Sutphin 1 Caroline Sutphin Professor Graham ENGL 3524 27 April 2015 Adapting the Cinderella Story for the Modern World “Cinderella” is one of the most well-known and culturally-embedded fairy tales. Linda Parsons writes in "Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior” that there are over 700 documented versions of the famed fairy tale, dating all the way back to 850-860 AD in China (143). Every culture and time has their own version of the Cinderella story; it’s been told over and over again in every possible context. In more recent history, “Cinderella” has been adapted to the world of film in several ways. How the story changes in these retellings reflects the changes in the world. The message being sent to young girls through “Cinderella” has evolved to one of empowerment and agency in recent years. First, it’s important to look at what Western culture considers the “original” story in Perrault’s “Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper” and the Grimm Brothers’ “Aschenputtel.” Then, exploring the film adaptations will begin with Walt Disney’s Cinderella, which created the image most associated with the story today. The evolution of Cinderella can then be seen through the films Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997), Ever After, Ella Enchanted, and A Cinderella Story. In the end, the “Cinderella” heroine becomes a strong woman who chooses her own fate and doesn’t rely on the agency of her prince. The first version considered to be an “original” is Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper.” This version is very familiar, mainly because it is the version that the
Sutphin 2 Disney animated adaptation was based on. The fairy tale was written in French in 1697 and includes some of the most lasting “Cinderella” images, like the pumpkin carriage and the glass slipper. Cinderella has a wicked stepmother and two terrible stepsisters, something that is still seen in most “Cinderella” adaptations. Cinderella’s father is alive in Perrault’s version but completely controlled by his wife; the father’s involvement in the story varies throughout the retellings. Cinderella, who grows up more beautiful than either of her stepsisters, is forced into their servitude. One day, the girls receive an invitation to the Prince’s two-day ball, where he will be choosing a wife. The taunting stepsisters depart for the ball, leaving Cinderella in despair. Then, her Fairy Godmother appears and transforms a pumpkin into a carriage, small animals into horses and coachmen, and Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful gown, complete with a pair of glass slippers. Cinderella is warned to be back by midnight. The first night, the Prince is enchanted by her, but Cinderella remembers to leave before midnight. The second night, she loses track of time and leaves the famed glass slipper behind. The Prince searches the kingdom for her with the shoe, eventually coming to the right house. The stepsisters try to squeeze into the slipper, but it only fits Cinderella’s foot. Cinderella marries the Prince and forgives her stepsisters, who marry two lords. Parsons writes about the heroine in her essay, “This Cinderella cannot speak for herself, she cannot act on her own behalf, and she cannot function autonomously” (144). Cinderella is submissive to her family and doesn’t change her own situation. The Fairy Godmother is the one who changes Cinderella’s fate. In the end, she is rewarded for her submission and graciousness by marrying the Prince. Those who have abused her are forgiven, and she has little to no agency in her life. This classic and well-known version of “Cinderella” strongly reflects patriarchal ideals, valuing Cinderella’s beauty and meek submission over everything else.
Sutphin 3 The other version of the story considered to be “original” is the Grimm Brothers’ “Aschenputtel.” This version is less familiar to Western readers than Perrault’s and Disney’s fairy tale. The first major difference between this and Perrault’s “Cinderella” is the focus on the mother. Aschenputtel’s mother tells her on her deathbed to always be good and kind and that God would protect her. After her death, Aschenputtel plants a hazel tree on her grave, where she prays and is visited by a white bird. The mother’s spirit helps her daughter throughout the story. Another key difference is in the stepsisters, who while still being cruel and selfish, are also physically beautiful. This implies that physical beauty is not as important as it is in other versions. The ball in this story comes in the form of a three-day festival for the Prince to choose his bride. Aschenputtel begs to attend, but is denied by her stepmother. In this version, Aschenputtel receives her gowns magically from her mother at her grave. The first night she wears a white gown and silk shoes and leaves before midnight. The Prince is infatuated with her. The second night she wears a grander silver gown and glass shoes and leaves before midnight again. On the third night, she wears a gold gown and gold shoes. The Prince leaves pitch on the stairwell, determined to keep her there. She loses one of her gold shoes on the pitch. Both the stepsisters mutilate their feet trying to fit into the shoe, but Aschenputtel is recognized as the Prince’s mystery girl. At their wedding, the stepsisters are attacked by the doves and have to live blind for the rest of their lives. Cinderella is very different in this version. She doesn’t bear her treatment with a smile like in Perrault’s; she goes to her mother’s grave to lament her state. Parsons writes, “The bitterness she feels is palpable. This Cinderella gives us permission to experience a full range of emotions” (145). This is dramatically different from Perrault’s unfailingly good and meek Cinderella. She also shows some agency by asking her stepmother to allow her to attend the festival. In this version, the stepsisters are not forgiven and are severely
Sutphin 4 punished for their cruelty. Cinderella is more active in deciding her fate in this version, but she is still reliant on magical forces, and happiness is still only found in her marriage to the Prince. Less film adaptations are based strongly on this version of “Cinderella;” most of them have a “Fairy Godmother” character, leaning more closely to Perrault’s. Cinderella is most commonly known today by her representation in the Walt Disney animated film. Cinderella, directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson, was released in 1950 and is similar to Perrault’s interpretation. One of the main differences is that her father passes away in the film, instead of being a present but passive character. Like in the Perrault version, she grows up kind and obedient to her cruel, selfish family members. After making a gown for the ball and having it destroyed by her stepsisters, Cinderella is visited by her Fairy Godmother, who sings “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and makes her over. Again we are seeing a lack of agency. While Cinderella did try to make her own dress at first, it was her Fairy Godmother that actually saves her. We see the same plot as in Perrault with the glass slipper. When the Grand Duke comes to their home with the slipper, the stepmother tries to lock Cinderella in the attic, but her animal friends get her out just in time. Despite the frequent sabotage from her stepsisters and stepmother, Cinderella marries Prince Charming, and they live happily ever after. This film reflects patriarchal ideals strongly. Cinderella suffers with a smile until she is chosen by the Prince. Marrying him is the only road to self-fulfillment for Cinderella. Her beauty and submission are what make her worthy of the marriage. Alexandra Robbins writes in “The Fairy-Tale Façade: Cinderella’s Anti-Grotesque Dream,” “Disney, in particular, suggests that a woman’s function in society is to wait prettily in a passive and docile manner until she is chosen—based on her appearance—for motherhood” (109). This is especially concerning when thinking about how vastly Disney’s Cinderella reaches; she’s on all kinds of merchandise and
Sutphin 5 nearly every child in America can identify her. The lesson this teaches boys and girls about gender-appropriate behavior is antiquated and often criticized by feminists. Another version of “Cinderella” that follows the classical Perrault model is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The musical, starring Julie Andrews, was released on television in 1957 and includes songs like “In My Own Little Corner” and “A Lovely Night.” Like in the Disney version, Cinderella’s beloved father has died, and she is forced to work for her stepmother and stepsisters. Cinderella is a dreamer who aspires to more than her humble life. The main plot difference is that when they go on the search with the glass slipper, Cinderella is not at home; she is hiding in the palace garden. There, she is arrested, but the Fairy Godmother convinces them to let Cinderella try on the shoe. While Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella presents a more developed heroine, who has hopes and dreams of adventure, it presents many of the same problems from a feminist perspective as Perrault’s “Cinderella” and Disney’s Cinderella. She is still submissive and almost entirely inactive in changing her life. The Fairy Godmother comes in to guide her towards happiness twice in the film. Again, Cinderella can’t be happy or fulfilled until she marries her Prince. Her physical appearance is still one of her most important features as is displayed through the song “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” One line from the song reads “Are you the sweet invention of a lover's dream, Or are you really as beautiful as you seem?” Physical appearance drives the one-night romance, and Cinderella is again rewarded for her meek submission and beauty. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was remade in 1997 and again released on television. With the exception a few extra songs and some minor differences, the plot remained very much the same as the original. The film, like many before it, still reflected patriarchal standards. However, this adaptation was very different because it was racially diverse. Brandy,
Sutphin 6 an African American singer and actress, played the role of Cinderella. Her Fairy Godmother was played by Whitney Houston, and the queen was played by Whoopi Goldberg. Prince Christopher is play by a Filipino-American actor. While this film did not alter the patriarchal roles, it shows how the story of Cinderella can be reworked. One retelling of the Cinderella story that comes from a more feminist perspective is Ever After, released in 1998. Ever After, directed by Andy Tennant and starring Drew Barrymore, alters the traditional fairy tale to suit the modern world. This version takes places in Renaissanceera France and follows Danielle de Barbarac, the Cinderella of the film. Danielle is passionate, loving, and intelligent. Her fiery temperament and rebellion against her fate mark her as very different from the Cinderella displayed in previous interpretations. Danielle’s father dies, like he does in many other retellings, and leaves her with Thomas More’s Utopia, which becomes one of her most treasured possessions. Very early on we see the importance of Danielle’s intelligence; she is more than the meek beauty of the traditional fairy tale. The magical elements are also removed, and the movie is treated as semi-historical. Danielle is never saved by miracles or the prince, for that matter. Another key difference is her romance with Prince Henry; instead their love being the product of one night of physical attraction, the two fall in love over time as they get to know each other, including their faults. Prince Henry is not the perfect man, like the Prince Charming character is depicted; he is arrogant and runs from his responsibilities. In this way, men are liberated by the feminist principles as well; they don’t have to be perfect and charming all the time. Interestingly, the “Fairy Godmother” character is filled by Leonardo da Vinci, who intervenes several times to bring Danielle and Henry together. One of the biggest differences between Danielle and the traditional Cinderella is that she fights back and has agency. When her crueler stepsister, Marguerite, steals Danielle’s mother’s dress, Danielle punches her in the face.
Sutphin 7 In this scene, Danielle ends up giving Marguerite her mother’s shoes to prevent her from burning her copy of Utopia, but the stepsister throws it in the fire anyways. Danielle is also not perfect; ashamed of her status, she lies to Prince Henry about who she is. When the truth is revealed by her stepmother, Prince Henry wants nothing to do with her. Danielle, at her lowest point, is sold to a horrible landowner. By the time Henry finds her, she has secured her own freedom. Elisabeth Gruner writes in “Saving ‘Cinderella’: History and Story in Ashpet and Ever After,” “Danielle, of course, needs no rescuing. Henry arrives at LePieu’s chateau, carrying the shoe, just as Danielle is walking out, and her incredulity (“You? Rescue me?”) is palpable” (149). This Cinderella never needed the prince to save her; in the end, they marry as equals. Her stepmother and Marguerite get their comeuppance by being sent to work as laundry maids. The other sister, who was much kinder, is spared this punishment. In Ever After, Danielle’s best traits are her intelligence, passion, and independence. She is defined by everything that makes her different from the Cinderella the world knows. Another feminist interpretation of the Cinderella story can be seen in Ella Enchanted. The film, which is loosely-based on a novel, came out in 2004 and stars Anne Hathaway as the rebellious and intelligent Ella of Frell. In an interesting play on the original story, Ella does not choose to be obedient; it is her curse from her Fairy Godmother, Lucinda. As a result, Ella is actually more rebellious because she is always fighting the curse. Parsons writes in “Ella Evolving…” “Ella’s voice is strong and her agency is apparent” (148). She is clearly more than a meek and submissive girl. Similar to “Aschenputtel,” Ella has a very deep connection to her dead mother. Her father in this version is alive but has to travel to work, leaving Ella with her stepmother and stepsisters. Since Ella’s actual Fairy Godmother is more trouble than anything else, that role in her life is played by a few other characters. These characters are Mandy, a
Sutphin 8 household elf, Mandy’s boyfriend Benny, and an elf named Slannen. All of these characters fill the “Fairy Godmother” role by helping Ella on her journey to break her curse. One of the biggest differences between this and other reinventions is that Ella’s main goal is to break the curse; her entire journey is to find Lucinda, not to find a husband. Prince Charmont is similar to Prince Henry in Ever After; he’s arrogant and doesn’t seem to care about his responsibilities. He falls in love for Ella because of her intelligence and rebellion, instead of her looks. In the end, no one can save Ella but herself. She breaks the curse on her own, without the help of Lucinda. After winning control over herself, she actually has to save Prince Charmont from his uncle, who is plotting to poison him. They reach their happy ending together after Ella fights her own battle. Ella is a strong and independent character, making Ella Enchanted a feminist film. Another interesting twist on the fairy tale can be seen in A Cinderella Story, a 2004 film starring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. The film modernizes the story, following Sam, the Cinderella character, in the San Fernando Valley. Sam’s father dies, leaving her in the care of her stepmother, who has twin daughters of her own. Outside of her unhappy home life, Sam also struggles socially in her high school. Carter, her only friend in the school, and Rhonda, a maternal figure who works with Sam at her dad’s diner, fill the “Fairy Godmother” role. They encourage Sam to take chances and be confident. One of the most important traits about Sam is her determination to change her fate. She works hard at the diner and in school because she dreams of one day going to Princeton. She is smart and more complicated than the typical Cinderella. Her prince is Austin, the popular athlete in her high school, who would rather read poetry than play football. Sam learns that her submission and obedience hasn’t helped her to be happy; she doesn’t get her happy ending until she stands up for herself. She finally defends herself against her stepmother and quits her job at the diner. She also stands up to Austin, calling
Sutphin 9 him out on his cowardice. When she becomes the strong, confident woman she was meant to be, everything else falls in to place. In this way, A Cinderella Story can also be interpreted as feminist. “Cinderella” has been adapted in many ways over the years to reflect the culture of the time. Just looking at this small sampling of film adaptations, the evolution of “Cinderella” can be seen. The heroine begins as a submissive, suffering, and beautiful girl. She has little agency in her life and requires saving from her prince. Through love and marriage, she receives happiness and fulfillment. In recent adaptations, Cinderella becomes a woman who chooses the ending of her story; she is not necessarily perfect and neither is her prince. Through this growth, the Cinderella story has become a fairy tale more suited for modern girls, encouraging them to make their own happy endings.
Sutphin 10 Works Cited The Brothers Grimm. “Aschenputtel.” Classics of Children’s Literature. 6th ed. Ed. John Griffith and Charles Frey. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005. 56-61. Print. Cinderella. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson. Walt Disney Productions, 1950. Film. A Cinderella Story. Dir. Mark Rosman. Warner Bros., 2004. Film. Ella Enchanted. Dir. Tommy O’Haver. Miramax Films, 2004. Film. Ever After. Dir. Andy Tennant. Flower Films, 1998. Film. Gruner, Elisabeth Rose. "Saving 'Cinderella': History and Story in Ashpet and Ever After." Children's Literature. Vol. 31. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 142-154. Print. Parsons, Linda T. "Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior." Children's Literature in Education. Vol. 35. New York: Springer Publishing, 2004. 135-54. Print. Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper.” Classics of Children’s Literature. 6th ed. Ed. John Griffith and Charles Frey. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005. 17-20. Print. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Dir. Ralph Nelson. CBS, 1957. Film. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Dir. Robert Iscove. ABC, 1997. Film. Robbins, Alexandra. "The Fairy-Tale Facade: 'Cinderella''s Anti-Grotesque Dream." Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 32. Boston: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997. 101-115. Print.