As a little girl, Cinderella was my absolute favorite Disney movie, so it seemed fitting to tackle a Meta about her at some point. Between the Cinderella movie coming out in March, and Cinderella’s role in Into the Woods, my mind’s been on her for a while now, and today, I thought it would be interesting to compare one of the older, ‘original’ takes on Cinderella vs. how Disney translated the timeless fairytale onscreen.
Cinderella is one of those stories that every culture as to some extent, but for the sake of this Meta, I’ll be honing in on the Brothers Grimm version of the story. So how do these changes affect the overall story? Does the heart of the story stay intact despite the Disneyfication of the plot? We’ll find out. But first, what is Disneyfication? And how does it relate to Disney’s take on Cinderella?
Disneyfication: Softening to Appeal to a Wider Audience
Well, Disneyfication is a term related to Disney; it refers to the way that Disney as a company often lightens fairytales for a younger audience. Business-wise, it makes a lot of sense; Disney is a family company, trying to appeal to parents and their children, so of course they would want to remove some of the harsher aspects of older fairytales.
In Cinderella, plenty of harsher elements are removed, in order to appeal to a wider audience. For example, in the Brothers Grimm tale, Cinderella’s stepmother cuts off the toe of one stepsister, and the heel of another, so that both girls can try and fit their feet into the slipper. Considering how grotesque that would look on screen, the animated movie skips this entirely and just has Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to squeeze their feet into the slipper with no avail. It’s more comical and less gory, but conveys a similar point: no matter how hard they try, neither can fool the prince into thinking they’re the princess.
The movie also avoids vengeance against Cinderella’s stepsisters. In the Brothers Grimm tale, Cinderella’s stepsisters are punished for trying to “ingratiate themselves and share in Cinderella’s good fortune” (Grimm 122). Their punishment? They’re blinded by doves. A bit harsh of a punishment, but that was how a lot of older fairytales were: the antagonists were given cruel punishments in order to scare children into behaving. In the Disney movie, we simply leave behind Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepmother as Cinderella goes off to the palace, which makes sense in a way; why bother when she’ll never have to deal with them anyway?
Here, removing harsher elements of the story removes unnecessary violence, but in turn, it removes an interesting facet of the story.
There’s a lot of vanity involved with Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, and while we get a small dose of that in the animated movie, here it’s more intense. These girls are willing to cut off parts of their feet in order to secure a better position for themselves as the prince’s wife. How desperate must they be that they’re willing to go this far to be a princess? They’re cutting away parts of themselves in order to fit into a mold, which reminds me a lot of beauty expectations women in society face. The Brothers Grimm may have written their version of Cinderella ages ago, but the grim message about the dark side of trying to achieve beauty and status is still very chilling and very applicable to today.
Still, despite the violence removed, we do see more harshness toward Cinderella in the animated movie than we do in the fairytale. Granted, fairytales don’t tend to have very fleshed out characters, so it makes sense that here, we would see more of the vileness of Cinderella’s step-sisters and stepmother, but it’s interesting how they’re portrayed. Her stepsisters are cruel, snappy toward her, and act like bullies, and her stepmother is just as bad. There are two particular scenes that portray their cruelty well.
The first happens near the end of the movie, when Cinderella’s stepmother locks her in the attic to keep the prince from seeing her, which basically cements her as the worst, and a hindrance to Cinderella’s goals.
The second is more uncomfortable: it’s the scene when Cinderella comes down in her beautiful pink dress (the one she and the mice handmade), and her stepsisters tear her dress apart while she’s still in it. Lady Tremaine is the one who sparks the action – spotting the blue beads around Cinderella’s neck, and pointing them out to her daughters – and the daughters go from there, taking back what they believe is rightfully “theirs,” screaming and ripping at her dress and leaving Cinderella in rags. The scene ends with her sobbing in the garden, a hysterical mess. There’s this strong feeling of violation and humiliation that makes watching the scene uncomfortable for me to this day. It’s meant to show the stepsisters’ entitlement, and how they feel they deserve to go to the ball while Cinderella does not, because she is lower than them. They’re trying to establish their dominance over her, which goes back to the beauty and status theme that I mentioned earlier. So in a way some of the root themes of the story stay, even if they’re shown differently.
Now that we’ve covered the gorier cuts from the original, and some additions to flesh out Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters what else has been lost? What has been condensed? Well, the ball itself, for one.
Three Day Ball Turned Into One
One of the cuts that made the most sense in the movie is cutting down the ball from a three-day event into one night. Obviously, this makes sense because animated movies need to convey a lot in a short period of time, so cutting down the time makes it easier to focus on that one night at the ball, instead of having to cover three separate ones.
The movie takes advantage of this, using the time to really hone in on Cinderella and the Prince’s first meeting, giving us a glimpse of how they danced all night, and their conversations. Like the story, Cinderella loses her slipper, but rather than getting stuck in pitch, it slides off her foot, making it more of an accident, rather than a manipulation by the prince to trap her. Thus, cutting the pitch detail makes Prince Charming a bit less creepy in our eyes.
One of the cuts I did not appreciate, however, was a certain change in roles from the original tale to the animated movie. I’m talking about how Cinderella’s mother was cut out entirely and replaced by a fairy godmother.
Mother Tree vs. Fairy Godmother
Okay, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Cinderella’s cool fairy godmother. I love Bippity Boppity Boo and the beautiful sequence when we see the pumpkin turn into the carriage, and how Cinderella’s dress is transformed into the stunning iconic blue gown.
But in the original tale, Cinderella didn’t have a fairy godmother. Instead, her mother’s spirit was the ‘fairy godmother’ of her story. Her father brings her home a hazel branch after she requests a small branch, and Cinderella plants the branch by her mother’s grave. Here, her mother has a strong presence, and Cinderella’s tears are what spur the branch to grow into a beautiful tree. She prays and weeps for her mother, seeking comfort from her spirit, and finds something interesting: she can make wishes by the tree. “If she made a wish, the little bird would toss down what she had wished for” (Grimm 118). Obviously, this comes back into play when Cinderella wants to go to the ball. Here, we have an established form of wishing, and Cinderella seeks out her mother’s tree in order to go to the ball. “Shake your branches, little tree, toss gold and silver down on me,” she calls, and the little bird tosses down a beautiful silver and gold dress; quite different from the blue gown we see in the animated movie (Grimm 119).
What I’ve always loved about this version of the tale is the maternal presence. Even though Cinderella’s mother is dead, we still get her presence and her spirit, watching over her daughter and granting her wishes in order to help her achieve her dreams.
In the animated movie, that maternal edge and the spiritual undertones are lost entirely. The animated version of Cinderella doesn’t even mention her mother; we get a mention in the narration of her father being a widow, but we hear nothing about Cinderella’s mother, or her impact on her. Cinderella’s own ‘mother figure,’ Lady Tremaine, isn’t exactly motherly either; Lady Tremaine is cruel and ruthless, treating Cinderella more like a servant than she does a daughter. Unlike the Brothers Grimm tale, which doesn’t explain the motivations between the stepmother and her step-daughters’ cruelty toward Cinderella, the animated movie gives us a very interesting motivation: envy, and vanity. We’re told that Lady Tremaine is “bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty,” which is really no reason to demean a child and turn them into your personal servant, but it does give us glance into her mindset. Drusilla and Anastasia follow suit with their mother’s behavior, which she likely encouraged, and it’s possible that they too are envious of her beauty.
Instead of Cinderella’s mother’s tree, we have Cinderella’s fairy godmother, who is more like a kindly grandmother figure than she is a mother to Cinderella. “Oh come now, dry those tears,” she says, helping Cinderella up from the bench she’s been sobbing on. “You can’t go to the ball looking like that.”
Unlike the Brothers Grimm tale, where Cinderella simply gets the dress and gets to the ball on her own, Cinderella’s fairy godmother gets everything all set up for her: the carriage, the horses, the dress…all Cinderella has to do is get in and go to the ball.
It’s a great scene, but by taking Cinderella’s mother out of the picture, there’s something lost here for me. Disney has a thing about taking parents out of the picture, and to me, having Cinderella’s mother be involved in the story would’ve been a really beautiful thing. Alas, instead, we have her fairy godmother, which is well and good, but is it as sentimental? Not quite.
Is Cinderella one of those Disney movies that will always warm my nostalgic heart? Yes, definitely.
Is there something lost in removing some of the elements of the story? Definitely.
Adaptations aren’t always perfect. Disney’s Cinderella does a great job of capturing the core of the story: Cinderella’s hope and perseverance, even when times are rough, and how that hope brings her the happily-ever-after she deserves. However, by cutting the darker and more spiritual elements of the Brothers Grimm tale, Cinderella loses some of its dark take on society, status, and beauty, and there’s also a maternal bond lost. It’s a bit of a mixed bag: the changes made are understandable, but by watering down the story, something is missing.
What do you guys think? What’s your favorite version of the Cinderella story? Do you think Disney does a good job adapting fairytales, or is too much of the original story lost due to Disneyfication? Let us know in the comments!
Grimm, B. (1999). Cinderella. In M. Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales (pp. 117-122). New York: Norton & Company.