Cinderella is often seen as a damsel in distress, but her courage in the face of abuse proves she is as valiant as any modern Disney princess.
The protagonist of Disney’s animated Cinderella (1950) deserves the same respect as the company’s more modern princesses. These more recent heroines are often regarded as better role models for children; meanwhile, Disney’s early princesses, such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella are condemned as outdated–poor examples of what present-day audiences should look up to. However, Cinderella is just as admirable and heroic as these newer princesses.
Cinderella is Disney’s 12th animated film and, at the time, its greatest commercial success since Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Since then, however, the film has been criticized for having a static heroine who waits for other people to save her. She is looked down on as being weak and unable to stand up for herself. This was particularly prevalent when more modern movies like Frozen received praise for phrases like “You can’t marry a man you just met,” which appears to poke fun at the arcs assigned to these older Disney heroines.
It is true that Cinderella doesn’t ride off to war, shoot arrows with deadly accuracy, have ice powers, or navigate the ocean to confront ancient gods. But very few people do–and the mundane nature of the evil that everyday people face doesn’t make their bravery in facing that evil any less important than the bravery of confronting a malevolent god. Cinderella’s indomitable spirit in the face of years of abuse makes her a character worth admiring.
Cinderella is orphaned as a young child, putting her in a position of total dependence on her stepfamily. Meanwhile, that same stepfamily despises her and, taking advantage of her dependence, deprives her of an education, abusing her and forcing her to be their household servant. She has no way to get out of her situation, and nowhere she could run to. Additionally, the clothing, architecture, and visible gas lamps in the film indicate that Cinderella takes place in the 19th century–making it even more difficult for her since she is a woman (specifically, one who is forcibly sequestered and knows nothing about the world). Mulan is rightfully praised for her heroic moments and bravery, and for running away from her family to join the army in her father’s stead. Cinderella has no such option, especially since the draft provides Mulan with an opportunity to leave–opportunity that Cinderella never has. Additionally, though Cinderella does not engage in literal battle with an enemy army, she battles with the daily reality of being despised and mistreated by the people who are supposed to love her like family.
Cinderella’s bravery manifests itself in the fact that, despite her abusive situation, she continues to believe in herself and others, is kind, and maintains a positive outlook on life. She is criticized for needing a man to solve her problems, but this isn’t true–before and after meeting both the prince and her fairy godmother, Cinderella bears the sole weight of her troubles quietly and competently every day. It’s cathartic that Cinderella finds an ideal soulmate with the Prince because such a genuinely kind person should be happy. Even so, she didn’t go to the ball for him, nor did she know that they would meet and fall in love: She wanted to go in order to take a break from the drudgery of her everyday life.
Rapunzel, a modern princess, has also been trapped all her life in a position of complete dependence. Because of this, she needs the more worldly Flynn Rider to help her–yet rarely is Rapunzel accused of being reliant on a man. Merida and Moana, meanwhile, are raised in loving families, and Merida’s family even teaches her to physically defend herself. Cinderella has none of these advantages that the princesses of the more recent decades possess. Though Cinderella‘s battle is fought on a smaller scale, that doesn’t mean that the conflict isn’t just as real, or that its protagonist isn’t just as valiant.
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