The Story of the Little Cinder Girl is iconic throughout the world. The story exists in thousands of forms and is still being told and retold in contemporary culture. We are fascinated by the triumph of justice and the reward of the persecuted. This story resonates through centuries, but what does Disney’s version of the story tell us?
Cinderella bears much in common with Snow White. She is forced into servitude by her step mother who is jealous of her good looks. In spite of her circumstances, she remains cheerful and kind. Unlike Snow White, she is not dreaming of her Prince to come and rescue her, she is just dreaming of a better life. She is also much more pro-active than her princess predecessor. When she sees an opportunity to improve her life, she takes it. She ultimately requires the help of both her animal friends and her godmother to achieve her goals, she doesn’t just wait passively for things to happen. She has a lot more going for her as the second Disney princess. She still ends up with a Prince who knows nothing about her except that she’s pretty. He doesn’t even bother to find her himself, but sends someone else out to do it for him. One wonders what she finds appealing in him. Apparently he’s a good dancer and likes her shoes. I supposed state marriages have been built on less. At least she doesn’t have to clean the castle. Perhaps sensing the growing frustration with the story, Disney has given Cinderella a live action reboot.
It is a good story, but unlike Snow White, not much changes for Cinderella in the retelling of her story. She does get a bit more backbone to stand up to her step-mother. More importantly her Prince seems like someone we can actually understand Cinderella falling in love with. He is intelligent, charming, and doesn’t actually need a shoe to recognize the woman he loves. Providing a little depth for his character as well as hers creates a much more believable and enjoyable story.
In spite of a general weakness in the plot, ‘Cinderella’ does well in the modern evaluation tools.
Bechdel test*: Unlike the preceding princess movie, the only named (human) characters in Cinderella are female. All the men, setting aside animals are known only by title. And while these women do spend time talking about the Prince, they spend much more time talking about Cinderella. Result: PASS
Percent of words spoken by women**: 60%. The plot of this movie is driven almost entirely by women. While the King creates the need for the Prince to find a spouse, it is the actions of Lady Tremaine, The Fairy Godmother, and Cinderella that provide both the obstacles and the actions.
*The Bechdel Test evaluates film based on whether there are at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
** The data comes from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess movies. The project was reported in The Washington Post by Jeff Guo.