How Cinderella Made Me Believe in Magic

By Thursday, July 09, 2015 ,

Admittedly, I usually carry a hint of skepticism, even if it’s the barest hint, when I see a new fairytale movie. Whether it’s a new story, like Frozen was, or another adaptation of an old one, like Kenneth Branagh's new Cinderella, I get nervous. Rebecca Reynolds over at The Rabbit Room helped me understand this tendency through her wonderful article, “The Audacity of Cinderella.”  Bookmark that one for sure. What I’m going to say here is in a similar vein to her thoughts, but I hope it helps to further show what a gem this Cinderella is

Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella
{Via AlphaCoders}
I’ve previously written about my general reactions to this Cinderella, but I’ve now seen it more than once and discussed it with friends. I now understand better why it stirred my heart and mind so much. As I mentioned above, fairytales have a tender spot with me these days. As a child, I loved fairytales and Disney movies. But with growing up came exposure to the world’s cynicism. People condemn Disney movies for avoiding reality and giving little girls false hopes and expectations. And now, in many cases, creators seem to bend to those criticisms. They’ll maybe make the female characters smarter than the male ones (Kristoff from Frozen, in some moments), take away the innocence with crude joking (Shrek), hint that life is only harsh reality (several hints in Enchanted), and sometimes shout loudly that girls don’t need a man (Brave).

So I was nervous as I watched this new adaptation of the classic Cinderella tale for the first time. I was expecting to be pleased, but there was still a slight guard up. Maybe the stepsisters or stepmother would slide in some innuendo about catching the prince’s eye at the ball. Perhaps some vulgar humor would pop up through the mice or other farm animals. And mostly, I was afraid Cinderella might make an assertive, snarky comment or tell the prince she didn’t need saving. But none of it ever came. It was as if the film was inviting me into the classic innocence, freshness, beauty, and magic of every fairytale I’d grown up watching. It was as if it was saying: Come. Relax. Innocence and truth are not gone completely.

And they aren’t. This Cinderella reminded me that innocence and hope and truth are real. It doesn’t gloss over that life can deal harsh hands. Cinderella endures unspeakable cruelty from her stepmother and stepsisters. But the film still pleads with you not to lose hope as Cinderella clings to her mother’s exhortation to “have courage and be kind.” She does have courage and exudes kindness and gentleness. That is her strength. The film gracefully suggests that retaliation and sass are maybe not always the solution. Lily James is radiantly beautiful as Cinderella, but the film’s focus on the character’s kind heart powerfully brings inner beauty to the surface, making her shine even more in some way. She’s innocent, fresh, and sweet, and doesn’t let her stepfamily crush her hope and belief in goodness. In excellent contrast, the stepmother is harsh and cruel because she doesn’t hope. She’s stopped believing in happily ever after, as we find out from a chilling scene in which she describes life as a harsh, unforgiving master who never gives anything without payment. But Cinderella bravely resists the cold speech, insisting that love is free.
Lily James as Cinderella
{Via HD WallpapersImages}
Why have we bought into the mindset of the villain? Why are we so cynical? That’s what Cinderella made me think about. In it, this simple fairytale is offered up so humbly, so innocently, and so purely that my defenses were crumbled by the end. Everything is told without caveat or sarcasm, and that kind of sincerity is so rare now that I think at first I wasn’t sure what to do with it. In the name of caution, modern critics declare that there’s no such thing as true love, that hope is a foolish grasp at avoiding reality, and that nothing is given freely. But Cinderella dares to call them all wrong. It says that a simple servant girl can be the most beautiful girl at the ball and win the heart of the prince. It says that rags can turn to the most exquisite dress imaginable. And perhaps most importantly, it says that a dirty servant girl can captivate the prince not only when she’s transformed into a beautiful princess, but that he will love her in her rags as well. That he’ll take her as she is – a poor, humble maid covered in ash. It’s one of the most poignant moments in the film as Cinderella walks downstairs to try on the glass slipper. The fairy godmother narrates,

“Would who she was really be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take – to be seen as we truly are.”

Cinderella whispers to the tired, cynical heart that it is enough. It implores you to believe. And here, I cannot improve upon Rebecca Reynolds, so I’ll leave you with words from her article.

“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’…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.”

Lily James and Richard Madden in Cinderella
{Via FanPop}
*I do not own the rights to the photos in this post. All photos used were retrieved from credited Internet sources*

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