I'd like to talk about Cinderella. In-depth? Definitely. Over-analyzation? Possibly. Super entertaining? Absolutely.
Cinderella, like many of the original Disney princesses, is stereotypically written off as a damsel-in-distress who takes no action in making her own happily-ever-after. Many people with whom I have conversed about Cinderella (especially with the new movie coming out in 2015) consider the figure a bad role model for young girls because she doesn't take her destiny into her own hands, and, as usual, there's the whole "saved by a prince" issue (although it is interesting that Cinderella is still one of the most popular fairy tales ever).
It is technically true that Cinderella's happily-ever-after is thanks in large part to her fairy godmother and her handsome prince, but does she really deserve the reputation she seems to have as that of a weak-willed damsel who needs someone else to intervene for her in order to make her life better? If you read the title of this post, and know my history of defending the Disney princesses, you probably know the argument I'm going to make (and also no one ever asks a “but does this mean" question without having a refutation prepared).
Now, when Cinderella’s father dies and her stepmother becomes head of household, Cinderella is only a little girl. As a grief-stricken child, she wouldn’t necessarily have the power or mindset to refute her stepmother’s complete usurpation of the household. After all, until now, Lady Tremaine has been her mother figure, and presumably nice until Cinderella's father died, since the opening narration is all like, "It was upon the untimely death of this good man, however, that the stepmother's true nature was revealed."
Were there any servants in the household loyal to her father, they might fight for Cinderella's right to become head of household since she was technically her father's heir, but even then young Cinderella would need a regent or something, in all logic her stepmother; and if there were any such servants to begin with Lady Tremaine probably fired them immediately (really a very good strategy).
So if a young Cinderella was told by her current mother figure, who she trusted up to this point, that her place in the household was now as a servant, she wouldn’t necessarily refute it. Plus, Lady Tremaine is terrifying:
It's hard to refuse a woman as frightening and intimidating as Lady Tremaine, who I think is an extremely underrated Disney villain, especially for a child as young and vulnerable as Cinderella. Even as she grows up and starts to realize she has basically been made a slave, she has little power to do anything about it. If she staunchly refuses to do anything (and again, Lady Tremaine is freaking terrifying), there are three of them versus one of her. They do resort to physical violence twice in the movie, the first being when the stepsisters rip apart her dress and the second when Lady Tremaine locks her in her room (and keeping Cinderella somewhere against her will totally constitutes physical violence).
So Cinderella has to carefully navigate an emotionally and physically threatening stepfamily with no one to back her up except the mice, birds, and Bruno, who can't do much in the way of protecting Cinderella, as much as they love her and help her in other ways.
So why doesn’t Cinderella just leave? This is the strongest point people make against Cinderella; that she could easily not stand for such subjugation by simply standing up for herself and leaving. And she could totally leave and get a job...but, judging by the time period, it would probably be as a maid somewhere else. True, the living and working conditions would most assuredly be better, but I don’t think Cinderella wants to leave. Now that she's older, she probably understands this is her house, and although she also understands she can’t just completely take over, she also refuses to leave (except at the end, which I'll get to later), because leaving her home because of a bitchy stepfamily who has no right to be there would be tantamount to giving up, breaking down, and abandoning the last shreds of herself.
Seriously, look at how strong she is the entire time. The straight posture and quiet dignity she adopts in front of Lady Tremaine as she talks back to her scary stepmother:
…the way she obligatorily takes care of Lucifer but doesn’t take any of his crap…
...she fights for her right to go to the ball...(and since I can't fit the quote in the caption box, it's "After all, I'm still a member of the family...and it says 'by royal command, every eligible maiden is to attend.")
…and, most indicative of her inner strength and what makes her so very Cinderella, the way she doesn’t stop dreaming.
I get the whole "dreaming isn't doing" thing, and that a more proactive Cinderella would be really cool, but given her situation, dreaming is about all she can do. Keeping your hopes up and dreaming of a better life has got to be hard when you literally have to save your best friends from being eaten every day by a cat named after the devil. And yet she still manages to keep her spirits up, until she's like this:
And then this:
And then this:
And then this:
And then this:
And finally this:
Seriously. Those bitches.
So yeah, Cinderella runs outside and sobs on a bench because her abusive family just ferociously tore apart her dress (HER MOTHER'S DRESS), and subsequently her one chance at a better future (and at the very least a night out). And then her fairy godmother shows up and makes everything better. But the reason she shows up is because Cinderella is awesome:
Cinderella on her bench, in between quiet sobs: "It's just no use...no use at all...I can't believe, not anymore...there's nothing left to believe in...nothing..."
Fairy Godmother, having just magically appeared and stroking Cinderella's hair: "Nothing, my dear? Oh, now, you don't really mean that."
Cinderella: "Oh, but I do."
Fairy Godmother: "Nonsense, child. If you'd lost all your faith, I couldn't be here. And here I am!"
Before I go on, I just want to add that I just re-watched this scene and I had forgotten that "A Dream is a Wish" replays in the background while the Godmother appears out of those magic blue sparkles, and it's really magical.
If Cinderella had blindly accepted her fate and let herself be emotionally and mentally trampled by her stepfamily, the fairy godmother wouldn’t be able to appear. It's because of Cinderella's inner strength that her godmother is able to use her magic to give her the ball gown that's wonderful but-less-awesome-than-the-one-the-mice-made-for-her, and the carriage to get to the ball, and the chance for this to happen:
Even if she and the Prince didn't hit it off (although I like to think it was destiny and that the Fairy Godmother knew it), Cinderella still would have won, because she still got to go to the ball despite her stepfamily's best efforts to the contrary. It's because of Cinderella that the magic that made this possible even exists. And that’s why Cinderella is strong and why she does have a say in her own destiny; and subsequently why she is a bad-ass.
Now, she does eventually leave her home? Yeah, but it’s for true love, not out of abandonment, or fear, or surrender. And yeah, it bothers me that she presumably never got her house back, but my own personal head canon is that the Prince uses his royal powers to revoke Cinderella’s stately chateau from the stepfamily and add it to Cinderella’s holdings. Like a boss.
On the leaving-her-home-for-true-love note, I’d also like to acknowledge this whole "he doesn't have a personality" thing. Sure, he’s only got like two lines in the whole movie, but I've always thought he gathered a little bit of character from that first scene we see him in.
First off, we see him bowing to the young ladies approaching him at the ball, with this lack of expression on his face:
Now, I think this lack of expression denotes a lack of passion rather than a lack of personality. I think he's bored, since he's literally standing in one place while endless women approach him in a monotonous court ritual, backed up by what he does here:
His eyes are distinctly looking upwards, where his father is sitting in the royal box. He totally knows what’s going on, and I think this is him offering a subtle I-know-what-you're-doing dig at his dad. So we have a Prince who finds stuffy, formal situations boring, who can tell this specific one is contrived, who makes no secret to his father (even if his father doesn’t catch it) that he both doesn’t like it and he knows it’s contrived, and despite all this, still remains chivalrous to the young ladies endlessly approaching him because he knows it’s his duty.
But of course, the moment he experiences that Disney-love-at-first-sight thing, he knows duty falls second to the new love of his life.
I find him endearing and romantic and more than just a pretty face, but admittedly I can’t defend that he doesn’t go looking for Cinderella himself except for hey, fairy tales.
So in short, Cinderella is a bad-ass because of her quiet dignity and inner strength, which helps her not just eventually overcome adversity, but cope with it. Which can be just as important. And I think that's a factor in Cinderella's extreme popularity.
As a closing note just because I'm thinking about it, has anyone noticed that media and marketing blond-isize Cinderella? Her hair is actually a darker blonde, more strawberry blonde, but dolls and promotional pictures show her as a light blonde.
Why is her merchandise so blonde when that's not even her real hair color? Why did they change her bangs to distinctly less charming and boring side bangs? And why would they give her a pink background and a rose when that is clearly Aurora's thing?
These are important questions, people.