The Audacity of Cinderella


Yesterday I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. After the movie began, I sat in the dark theater measuring my expectations, waiting for the old, familiar fairytale to be deconstructed. I’ve seen enough modern adaptations of classic stories to worry about a director pulling the rug out from under me. Just a few minutes into a plot, there’s often a cynical jolt, and my innocence becomes the butt of someone else’s joke. Out of nowhere comes the sarcasm, the crude humor, or the cheap political slam, and I feel my face flush with shame that I had once again hoped that a world—even an imaginary one—could be honest and beautiful.

Indeed, the first few scenes of Cinderella are idyllic. The film opens to a lovely meadow adorned with flowers and a blue sky full of puffy clouds. Ella’s family members are tender with one another. Their home looks like it was built from a vintage storybook drawing, so unabashedly sweet that I heard little girls and their mothers coo with delight as we walked through the rooms.

In fact, it was all so perfect that I couldn’t relax. I felt like the high school geek about to walk in on a locker room prank, so I steeled myself, preparing for that awful moment when the director would lift his leg and mark an old fairy tale as his newest territory.

I was ready for the worst, but the worst never happened. Cinderella was told purely,  without excuse, without abuse, and without sarcastic distortions. Every plot addition that I noticed emerged from the core themes of the earliest versions of this tale. In a few places, I felt undertones of King Lear and the Russian folktale “Finist the Bright Falcon,” but whether these connections were intentional or not, Branagh’s final product gelled with the same narrative spirit that has made this folktale beloved in many countries for centuries.

The unflinching purity of this film is so rare that it made me uncomfortable at first, and then it made me ache, because I’m so starved for sincerity.  I’ll admit that when the pumpkin turned into a carriage, I got a big knot in my throat, for pure wonder was being held out to me in two hands. A magical story was being told humbly, and I was being trusted to receive it with humility as well.

For years I have been afraid that we were becoming a post-fairy tale culture, and as a humanities teacher, I can see some philosophical/sociological reasons for that. I’m not as well-versed in this realm as many of you, but I’m going to offer two examples that I have been considering below, and maybe those of you with more training can contradict or complete my gaps in the comments. (Or, if you want to avoid the nerd talk, skip the next seven paragraphs altogether.)

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, there was an important German philosopher named Georg Hegel. He made a number of contributions to the world of philosophy, but one of the simplest was a method of truth finding called the “dialectic.” Hegel’s dialectic (which I believe he actually attributed to Kant) begins by submitting an idea called a thesis. After the thesis is established, an antithesis (a counterargument) is provided, and then both of these viewpoints are morphed into a conclusion called a synthesis.

The idea of using some sort of argumentative dialectic to find truth didn’t begin with Hegel or Kant; it goes back to the Socratic dialogues. However, some of Hegel’s thoughts and methods ended up being quite influential upon our present world. Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggested “All the great philosophical ideas of the past century—the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis—had their beginnings in Hegel.”

One example of this influence is found in Karl Marx, who attempted to apply Hegel’s dialectic to social change. His first activist group, The Young Hegelians, adopted “Criticism!” as their battle cry, for they believed reform would result from the critique of power. Of course, there was quite a bit in Marx’s time that needed critique; however, can’t you also feel the deep unrest in such a methodology? Can’t you feel how it is driven by mistrust of every established good? And elements of that same fidgety spirit still run through our culture today, though our battle cry tends to be, “We doubt it! Whatever it is, we doubt it!” I’m a child of this age, a cynic by nature, and I believe there are benefits as well as drawbacks to a mindset of criticism. What is inevitable for the cynic, however, is that trust will eventually begin to feel naive.

Switching to the realms of linguistics and literature, we can find a similar tendency in Derrida and other post-structuralists. Post-structuralism suggests that “there are many truths, that frameworks must bleed, and that structures must become unstable or decentered” (Owl Purdue). In other words, let’s dig down into the skeletal forms that hold our society together and rattle their bones. Particularly, let’s do this whenever power is involved. It is an assumption of post-structuralism that hegemonies are actively working to maintain control, so we must find out where strength is rooted in a culture and uncover how authority is being maintained.

What does this mean on a practical level? It means that all grand narratives are immediately suspect. It means that the fundamental promises of science (innovation will save us), of theology (God will save us), of history (mankind is growing), of traditional literature (the canon exists and its stories are good), of every realm are deconstructed. The old templates are torn to shreds. Nothing is dependable, including language itself.

Post-structuralists were not the first to notice that there are spaces between words and their intended meanings. There’s no way around the fact that language is metaphorical. However, what they did with the gap is unique, for “post-structuralists assert that if we cannot trust language systems to convey truth, the very bases of truth are unreliable and the universe—or at least the universe we have constructed—becomes unraveled or de-centered” (Owl Purdue). In other words, they took a single defined gap and used that to blow up trust in everything.

You can see shadows of post-structuralist thinking in a movie like Shrek, a deconstructed fairy tale. That plot is built around the humor of defying narrative norms. The princess is a tough guy half-ogre. The ogre is an insecure romantic. There is bathroom humor, and short guy humor, and phallic humor, and the protagonist’s best friend is an ass. (Haw, haw, haw. An ass. See what they did there? An ass. Haw, haw, haw.) Sure, Shrek is funny in some ways—but it’s funny like passing gas in church. When you hear it, you laugh first, and then you are sad you laughed, because crude humor feels like despair after it settles.

And it’s not just Shrek, there is so much in our culture that reduces humanity to its lowest animal state. I wasn’t around to verify whether humans evolved from apes, but I have seen evidence that we are becoming beasts. We are crass. We treat one another as if we were disposable. The present zeitgeist of defiance and deconstruction pushes us toward an uncivilized end instead of just acknowledging it.

Last week a couple of high school students told me about a video game that kids are playing these days. I thought they were exaggerating, so I found clip of the game on YouTube, and I watched it myself. What I saw is terrible to explain. The gamer picked a virtual prostitute off the street, then he drove her to a parking garage where he used her sexually two different ways. The images and the dialogue were graphic. When the gamer let the girl out of his car, he walked around and shot her in the head.  After she fell, I could see up her skirt. She was naked, dead, bloody, and I wanted to vomit. My legs felt weak for several hours thinking about all the children who are exposed to this sort of role play. God, save us.

Ever since I watched that clip, I’ve been thinking about different strategies creators are using to try and rescue us from our barbarism. Of course there are Christian people making overtly Christian movies. Yet not all creative strategies are so straightforward, and I think that’s fine. It’s even street smart. There are creators who operate like that ragged assortment of British fishermen recruited in WWII to collect wounded soldiers from foreign banks. These authors, filmmakers, songwriters are a motley crew, using an odd mix of grit and light in their attempts at redemption.

For example, the movie (and books) The Series of Unfortunate Events seem to attempt a covert sort of rescue. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how the grim challenges of the plot are introduced by a saccharine Littlest Elf, who prances about with cutesy, overdone sweetness. When the elf’s fantastical world is exposed as a foil, there is something like disappointment and relief that rises in the viewer simultaneously. We want to cry out, “I knew it!  I knew the world couldn’t really be so cheery and simple.” Then the story moves on to tackle courage and love in desperate times, and for some reason, the painful struggles of the Baudelaire children feel more honest because that gay little elf was dismantled from the outset.

So I sat in Cinderella, prepared for a similar sort of sinking. I was ready for it, but it never came. This time the strategy was different, an old school, unadulterated fairy tale. There were no challenges to the establishment. There was no attack on metanarrative. The mockery didn’t come. The cynicism didn’t come. The heroine was kind, tenacious, long suffering, honest, and beautiful. As tears swelled up in my eyes at the audacity of such a thing, I asked myself, “What is happening here; and why is this both so foreign and so familiar?”

Cinderella’s tale of redemption is found in countries all over the world. She has different names, and the details change, but the same basic plot is there. Why is that? Why is humanity so driven to create, to tell, to retell this story? Maybe it’s because we are tired of sleeping in the cinders. Maybe it’s because we are all sore from evil stepsisters and from grieving the losses of old comforts. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been courageous or kind, and we wish that we would have been.

As I watched Ella’s tenacity—without being offered even a drop of cynisism for protection—I grew penitent, because I recognized that I had given up on goodness too soon. As I watched her kindness toward the needy, I saw how I have been more focused on what I don’t have than on being generous with what I do. In her refusal to retaliate, I saw how I have accepted the currencies of pain and abuse, and how I’ve traded in them. In her strength, I saw how I’ve given the cynics my character and my hope. More importantly, I saw how I don’t want any of that any more, and the existence of my thirst indicates that there is also something in the universe to quench it.

There is a brilliant scene at the end of the movie (spoiler, if you haven’t seen it) where Cinderella asks her evil stepmother why she is being so cruel. The stepmother replies that Ella’s beauty and kindness have made hatefulness more tempting instead of less. There is a sort of math to this. The corrupt heart cannot receive Ella’s goodness, because darkness hates light, and because somewhere along the way, every villain stops believing that happily ever after could apply to him. Losing that one hope changes everything. It means we look at our pitiful plate of leftover food scraps and refuse to kneel down and share with four hungry mice. It means we lose our bearings for bravery. It means the roots that once fed tenderness shrivel, and we sit drying up, weeping in our rags, not understanding that Jesus was speaking to our very own poverty when he said, “take courage; I have overcome the world.”

A lovely woman from China sat next to me in the theater, and every once in a while, I would steal a glance at her shy grin. She looked seven years old sitting there, and I could tell that we were both recovering something powerful that we had held inside us when we were tiny. “You too?” I thought. “You and me both, and all of us. We had forgotten, hadn’t we?”

Somewhere along the way, our worlds grew dim, we got discouraged, and we forgot how much the fairy tale meant. Finding it again is as audacious as holiness, and even though we are tired, we aren’t too ruined for it yet.

Goodness. Kindness. Courage. Beauty. Hope. The early tales whisper a promise that a servant girl can stumble into an extravagant grace on the night of her deepest despair and become a great queen as a result. Therein is the gospel, isn’t it? Believe, weary one. Believe. Drink from the stream of faith so that you can walk today having courage and being kind. You who wake with labor’s ash on your face, with trouble’s sorrow in your heart, and with the hunger of loneliness in your belly, you can live from the good old vision again.”

Rebecca K. Reynolds is the editorial director of Oasis Family Media and Sky Turtle Press. She is the author of a text-faithful modern prose rendering of Edmund Spenser’s 1590’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene and of Courage, Dear Heart by Nav Press. Rebecca is a longtime member of the Rabbit Room, and she has spoken at Hutchmoot both in the US and the UK. She taught high school literature for seven years and has written lyrics for Ron Block of Alison Krauss, Union Station.


  1. Pete Peterson


    Great post, Rebecca.

    It occurs to me, though, that the Cinderella story you long for and are loathe to see deconstructed is itself a sort of deconstruction–or at least a reconstruction. The Cinderella most people know and love isn’t the Cinderella of the ages, it’s the Cinderella of Disney’s homogenized reconstruction. The Cinderella of the ages (in some countries even titled “The Cinder Slut”) is a dark, gruesome, and often vulgar tale with countless variations. I’m not discounting what you’re saying, I agree in general and I appreciate sincerity, beauty, and goodness in storytelling. But it seems to me that it’s only fair to recognize that from Don Quixote to Rabelais to Shakespeare, the bathroom humor and cynicism has really always been there. Might not the sentimentalization of old tales be the new thing rather than the old?

  2. EmmaJ

    Thank you, Rebecca. I really needed to read this today.

    This, especially: “It means we look at our pitiful plate of leftover food scraps and refuse to kneel down and share with four hungry mice. It means we lose our bearings for bravery. It means the roots that once fed tenderness shrivel, and we sit drying up, weeping in our rags, not understanding that Jesus was speaking to our very own poverty when he said, ‘take courage; I have overcome the world.'”

  3. Wendy Kautz

    Wow, Rebecca. Thank you. Why am I crying. I had that same pins-and-needles anxiety when I went to watch the movie with my girls; I felt like any minute now I was going to have to dive to cover their eyes and ears. How beautiful that that moment never came. This cynicism–which I admit is part of my personality (thanks, Dad)–goes all the way back to Satan’s “Did God really say…?” It’s beautiful the way art can sometimes say, “Why yes. Yes He did.”

  4. Pete Peterson


    The Cinderella tale actually goes back even beyond this, Pete. Though some consider the origin of the tale Perrault or the Grimm brothers (the Grimm brothers added a lot of the gruesome details you are mentioning), I believe the earliest version in Western culture might be the Greek Rhodopsis, as it was written in about 7 BC and recorded in the first century BC.

    However, in Eastern culture, we find versions of the Cinderella tale that predate Western versions by almost 1000 years. Ye Xian in China, Pear Blossom in Korea, and I believe there is one from Japan, but I can’t remember the name of that one.

    There is a Persian Cinderella named Settareh that goes back to at least the 15th century An Irish variant, a Jewish Cinderella who is the youngest daughter of a Rabbi, and a Native American Cinderella that is simply breathtaking.

    My favorite Cinderella-esque tale is Russian. Finist the Bright Falcon. (This isn’t surprising if you know anything about Russian folktales. They are always the best.) And though there is more darkness in that version than in the Disney version, the story is better for it.

    These versions vary in how much they show brutality. Some are, like you described, rather coarse. Others that are just as old or older are not. My readings of different versions of this tale are not comprehensive, but from what I’ve seem so far, it seems that Grimm is more the exception than the rule.

    What I mean by sincerity, however, is not simply adherence to the traditional Disney movie. I am suggesting alignment with the true heart of this story. What is Cinderella really saying? The new movie didn’t break that, and that is why I am thankful.

    Scatalogical humor fits Shakespeare and Chaucer in stories where such crass humor is works with the plot. Deconstruction (in the wide sense of the term, Derrida was difficult to pin down) is something quite different. Deconstruction is irreverent for the sake of breaking apart a reliable or established narrative.

    Scatalogical humor works in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, because the Miller was coarse. The roughness suits the narrative. Deconstruction would have the respectful, noble Knight in the Knight’s Tale humiliating himself for the sake of breaking apart nobility. Do you see the difference I mean? It has less to do with sentimentalization and more to do with honesty.

  5. Pete Peterson


    (P.S. I’m at school during lunch, writing fast, and I’ll have to go back and check a lot of those details later. Will edit tonight if I have remembered some of those facts incorrectly. Becca)

  6. Pete Peterson


    The Grimms were just gathering folks tales, amalgamating them, and writing them down. No doubt.

    I’m anxious to see the movie, and from what I hear, I suspect I’ll agree with you that what’s most audacious about Branagh’s retelling is that he’s cooking up his new telling with an old-fashioned recipe and managing to make it taste great rather than worn out.

  7. Pete Peterson


    Cinderella’s slipper fits us perfectly,
    And somehow we’re made royalty with you.

    Thanks, Rebecca, for this lovely glimpse into remembrance.

  8. Amber

    Wow! Great post. I will reread and visit some of your links. When I saw the movie I recognized something kin to George MacDonald’s fairy tales.

  9. Amanda

    This movie is worth seeing, just as this article is worth reading. I resisted seeing this at first, because I was worried it would go down a dark, cynical path and ruin a story we all no so well. (I do know that the antecedent stories are way darker than the Disney cartoon). I was pleasantly surprised by how much light, love, and goodness pervaded this movie. This world is much lacking in kindness, and this movie brought a taste of it to the moving-going masses. It reminded me of the verse, Phil. 4:5, “Let your gentleness be known to all.” That is not the same thing as weakness or mere niceness. The heroine of this store was a beautiful example of this. She used her grit and determination to let her gentleness be known to all.

  10. Aaron

    Ever since the first Shrek came out, I have hoped for the time when fairy tales could be fairy tales again. I’m glad that time has finally arrived.

    My other favourite film reviewer with a clerical collar did an excellent review of the Christian themes that are inherent in the Cinderella story when it’s told faithfully:

  11. Jennifer Hildebrand

    This is beautiful! Thank you. Thank you for drawing the parallels between our hearts and this film. I cried basically all the way through it. The pure goodness, the beauty, the colors! Like a really good dream. (I’m still not over that blue dress — the best blue ever!). But what I took away from this telling of the story was fresh air, encouragement. It was shockingly cleansing for the things my cynical heart has been dealing with. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but I think you have done so here. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Loren Warnemuende

    This is great, Becca, Hegel and all 🙂 . My girls and I loved the film, too.

    The next day our family was talking about being courageous and my nine-year-old who has been asking tough questions this year challenged the idea. “What good is it to have courage?” she asked. “Things don’t always work out.” It reminded me that our courage is so much more than just digging into ourselves and finding it and being it. We can be courageous because our God is with us (a la Joshua). The concept came up again when we finished The Phantom Tollbooth last night. The main character, Milo, speaks of his completed quest: “‘I could never have done it,’ he objected, ‘without everyone else’s help.’ ‘That may be true,’ said Reason gravely, ‘but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you *will* do.'” It’s the back and forth of God’s sovereignty and our free will, but I do hope and pray that my passionate girl will see that she needs to try things, and that God will be walking with her in them.

    Hooray for movies that trigger good conversations!

  13. Lanier

    Thanks to you, dearest Bec, I’ve been ugly-crying over the *trailer*.

    This story has always been my favorite of the fairy tales–I was shaped by Tasha Tudor’s lovely illustrations pre-Disney, but Cinderella was my pick among the Disney heroines, as well. There’s a reason the incandescence of goodness and kindness in the face of great suffering has shown up over so many centuries in so many cultures–there’s something wired into us that desperately needs to believe there’s redemption at work in the darkest things. And there’s a reason that this tale seems to have been parodied and mocked more than the rest. I used to be a little embarrassed to say that Cinderella was my favorite–kind of like admitting that Meg was your favorite character in Little Women. 😉 (For the record, Jo is my favorite, but Meg is the one I’d want to be friends with in real life…)

    Anyway, thank you for your words. My heart needs them–and this film–right now.

  14. Pete Peterson


    I was hoping you’d write something about this, Rebecca. 🙂

    The only reason I went to see Cinderella on opening night was to spend some time with my family (including my 8 year old niece). I grew up on Disney everything — first did the parks when I was 2, and grew up on all the classics — so I admit to feeling a little confused and grumpy about their sudden trend of live-action remaking everything. Factor in that she wasn’t my favorite Disney heroine (sorry Lanier! Can we still be friends? :)), and I half expected to slightly enjoy it at best, dislike it at worst.

    But wow, I did enjoy it, in spite of myself and preconceived ideas. And the longer I thought about it, the more I saw the beautiful truth in the story. And wow, Cinderella isn’t this passive frail girl that has to be rescued, but a strong and resilient heroine who fights evil with Christlike kindness.

    I’m grateful for the surprise of this movie. As much as I do enjoy seeing old stories get deconstructed sometimes, it was refreshing to experience that pure enjoyment I felt toward Disney movies when I was a little girl.

    Now I just hope they don’t ruin Beauty and the Beast! (Forever my favorite.)

  15. Pete Peterson


    Lanier, I love it, too; and here’s my dirty secret, I also love Sleeping Beauty. (Horror of horrors!)

    Different people are working through different past struggles, and there are women out there who need to learn that it’s OK to stand up and fight for themselves. It’s great that modern stories exist to cast this vision.

    However, I’m third generation strong woman, and some of the same elements of traditional fairy tale femininity that are so offensive to pop culture are the very ones I need most in my relationship with Christ. I’m a firstborn doer. That whole “God helps those who help themselves,” thing is awfully thick in my blood. It’s been difficult for me to learn that faith is not a passive activity.

    I get so thoroughly frustrated learning to trust. It’s much easier for me to fight for God than to live responding to Him, depending upon resources beyond my own, and being patient for His proper times for things. Waiting (Even sleeping? Heck no, let me whack a sword!) while God fights for me is one of the most difficult challenges I could ever face.

    Maybe that is why I was so moved by this movie. I finally saw a different sort of strength, and I loved it. Ella shocked me by being kind, by having courage, by believing in a vision that was bigger than her circumstances. She didn’t come out swinging a sword, but she fought on a whole different realm. Like Jen just said, “Cinderella isn’t this passive frail girl that has to be rescued, but a strong and resilient heroine who fights evil with Christlike kindness.” That’s the sort of battle I need to learn how to fight.

  16. Emily

    Thank you thank you! I have felt this deeply without being able to articulate it just yet since I saw the film a few weeks ago. Gospel! So beautiful.

  17. Ron Block


    I love this movie. Thanks, Becca, for the philosophical underpinnings of this post and the followup comments.

    The Gospel in this version of Cinderella is very moving and motivating. Cinderella herself is believable – holding true even in shifting circumstances, temporarily knocked down by doubt, standing up again.

    The visual elements, the house, the scenery, the castle, captivated me. The wicked stepmother is believable in the sense of still being a person – of having reasons behind her treatment of Cinderella. And I loved the relationship between the king and the prince.

  18. Bonnie Buckingham

    Look up interviews with Branagh & his stellar British cast. Helen Bomham Carter insisted that she have wings as the fairy godmother. Those wings were very complex to make with tiny lights and sparkling jewels. There is also a story about the glass slippers.

  19. Sarah

    I’m having a major C.S. Lewis, “What! You too?” moment. I thought I was crazy for crying through the film the first time I saw it. I love that the film doesn’t deny the misery and grief that we all experience, it merely shows that courage and kindness will trump worldly “wisdom” in the end.

  20. whipple

    Becca, in addition to this wonderful post, you mention something very telling in the comments: “The traditional Disney movie.”

    It never occurred to me to think of the Disney narrative arc, with all its omissions and ease, as an American tradition, but that might just be the case. Perhaps we long for deconstruction, even in things like Shrek, because the smoothness of those Disney versions fell flat when we grew up. There are no sisters cutting off their own toes. There is certainly nothing cannibalistic as in “The Juniper Tree” (one of my favorites from Grimm).

    That’s not to say that the cynical longing is a good one, but maybe it reveals something untrue about the versions of these tales that marked our childhood. It makes me glad for some of the Pixar films and the hardships they portrayed head-on.

  21. Elizabeth

    Wow! Amen and amen. Thank you for so beautifully verbalizing this. I loved the simple purity and sweetness of this film and you explain its heart so well. Don’t give up on fairytales… I haven’t yet 🙂

  22. Pete Peterson


    Good thoughts, Whipple. A few comments back the Grimm version was discussed. A lot of folks refer to that as the original tale, but it wasn’t. The Grimm version was a variant that was written down after it had travelled through a bunch of ruffians.

    It’s likely that the Grimm Cinderella (written down in the early 1800’s) was adapted from Perrault’s version (1697) which is actually much closer to the 1950 (is that year right?) Disney movie. If you are interested in reading that, I included a link in earlier comments so you can see how it goes. The Perrault version probably goes back to a source in Greek tradition about a girl who marries an Egyptian ruler.

    Some of the Cinderella-type narratives found in other countries (because this story is found all over the world) include more graphic abuse than others. One of my favorites is a Native American version where the princess is attacked and brutally scarred by her sisters. The Russian “Finist the Bright Falcon” also includes a bit more gore, but it’s a beautiful story just the same.

    What it comes down to for me is a difference between sentimentality (in the artificial sense of that word) and honesty. Sentimentality definitely begs to be deconstructed, but that has been done, redone, overdone in my view. Shrek doesn’t remedy the problems of hypersentimentalization the way that purity of narrative does.

    I love dark humor, ironic twists, etc. But this movie taught me that there’s also something still beautiful about a creator who isn’t willing to flatter me with, “You are so wry,” at the cost of a powerful, solid core story that points to a strength beyond me.

  23. Esther O'Reilly

    Thanks so much for this Rebecca. We’ve had quite enough deconstructed fairytales! As a philosopher with academic connections myself, I’m all too aware of the death choke post-modernism seems to have on our institutions, and by osmosis, our pop culture and our young people’s minds.

  24. Sylvia

    Very interesting article, because that wasn’t my reaction at all. I felt that Cinderella showed an abused woman taking abuse readily, not doing much about her situation or standing up for herself and the only way to “save” her was to be able to capture the interest of a prince who took her away from her troubles. Whether or not there is a “prince” in someone’s life shouldn’t affect whether they are abused. Not something I would want to teach my children.

  25. Tony from Pandora

    I hope not to disturb the insight or be a contrarian. But I have two daughters, 8 and 10 (their ages, not their names!) Still on the heels of ‘Frozen’, (and an October trip to Disney World) we went into this movie with appropriate excitement.

    But to me, unlike Frozen’s message of self sacrificial love, Cinderella seemed to say, “Wait around and if you’re pretty enough, a handsome man will take care of you.”

    I agree you can read into the story Christian messages of kindness, meekness in the face of suffering and cruelty. And I may not give my daughters enough credit, but I don’t think they interpret the story that way.

  26. Lisa McDonald

    i love these two lines in your article:
    I believe there are benefits as well as drawbacks to a mindset of criticism. What is inevitable for the cynic, however, is that trust will eventually begin to feel naive.
    In her strength, I saw how I’ve given the cynics my character and my hope. More importantly, I saw how I don’t want any of that any more, and the existence of my thirst indicates that there is also something in the universe to quench it.

    At the same time, I can’t help but feel that the plot line of Cinderella is, in fact, rebellious in that the prince, and eventually the king, threw off convention for the sake of love. And befor that the prince brazenly ignored the king. Is this the Gospel? Or is this a rebellious culture writing a narrative that glorifies ignoring the rule and word of the King? Is it a beautiful story of love and grace, or two selfish young children pursuing their own happiness at the cost of the Kingdom? I think possibly, it is both. A truer telling of the Gospel would have the King and Prince plotting together to rescue and redeem not only Cinderella but the evil step-mother as well. Grace is not drawn to our beauty. It’s the other way around.

  27. Pete Peterson


    Sylvia, thanks for commenting. I respect your point, and I think that is the main problem a lot of folks see with the Cinderella narrative. If I were reading the story on a strictly physical level, using it as a model of human romance for my (very bright, very strong) daughter, I would agree with you completely.

    I’m one of those fortunate women who grew up with men who valued women as equals, so I’ve never had to wrestle with some of the degrading treatment other women have suffered. Women in my family were expected to be strong, independent, and capable. I’m so sad to think about women in abuse just tolerating it, waiting for a man to save them, etc., and it’s awful to think of a story like Cinderella being used to advocate for that kind of passivity.

    If I had lived through abuse, I can see how this story would be a strong trigger for bad, old memories. I don’t want to trample on painful experiences, or make this discussion academic for anyone who has lived through actual abuse, so maybe I can just clarify my view without discounting what others see. Anyone who has lived through such horrors has a right to react to this story in any way that fits her past.

    I see the struggles Cinderella faces as the inevitable problems humankind (male and female) encounters while living life here on earth.
    As we (men and women) live our lives, there are some difficult situations we can escape, but there are other times when the cruelty and selfishness of others intersects with our existence, no matter what we do. There are bad bosses, selfish family members, sometimes there are people in legislative power who make decisions that affect our lives. Sometimes it is almost impossible to get completely away from those forces, and sometimes it just takes a while to make a viable plan and get away from them.

    So what Cinderella shows me is that in this period of waiting, planning, etc., what then? Do I let my heart be filled with resentment? Do I make excuses for my abusers and not see them clearly? Or do I recognize what is wrong, while still doing what is loving, generous, and right? Fighting my way out comes easy for me. What doesn’t come easy is living under difficult circumstances in such a way that I can forgive others when I am finally released from their influence.

    Gosh, I come out of trouble slugging. That’s my first nature, and I imagine it will be the rest of my life. So, it was really good for me to see a different sort of strength. It stretched me in ways that I needed to be stretched.

    Also, in my life, I see the Prince as Jesus, not a human man. I don’t know that a human being could ever hold the power that the prince holds in this story, and if a human man did have that sort of might, I would probably defy him instead of fall in love with him. But I know that there is a time when the Divine will swoop me up out of the hard things of this earth and bring me into an eternal Kingdom. (I think that identity and reign has already begun, though my eyes are still cloudy, so it’s difficult to see.)

    Anyway, I can see how a feminist reading of this story would find it offensive. However, a lot of those problems dissolve for me when I read Cinderella as humanity (as a whole), the evil stepfamily as negative forces of power in the world, and the pursuit of the prince as the great romance of Jesus.

  28. Deborah (Debbie)

    You know what? This was really good. And I liked it. A lot!!! (I know, I’m being incredibly articulate and interesting in my comment :), but frankly, I’m kind of overwhelmed by what you’ve written. In a good way.)

    By-the-way, I’ve read some of your responses to some of the comments and just have to say, you have a very sensitive and empathic way of responding to other here and I was blessed by it — and I think learned something valuable about my responses to others.

    Bless you!

  29. Mark

    In reference to the top comment, I would just like to point out that “slut” means a dirty or sloppy girl in British English, and that is the older usage.

  30. Angelika

    On the nose.
    Just to start with, though, I love “Shrek”. I find it in equal parts hilarious and profound. The potty humour is actually only a small part of it; you could leave a lot of that out and still have a very funny commentary on modern society, self-esteem, acceptance, redemption, stereotypes etc. “Shrek” is, IMO, not a fairy tale, it’s an engagement with popular culture and storytelling traditions.
    However, I also LOVE this Cinderella movie, for exactly the reason you’re describing. It’s a FAIRY TALE, not a post-modern reimagining of the old stories. I did not grow up with the Disney versions, so do not have the emotional attachment to them as many North Americans do; for me the Grimms’ is *the* variant of the story. But I love how this film combines so many different traditions of this tale – Disney foremost among them, but of course Disney’s source text is primarily Perrault; then there’s the nod to the Grimms, even, as you mentioned, different references to other recent adaptations (there’s a bit of “Ella Enchanted” in it, for one). It’s just a beautiful movie. Now I want to go back and watch it again…

  31. Pete Peterson


    Hey, all. I thought this might be fun. Since there are well over 500 versions of the Cinderella story, here is a link you can use to track some of them down. Some of these are modern adaptations of older stories, but it’s still nice to see what’s available.

    If you are interested in reading just a few of the earliest versions right now, the links below should help. (These were referenced in earlier comments, but sometimes folks don’t scroll up to see what’s been said already.)

    Perrault’s version is what I’ve heard mentioned most often as the “original” in Western folklore, so that is what I sourced in this article. (The essay was too long already without going into the variations of the Cinderella narrative.) However, one of the beautiful things about this story is that it pops up in so many different forms all over the globe. Although I feel like there are core themes that are consistent in most versions of the folktale – I still love seeing what different cultures and times pull out of it. Anyway, if you like research, here are a few online sources to get you started.

    64/63 BC – c. AD 24 Ancient Greek Version – Strabo – (Reference to Rhodopsis around page 94-95, or at note 178.)*.html

    9th Century AD Chinese Version: Ye Xian (!) (There are several versions of this online. This will give you the basic plot.)

    1697 Perrault’s Version:

    1812 Grimm’s Version:

    Have fun reading! 🙂 RR

  32. Megan

    Thank you for your excellent observations and for communicating them so well! I have heard many positive things about the movie, but have not yet had the opportunity to go see it. 🙁 As a lover of fairy tales and good writing, this gives me hope that our culture is still able to recognize truth, good stories, and genuine beauty.

    I appreciate your responses to all the comments, too. Well done! 🙂

  33. Heidi

    I am in awe after reading your thoughts.

    I just took my mom to the movie after first, seeing it previously. I couldn’t get the inspiration out of my head. I thought that seeing it once again might show me some of the error to my thinking after seeing it for the second time. Amazingly, I liked it even more after seeing it again.

    I have two young boys. I REALLY want them to benefit from the theme of this movie, but so far, I don ‘t know if my oldest could sit through the movie (about to be six years old) and get the benefit from it yet?!

    It was wonderful to read your views as well as others views of this amazing movie. My faith in Hollywood, at least for THIS movie, has been restored. I really enjoyed your viewpoint of God and His love for us and the hope that we must hold on to!

  34. Dianne

    It is so true that cynics see trust as naive…thank you for saying that, it helps me understand why someone I love can’t believe…yet. When I think of Jesus overcoming, and being victorious, I have asked myself how did he do that? The answer that comes to mind is humility, love and trusting obedience. Not the typical way to win a war! I am learning that God’s strength gives me confidence in the middle of my weakness. That when the enemy says “you are not enough” I can say “thanks for the reminder” and turn to Jesus for help. That my little five loves and two fish will be enough in God’s hands to feed the thousands. I haven’t seen the movie, but I certainly will now. Thank you for this.

  35. Katy Noelle

    Thank you for your words and thoughts written so clearly. I haven’t seen Cinderella, yet, because of the very same fears that you’ve expressed. You see, it’s my favorite fairytale. Even more, your essay has made me cry. You’ve expressed so well what I feel and vaguely understand. Thank you!


  36. Jennie

    Goodness, but this was a breathtaking read today. Haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ve been hopeful and look forward to it even more now. Good stories never die, though they may lie buried for a time, because they ultimately all point to THE Good Story — to the Prince who became a pauper to win a destitute Bride. We have to work so hard to reject the cynicism of our times, particularly when it comes to raising children who love Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom and are prepared to act with courage and kindness. Thanks so much for this thoughtful piece.

  37. Missy Andrews

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for voicing so articulately the trouble with the present cultural ethos and its potent remedy. God, save us. Restore us. Remind us of the permanent things.

  38. Kim Warner

    Thank you for your thoughts on this subject in particular. Someone posted your blog on FB and curiosity got the better of my followed the “rabbit trail”. Btw, I’m really glad I did! You are very articulate in your thoughts and I can tell you honestly care about what you write and about those who “hear” your thoughts. Cinderella has always been near and dear to my heart, for all the reasons you listed. Yes, I agree that Jesus is the one who will (and has) rescue the fair “maiden”, and make her a queen. I know at the very heart of it all, the “fairy tale” is very valid and is so much a part of our individual stories. This is for sure not just an idealistic notion, but the essence of true REDEMPTION. I really loved your observation and challenge regarding how we carry our hearts in the midst of the trials of life. I want kindness, generosity, courage and hope to always be the fruit that comes from my life. Likewise I want to become proficient at seeing life through the lens of what I do have, rather than what I think I do not to have. I’ve always been a “glass is half-full” kind of girl, so this fits within the scope of how I generally live my life. Reading your thoughts reminds me that I want to be intentional about always living this way. Thanks again for sharing your perspective. I haven’t seen the new Cinderella yet, but am really looking forward to it!

  39. Judith Morris

    The movie was beautiful in so many ways and it hits at the core of what we all want – someone to love us and rescue us. But Cinderella doesn’t ring true for me in the context of Christianity and real life. She was young and beautiful and kind. What about the real people who are more like the step-sisters – hateful and mean and ugly. You’ll never find the prince falling in love with one of them. So Cinderella is depressing to me in regards to hope. But the Gospel – now that’s a true love story! The Prince loves me even though I am hateful and mean and ugly. And some Day . . . He will come and transform me. And that will truly be a happy ending!

  40. Erusse Estelinya

    Thank you Rebecca for this breath of fresh air! And Amber, who felt the connection to George MacDonald. Lovely article, and great following discussion. Our society desperately needs to hear these things, so I hope the discussion continues outside these virtual walls!

    I simply must add a plug for you all to also read another beautiful essay — one that’s near and dear to my own heart — which further explores the very themes Rebecca has so admirably elucidated here: Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories. 🙂 It’s a shackle-breaking and blinder-removing explanation of why the best fairy tales move us so deeply. At risk of spoilers (and yes, the essay is that good!) I would venture to say that it’s because these stories are True — on a far deeper level than mundane and often ugly “fact”. Because they give us a poignant glimpse of the real nature of the story we actually live in — and despite the pain and the hardships, perhaps even more so because of them, it is breathtakingly joyous and glorious. 🙂

    The full text of the essay is available online — On Fairy Stories:

    Note: For a shorter read (since he spends pages on the history and defining characteristics of fairy stories), maybe start at the heading Fantasy (p. 15). Or for just the most thought-provoking points read from the heading Recovery, Escape, Consolation (p.18) through the breathtaking Epilogue.

    Enjoy, and I hope it provokes further healing and restoration!

  41. Armin

    it was a spectacular movie. Took a long time to figure out why. I know now. Cinderella, as presented here, is a metaphor for the Church, the spotless bride of Chrst. And the prince? The Bridegroom. The godmother? Likely the Holy Spirit. Blaise Pascal wrote something to the affect that we have a God-shaped vacuum in our lives. This movie was a reminder of how that vacuum gets filled. Thanks for the insightful blog!

  42. Brian McCarthy

    The movie was poignant for me, for whom happy ever after never happened. Still, a good reminder of how things should be, can be, and sometimes even are even in this fallen world. Have courage and be kind, no matter what.

  43. Sally

    Wonderful! I have been out of college for a long time, and it was thrilling to see you weave together so many cultural elements and philosophies to such a rich end!

  44. SiobhanM

    Rebecca, thank you for beating me to it, and putting words to the beauty of the experience of this movie for me! You have expressed it so well.

    “Why is humanity so driven to create, to tell, to retell this story? Maybe it’s because we are tired of sleeping in the cinders. Maybe it’s because we are all sore from evil stepsisters and from grieving the losses of old comforts. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been courageous or kind, and we wish that we would have been.”

    “…because somewhere along the way, every villain stops believing that happily ever after could apply to him. Losing that one hope changes everything…”

    These are the reasons I was so grateful that someone had the courage to tell this tale today, purely as it is. I believe a hundred percent that we need fairytales today more than ever. Precisely because, as you highlight for us so well, our secular world has imbued us with a sense of cynicism, of doubt, to believe that the surface-level, purely material and man-made world is all there is. It is harder for us, as you also attest to, to conquer this mentality, to be pulled out of it, to take seriously the idyllic “happily ever after” of the fairytale. But it IS what is most true, and we need art that challenges us to remember this.

    “the existence of my thirst indicates that there is also something in the universe to quench it.”

    So true. The other thing our modern culture would have us do is ignore this thirst you speak of, so that we stop looking for things to quench it. Fairytales, good art that holds out to us the existence of a Goodness, Beauty and Truth capable of quenching this thirst therefore become more necessary than ever before, to re-awaken the desire of our hearts for what we have been made for!

    Thank you for this.

  45. Deb PItts

    I am a teacher, training the children who will be the adults of tomorrow. I appreciated your longing for sincerity. I too long for sincerity, and for integrity, for honesty, for humility to be exalted as the goals, the things that we strive to become. I believe if we set the bar high, kids will reach for it. I’m frustrated by public school teachers and administrators who shrug their shoulders, say “that’s just the way kids are”, and let them grovel in bad behavior. I think we can help them reach for the stars. Thank you for your inspiring thoughts.

  46. Glenn

    Lovely piece, Rebecca. Makes me want to drop everything and go see the movie. Beauty has that way, doesn’t it. Like water in a desert. A couple things of note:
    1) The esteemed children’s author Cynthia Rylant has a fabulous picture book version of this fairy tale. It’s “based on the Disney movie” but thankfully includes no mice. When I read it recently, I found myself haunted by the grace-freely-given aspect of the story, which for some reason, I had completely missed before. I must be pretty thick.
    2) Rebecca might not mention this, but I will: she has a delightful short story called “Gurgle and Snot” up at Story Warren right now. While it’s supposed to be for kids, we know better. 🙂 It’s funny and beautiful and profound. Would we expect any less? Link:

  47. Linda

    I enjoyed and appreciated your article on Cinderella. I also enjoyed reading many of the comments and your responses. I’m curious; are you familiar with “The Slipper and the Rose”? It is a movie/musical version of Cinderella that came out in 1978. I love it. For the record, I too am a fan of the Cinderella story, and have seen many versions, including the one with Leslie Ann Warren. I wish I had a recording of that one!

  48. Brandon LeBlanc

    Becca, sleeping beauty was always my favorite too. I think it appealed to me as a boy because it had the only prince that really did anything. Philip had to slay the dragon. Many of the other princes, particularly those in the older movies, seemed so passive.

    The “darkness” in other tellings of Cinderella was not the problem nor is the lack in this one what sets it apart. This movie could just as easily have the sisters disfigure their feet and not lose anything. It’s not the darkness but the subversion of the heroic that modern movies so often use to rob the fairytale of its power. In fact I don’t find this version as candy coated as the animated movie and it is all the better for it. The mistreatment of Ella is far more callous, and as we see the part of story that is glossed over in the animated version we feel the depth of her loss more. Similarly, both the Prince and Stepmother are much less 1 dimensional. They are not caricatures. The stepmother is deeply wounded by the death of her first husband and then again by how she “stacks up” to the memory of Ella’s mother and Ella herself. And it is exactly because we can identify with her pain as well as Ella’s that we can draw the distinction between the good and the bad in the way they respond to suffering. Similarly, the Prince is taken by Ella BEFORE he sees her dolled up for the ball and taken with her character as much as her beauty. And he is active in her pursuit. He also enters into deep conversation with his father and cares about the well-being of the kingdom in a way we never see in the animated version.

    I am grieved by Sylvia’s interpretation, not because it is wrong, but because it is sadly such a reality in this world. Many receive abuse and there is no one in this life that will step in to save them from it. However, if you believe in Christ the prince WILL come. In fact he has come and will come again in glory. Does that mean we should not fight against abuse and tyranny in this life? Absolutely not. But for Cinderella to fight back or to run would have been to turn her back on all she held dear. Give up on promises to both her mother and father regarding their home. Give up on the only friends, animals they may be, that she had in this life. She bore the mistreatment out of strength of character not a timid, broken spirit. She clung to hope that she could keep her promises and protect those who could not protect themselves; she did NOT cling to hope of magically becoming a princess. And it is because she put first things first that she gets both first things and second things. A fairytale, or any good story, isn’t great because it points to what will be true in this life if we follow the script. It’s great because it points to what will be true in eternity if we follow Christ.

    Lisa, I also have to disagree with your assessment of the relationship between the King and the Prince. The Prince does not simply rebel against the King (unlike some of the more sugar coated AND deconstructionist versions of fairytales). He is in fact in constant dialogue with the King. He also holds back when she runs from the castle because it could be a trap which would injure the Kingdom. And ultimately the King doesn’t command him, but asks him “what if I commanded you” to marry for convenience/expedience. The Prince says he loves him, but could not. Because they BOTH realize this would be wrong the King is proud of him. In fact he tells the Prince to find her. As a father (who is decidedly not God) of a son (who is not Jesus) I hope that I can someday be proud of my son becoming a man and making decisions on based on what is right, just like this King was. I find this very different from say Ariel in The Little Mermaid who openly defies her father causing pain for everyone, then gets what she wants anyway. And I certainly don’t see Ella selfishly pursuing her love or the throne. She starts off seeking only to visit her new friend, a tradesman, at the ball. And ultimately is willing to not only give up love and the throne but remain imprisoned rather than subject the Prince, and by extension the Kingdom, to the Stepmother’s rule. And she ends with forgiveness whether the Stepmother wants it or not.

    Judith, Ella is young and beautiful but so are the step sisters in this version (albeit incredibly gaudy in their attire). Even the Stepmother in this version was a beautiful woman. But they were all hard of heart. Had they not been then, they would have ended up in the castle even if it wasn’t married to the Prince/King. In fact had they not been so hard of heart they would have found all they longed for, financial security, position, and favorable marriages. And luckily in the Real King’s eyes we are all young, beautiful maidens (even lumpy middle aged men like me!) and we can enjoy all the castle has to offer if only we will turn our hearts from darkness toward the King.

  49. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I had not been planning to see the movie, but will now plan on taking my (local) grandchildren.

    You should really send the link to this discussion to Kenneth Branagh and the producers. They need to be encouraged that what they did here was important, and should be done again.

  50. Diana Trautwein

    I loved this movie! We took our two granddaughters (9 and 5) to see it on Saturday afternoon, and I was mesmerized. I’m a retired pastor and a story-lover, but I never even made it to the metaphorical application of Christ/church/Holy Spirit. I simply loved it. It was beautiful, hopeful, true. And in my book, that’s the kind of thing that can help us re-anchor ourselves in Truth, whether we make the direct application or not. I loved reading through all the comments – thanks everyone.

  51. Maili

    Beautiful and moving post! I was in tears at the end. Cinderella has always been my favorite of the fairy tales with which I’m familiar, and I am glad to learn of many other versions of it. I learned something about myself at the end of the movie when my mental response to the stepmother was very different than Ella’s (trying to avoid a spoiler). I can learn much from her in my feelings and treatment of others.

    Also, I have very much enjoyed all the comments and your responses to them. Thank you all for sharing.

  52. Mari Ann Spoelstra

    Wonderful movie that we all thoroughly enjoyed. I agree completely with this review.

  53. Owen

    Thank you, Rebecca. Wonderful analysis and apologetic for why unabashed smiles, tears and throat lumps abounded during new Cinderella! Great background teaching, too. But the most insightful phrase for me was regarding the effect of coarse humor: “When you hear it, you laugh first, and then you are sad you laughed, because crude humor feels like despair after it settles.” Wow.

  54. Jerome

    Thanks for this, and all for your comments. I’m reminded of Eldredge’s little book “Epic.”

  55. Rachel

    Thank you so much! I cried reading this. Isn’t so sad that it’s so hard to hold on to this kind of thinking?

  56. Brandon LeBlanc

    Jerome, I love “Epic”. Its good to remind ourselves we are living in Act 3…so much is yet unresolved!

  57. LaDonna Bailey

    Reminds me of a story “The Day the Magic Died.” Maybe we can bring it back on an individual basis. It may be too late to hope it will be brought back for everyone.

  58. Jen Rose Yokel

    So, random additional thought. Another thing I appreciate about this story: The Prince is an actual character instead of the one-dimensional story device. Even as a little girl watching all these Disney films, the princes were never that interesting. (Except Phillip in Sleeping Beauty because he literally fought a dragon to save her. Also, that dragon terrified me.)

    I was thinking that it is refreshing to see a leading male character who is a good person… who has a loving, respectful relationship with his father, even when they disagree, and who cares about Ella before seeing her at the ball, even with ashes and tears on her face. It occurs to me he didn’t have to go into physical battle for her, but he showed gentleness when she needed it and dedication to finding her. (And she thought he was just a servant, so it’s not like she was seeing him as a rich guy to help her escape.)

    Is it just me, or does it seem like men are often portrayed negatively in culture, like we should always be suspicious of them? Like Rebecca, I also was fortunate to grow up with the influence of good men, but I was also reminded quite a bit that not everyone was so fortunate. So I am sensitive to the “damsel in distress passively taking abuse” reading of Cinderella. But it’s also nice to see characters who have motives and personalities beyond their stock roles, but don’t take away from the fairy tale simplicity or make you constantly expect some sudden reversal. (I still haven’t gotten over Hans in Frozen… haha.)

    Anyway. Rabbit trail. Yesterday I was talking about Cinderella with a friend, and then this morning ended up back here reading the comments and that came to mind. 🙂

  59. Heidi Erickson

    Thank you, Rebecca. 🙂

    I loved this movie, too. I was cynical at first as well, but as the movie went on, it was just so beautiful, almost too much to believe. And I found myself tearing up and crying the whole way through. When it was over, I couldn’t place it, but I felt that it was somehow great even though it was so simple. And the more I thought about it and as the evening wore on, the movie stayed with me and somehow grew more powerful. I hate to say the word “inspiring” due to its overuse…but I found and find I must. 🙂 I remember saying something a day or two afterwards (with some inward trepidation) about Cinderella striking me as the Captain America for Disney Princesses. My brother looked at me strangely…but he does that a lot anyway. 😉

  60. Kristi Craig

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. When I saw it I remember just being in awe of how good I felt after — I wanted to be a better person, and I felt like I had just been taught how: have courage and be kind. I don’t understand how anyone could walk away from that film and only be concerned about it being idealized, or how tiny Lily James’ waist was.



    Thank you Rebecca! What a talent you have for writing! I to was amazed that such a movie would be made in this day and age, and ohhhh sooooo GRATEFUL!

    Cinderella loved the animals, they loved her back and absorbed her pain. I was taken in memory as Cindrella galloped her horse-I could relate-I KNEW that horse was absorbing her pain just as my horse did many times in a very hard childhood. Yes, I had a horse-and other animals that loved me and gave me affection in a place where affection with touch and words was mostly non-existent among my human family members. Thank goodness for the animals! Truly, as Karen Carpenter sang, “Bless the Beasts and the Children!”

    Also, what you wrote about Shrek was very validating to me, as truly, my Spirit shrunk in Shrek-so I didn’t finish watching it-I left, as it hurt something inside of me-and yet I was scorned for being hurt and leaving. Truly, as you said, Darkness hates Light.

    And yes, as you said, a villian loses hope, he stops believing that happily ever after could apply to him. I am so grateful for eternal truths, that allow me to know that this mortal existence is only a small part of the whole existence, that we are here to learn-and sometimes, the happily ever after does not come in this life; but there are always ALWAYS tender mercies from God along the way, if we have a open, hopeful heart.

    Thanks again, Rebecca, for sharing your intuitive talent and Light with us.

    Diana Larsen

  62. Arctic

    The movie was nice, but boring. It fell flat from what it could have been precisely because the story remained so largely unchanged. It has beautiful religious allegories, true, and that’s probably why the tale has lasted so long. Ella is kind and pure and sunshine in an I’ve-never-made-a-mistake kind of way. While this is great for the church and for Christ, it doesn’t speak to me. I don’t see myself in Cinderella because I have made mistakes, but I want to be good, too. My most fervent wish in Cinderella was to see myself somewhere inside the story, and I didn’t. If one of the ‘evil’ stepsisters had been touched by Cinderella’s kindness, if one of them had said, ‘I will pass on a message to your gardener friend’, or had asked if Cinderella could be included (and the evil step mother would say no so the plot stayed accurate), if in some way I’d seen myself, Cinderella would have been infinitely more enjoyable.

  63. Thwarthwimple

    I’m at one surprised and not surprised to do a wordsearch after so many comments have been posted and find the word “Israel” absent on the page.

    I think the reason the Cinderella (and Sleeping Beauty) stories (there are others) speak so powerfully to our spirits is that they are a re-telling of another story.

    Cinderella can be seen as Israel, held captive by an Egyptian or Babylonian step-mother who hopes to usurp her role as the bride of Christ. But Israel has a fairy godmother (call her God as the Holy Ghost) who can work wonders on her behalf. With God’s help, Israel is endowed with finery which conveys her innate graces to the prince (Christ). Try as they might, the Babylonian/Egyptian usurpers cannot separate Israel from the love of her Christ. Christ comes looking for Israel (the Prince for Cinderella), and Israel has the tokens of His priesthood to prove herself at the moment of highest need. Cinderella weds the Prince in the end, which is another way of saying Israel enters the Kingdom of God after her trials are concluded.

    This narrative core rests at the root of so many fairy tales. It’s in Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel (with Adam and Eve), and Snow White. They symbols in these stories endure and speak to deeply to us because they convey divine truths. God waits behind the symbols, for generations sometimes, and in any faithful telling of the story can be seen.

    Run through the fairy tales and see if you can’t see it now– look for Christ’s true bride, being held captive by Babylon or Egypt, and needing divine help (so often given by birds) to recover and then reveal her good self. Look for Adam and Eve, for communion in meals, for exchange of priesthood rites and tokens. It’s there; it’s precious. C.S. Lewis thoughtfully crafted stories to win children to Christ on the sly; the Brothers Grimm unwittingly participated in the same enterprise.

    Kenneth Branaugh may not know all he did, but in doing so he’s done a service to God and to all who may seek Him.

  64. Mike Labor

    Bingo! You said, with far more clarity my “take” on the film. I kept waiting for the kick to the stomach, and it didn’t show? Thanks for being human!

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