Ah, the Charming Prince
Charming because he's tall and handsome, and Prince as the son of an authoritarian figure, powerful and rich enough to guarantee a material comfort and young enough to have no responsibilities whatsoever and full time to have fun with his beloved one
well, there's a reason why this myth is still persistent in many girls' minds.
But let's not get too cynical, I guess there is another reason why "Cinderella" is one of the most famous and universally appealing stories, beyond the originality of the plot with the famous midnight strokes and the fancy ball dress, there is a simple and inspirational message. On the surface, it's about a young beautiful girl who'll get the Charming Prince thanks to something that makes her completely unique, but we all know it's the fairy tale definition of the wags to riches concept that paved the way to many underdog stories, providing hope for both women and men. Capra owes a lot to "Cinderella", "Rocky" is a 'Cinderella' story and it's not surprising that such a feel-good tale ended up being adapted into the (how fitting) twelfth animated Disney film, in 1950.
Now, is it accidental or logical that Walt Disney's "Cinderella" got itself the ninth place in the American Film Institute's Top 10 Animated films? I'm inclined to say both, not to diminish the merit of the film, but just to remind that there were many other Disney animated features that deserved this place, "The Jungle Book", "Sleeping Beauty" to say the least, or how about "The Little Mermaid" or even a forgotten classic non-Disney film titled "Gulliver's Travels"? Yes, there is an interesting divergence between the film's recognition and cultural status and its content, which is relatively banal considering the glorious collection of animated masterpieces the Disney Studios provided. I'm not saying I'm not a fan of "Cinderella", but I might be biased because my favorite version will forever be from Tex Avery, I'm talking of the legendary "Swing Shift Cinderella", which always made me howl of laughter.
I also was never a big fan of Disney princess-themed films, which I thought were too formulaic and never contributed to something new since "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Anyway, I had the recent opportunity to watch both "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella" and somewhere while viewing the second, I had to reconsider my opinion because something was strangely appealing to me I couldn't point my finger in. Was it Jacques and Gus, the funny little mice? Maybe. Was it the scene-stealing sequence featuring the Fairy Godmother, the pumpkin carriage and the unforgettable Boobiddy-boos? Probably. Or was it the intimidating Stepmother, Lady Tremaine and her shadowy bitchy look? Yes, I guess so. But still, we can find the same elements in other Disney classics. So I finally realized that the secret in "Cinderella" simply depended on the appeal of its titular character.
In many aspects, Cinderella embodies the same condition than Snow White, but there is something fresh and modern in her personality that appears right in the first scene, she's not overly romantic and she doesn't take her work as a servant without detachment, even humor
where am I going with that? Simply that we never feel sorry for "Cinderella", as she's not portrayed like a victim, something intelligently hinted in the early scenes. Take the first confrontation with the stepmother, when she's unfairly punished: Cinderella's eyes betray a feeling of true anger, anything but a desire to cry. When she learns that she might be the bride, she's so hypnotized by love that a beautiful smile enlightens her face, and she looks incredibly sensual. "Cinderella" is modern by today's standards without the archetypal free- spiritedness disguising a real spoiled personality a la Ariel or Jasmine. Cinderella is modern because she is practical.
This is important because the obligatory supporting characters fulfill their roles, the stepmother and her ugly daughters are the perfect contrast for Cinderella but the movie mostly works because it didn't forget to have a central character, realistic enough to inspire our empathy and needful enough to give the characters a moment to shine, whether it's from the precious help from the cute chipmunk-like talking mice or the providential help of Bruno, the brave dog. And another interesting thing about Cinderella is that for once, it doesn't need dragons, or killings to be entertaining, and although the last act is set in a house, it's an efficiently suspenseful climax, carried by the memorable character of the Grand Duke who's charged to try the shoes on every eligible girl.
The Grand Duke is an important character not just for his comical pairing with the King, but also for the way he inspires the most evil action from the stepmother, when she makes him fall and break the shoe, her look says a lot about how she doesn't give a damn about one's life as one of the most truly despicable villains from a Disney film (who'd call a cat Lucifer anyway?) and coincidentally It also allows the heroine to own her by giving the other shoe, which was already proving that she was the one. The close-up on the stepmother's face at that very moment is the highlight of the film as it finally puts an end to Cinderella's torment. The film doesn't forget to be a fairy tale, yes it's all about the myth of the Charming Prince, but the key that forges Cinderella's appeal is that she's not a passive character.
And they lived happily after
despite the predictable conclusion, "Cinderella" remains a timeless classic that gets in fact, better after each viewing, so there's no use to ask what the secret of Cinderella's charm is, the answer is in the question. It's precisely the unique charm of a universally, timelessly and (might I add) physically appealing character.
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