Cinderella has taken a beating in the last forty-odd years. The animated classic first released in 1950 has been criticized for everything from racism, to sexism, and impossible-to-emulate, Barbie-like image mongering. She has been lampooned, ridiculed and dismissed as irrelevant in this, the age of gender bending equivalency.
Yet she keeps coming back, ever popular with girls of every generation. Ever wonder why that is?
Of course there’s the legendary Disney brilliance and creativity. Movie-making excellence abounds in this live act out version. But Disney’s newest vision of one its oldest classics is a delight to both the eyes and the heart. And it’s the heart that really matters, the values at the core of the story revealed in plot and pictures.
Innocence is there, along with generosity, shining in glory against the narcissistic backdrop of stepsister greed. Childlike goodness too perseveres amidst adult cruelty, subtle and profound. Cinderella’s loyalty to family and home, her determination to keep the promises she made at whatever the cost serves as solid foundation, something that promises to outlast the grasping desperation of her bankrupt stepmother.
But the spirit of Cinderella, the force that continues to drive her appeal sixty-five years after her debut, is made of three things: beauty, kindness, and courage.
As Douglas S. O’Donnell says, “Biblically speaking, beauty is like a cut rose. It’s worth beholding even though you know it is withering away. It’s worth beholding even though its thorns can prick. It’s worth beholding because the flower’s beauty in that moment points to the beauty of, not Mother Nature, but of Father God.” Cinderella’s exquisite joy as her tattered dress transforms into a beautiful ball gown is a testimony of the goodness of beauty, of truly feminine beauty, that points us to the beauty of God. Something inside the souls of little girls, indeed inside all of us, knows that.
Something else we intuit, that drives Cinderella’s appeal, is that the beauty isn’t only skin deep. Some women are physically beautiful, but hard, like Cate Blanchette’s version of the stepmother in this film. Others are attractive but frail, brittle, unable to bear the brutalities of life. Cinderella is radiant, shining with courage and kindness that comes from within. That isn’t an easy thing to portray on film, and Lily James does it to perfection.
As we see in Cinderella, these values come with a cost. The world envies true beauty, and tries to destroy it. It takes advantage of kindness, and abuses it. And it seeks to overwhelm courage, to defeat it. I want to urge you, whether you are a very young girl, seeing Cinderella for the first time, or a very experienced grown up, never give up on beauty, kindness, and courage. Having been married to a real Cinderella for over thirty years, I can tell you, they are worth it.