This blog was originally posted on the LA FPI (Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative) website.
Last Friday was rough. For a lot of reasons. Just a rough day.
And then, surprise! A package came in the mail and it was the Disney dvd of Cinderella, a longtime desire for me to own. Being named Cindy, Cinderella was an obvious nickname (even though it was longer than my name, so probably doesn’t qualify within the strictest of definitions). I was Cinderella for Halloween, fiercely desired her to be brunette, and the default gifts when no one knew what to get me – Cinderella swag.
My parents even went so far as to commission a Cinderella travelling up the hill to the Prince’s castle cake for their version of my wedding reception. It was a pretty good rendition, even if a little crooked, causing us to speed up dinner so the castle wouldn’t fall before we cut it.
I’d also become really interested in the Cinderella story with recent re-watches of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, where her name is Sapsorrow. More on that later, but let’s just say I understand why the father is usually minimal if ever in the stories we hear more recently, since they’re almost made to commit incest.
It’s no secret I am stocking up on my movie collection to show my future son or daughter. But now….not so sure.
It’s a perfectly fun little tale as told by Disney, and certainly in line with the time it was made. I remembered of course, that it wasn’t as dark as Sapsorrow, who is almost forced to marry her father, runs away to become a scullery maid in the palace (undercover as an incredibly hairy ‘thing’), meets the Prince first as this creature and teaches him some lessons in true beauty before revealing herself to also be the woman he’s adored these last three nights at the ball.
The Prince in Sapsorrow actually has an arc. As opposed to what’s-his-name-but-yeah-he’s-a-good-dancer. As a viewer of Sapsorrow, I didn’t really like this Prince at first, and
changed my mind as his character changed. That’s brilliant storytelling.
Disney struggled with both the animation and characters of princes in their first movies (Snow White commentary captures this beautifully), and choosing to fluff the story with mice and cats and dogs certainly worked for me as a child. As short as her back-story is in Once Upon a Time, that Cinderella’s motive was more out of the desire to leave her horrid life than love. Disney has the fairy godmother, Sapsorrow has no such thing in Jim Henson’s version, and in OUAT, Ella’s fairy godmother is snuffed out by Rumplestiltskin, causing her to make an oath it seems she never really plans to keep. At that point, she doesn’t even know the Prince will fall in love with her; Ella just thinks one night at a ball will make her feel better about her dreary life.
I just come out of the whole thing much more a Sapsorrow fan than any other. I haven’t even begun to dig into all the versions that Once Upon a Blog details, and for some reason, the Cinderella in Into the Woods didn’t really factor into my thinking on her character. I know that I thoroughly approved of her giving her Prince the door once she heard of his cheating. I never liked stories where someone takes back a cheater, male or female.
I don’t plan on not showing my future child the Disney movie. I just think s/he will see Sapsorrow soon after, or even before watching Disney’s. I remember being scared out of my mind by some of those Jim Henson’s The Storyteller episodes, and also know how they enriched my feelings on fairy tales and telling stories.
Since I love hearing different versions of the same story, I’ll open these variations for discussion if my child has questions, and encourage us to find more and even write our own stories. I guess it’s never too early to learn that you change the story based on your own point-of-view or audience, or that you have control over stories you want to tell, just by speaking them out loud or picking up a pen.
Update: This was written before I gave birth to my son. I’ve since learned that Disney tweaked their story for a post war world. This explains why royalty is decked out in military fantasy gear and virtue, doing good, being good, prevails above evil.
And my son did watch the Disney’s Cinderella first, and he adored the mice and music and cat and dog. He danced along and got very worried when she ran down the paalce stairs just after midnight. So, not surprising, Disney and his story team really knew what they were doing.