanted to dance with her for hours was completely unbelievable. Now she learns that it was the most desirable man in the entire kingdom. This shock causes her to, for the first time, mess up one of her tasks and drop a tray.
Now Lady Tremaine is going on and on about how in love with her the prince is. The prince is in love her. Suddenly Cindy feels like she may actually have some form of value. The shock of this thought, the idea that someone wants to make her a princess causes her to commit her first act of insubordination. She takes the pile of laundry in her hands, gives it to one of her step sisters, and goes to get dressed. This is huge. This is the first time she has not done as she was told. And it isn’t even an epic quitting moment. She suddenly starts acting like she’s, shockingly, her sisters’ equal. They’re getting dressed, so she should get dressed.
Now Jacques and Gus Gus (two of Disney’s greatest heroes if you think about it. I may have to write a blog about that) stop at nothing to get the key to Cinderella and let her out to freedom and happiness.
Cinderella tries on the slipper and becomes the new princess. Now Cindy is with a man (heck, forget man, just someone) who loves her and almost more importantly, she has a new father who we know is going to love her.
The story is about two things. On the part of the stepmother and sisters, it’s about the destructive power of envy. Envy over Cindy’s appearance drove them to destroy her life. Not only her life, but in the end, theirs. Cinderella was all that kept that house running and now she’s gone. She may give them forgiveness but you know once the prince finds out how she was treated, he’s going to do nothing to help them in their quickly approaching destitution.
Second, and this is the part that’s important for children to take away from the story, is that you can’t let evil in life turn you evil. Cinderella has had a truly terrible life. She has every right to be bitter and angry at the entire world, but instead she chooses to hope. To be kind. To love. Because she held on through the bad, the good could happen. The fairy godmother only appeared because Cinderella had managed to hold out hope for as long as she had. This led to the first good night of her life. Then when she was locked into her room, what saved her was something as insignificant as being kind to mice.
When people see a story, they often see what they want to see. If people who want to see how not PC something is, they’ll see it in everything. I’d rather see a story that has been told for hundreds of years because it means something to us. A story about the importance of being kind and loving, even to people who don’t deserve it. A story that asks the best of us. I hope that’s not just me.