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The Disney and Grimm Brothers Cinderellas, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1356

Essay

Introduction

It is inevitable that, when two or more creative forces present the same story, different interpretations are presented.  These differences typically rely on cultural backgrounds, the eras in which the story is told, and the perspectives of the creators, all of which factors powerfully influence the work.  Then, transferring a written property to another medium usually translates to a reinvention of the material.  A striking example of how these factors significantly alter a story may be found in the 1950 Disney animated film, Cinderella, and the Brothers Grimm fable of the  same name.   Writing from a very different epoch and for what was essentially a completely different world, the Grimms presented a moralistic fable, and one with dark overtones to it.  Adapted by the Walt Disney studios for an American audience, and one confident and prosperous following World War II, the strange and sometimes disturbing fable became a paradigm of visual loveliness in animation, and an American classic of the triumph of goodness.  Disney’s Cinderella and the Brothers Grimm fable from which it was taken strongly reveal how completely different cultures and eras may present the same story in extremely altered forms.

Comparison and Contrast

One of the most striking qualities of the original fable is, in fact, one common to many fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm wrote primarily in the 19th century, but their fables were set and derived from ancient tales, and in those ancient times men frequently remarried, as women often died in childbirth. Then, as times were hard for peasants and resources were limited, it was ordinary for stepmothers to resent and maltreat the husband’s children. This cultural condition is very present in the Grimm story, although the Grimm father is rich, as is Disney’s. The difference between the two lies in motive.  In the fable, the father simply remarries; in the film, he does so with the intent of securing a new and loving mother for his daughter, and this is not entirely realistic.  Wealthy or poor, a woman with children of her own would not necessarily embrace a grown child from a previous marriage. While the original story does not overtly state that the father takes a new wife to gratify himself, the implication is that he does.  Disney gives the man a kind, fatherly reason for it.

It could be argued that a major flaw in the fable is the father’s weakness in the face of his daughter’s maltreatment at the hands of the new wife and her own daughters. He seemingly does nothing, even as Cinderella is forced to do miserable chores all day and dress in rags. When he goes to a local fair, he is perfectly willing to comply with his stepdaughters’ demands for rich gifts, as he does not question Cinderella’s simple request for a broken twig. This is an indication of the dark realism many fables conveyed, as a father may well be oblivious to his daughter’s pain, and perhaps more concerned with accommodating his new wife. Nonetheless, it is a disturbing element, and one Disney was not about to keep in.  In the film, then, the father protects Cinderella until he conveniently dies, which allows the stepmother and her daughters to abuse Cinderella.

The crucial factor of the king’s ball approaching reveals another, important difference in the two interpretations. In the fable, and obviously linked to the broken twig Cinderella requests from her father, there is a mystical connection to her deceased mother. The twig becomes a tree, and the tree represents the spirit of the loving woman. This is very plainly something of a pagan element, and Disney radically alters it to suit a modern, Western, and predominantly Christian audience. Instead of a caring and protective tree, the Disney Cinderella is given a fairy godmother. This gentle presence is loving, wise, and protective, and even reminiscent of the good witch in The Wizard of Oz. More to the point, Disney eliminates any potential trouble regarding visitations or reincarnations from a dead parent.

Many contrasts between the two interpretations are evident in minor characters.  For example, in the Disney film, there are two helpful mice for Cinderella. They assist her in her chores and even in fashioning a gown for the ball, and it may be argued that they take the place of the many birds who come to Cinderella’s aid in the fable. There is an important difference, however.  The Disney mice are humorously presented, and not all that instrumental in the development of the story.  Conversely, the birds in the fable play vital roles, and throughout. Like the tree, they respond to Cinderella’s requests obediently, indicating a magical force within the girl, or a powerful connection with the natural world.   This is further paganism, in fact, for later in the fable these same birds act as valuable guides. When the prince twice begins to bring home the wrong bride, the birds sing to him his mistake. Even at the end, the birds appear to take revenge on the evil stepsisters, poking out their eyes. The Disney mice are by no means as integral to the story, or as vengeful.

Another important difference between the film and the fable lies in structure. True to the construction of most fables, three distinct episodes mark the beginning of the climax. The prince, in his attempts to identify his beautiful dancing partner from the ball, makes the mistake of choosing each stepsister before Cinderella. In the film, only one visit is necessary, and this may be due to Disney’s unwillingness to present the real circumstances of the attempts to deceive the prince. In the fable, each stepsister eagerly mutilates her foot, in order to fit into the golden slipper left behind by Cinderella at the ball. One cuts off a toe, and the other a part of her heel. It may be that Disney thought this too gruesome to present, or it may be, equally likely, that Disney felt a modern audience did not need to be led astray in so old-fashioned a way. What Disney does allow is the trying on of the slipper by the sisters, but there is no mutilation, and the action is condensed into one scene. Moreover, in this scene, Disney’s Cinderella incorporates many elements not in the fable, to add suspense and make the action more cinematic. For example, when the household learns that a Grand Duke is on the way to search for the Prince’s dancing partner, Cinderella absentmindedly hums a song from the ball. This alerts the stepmother as to her presence there, and sets in motion a plot to keep Cinderella concealed. Further complications, not in the fable, are added, as in the character of a helpful bloodhound, and the stepmother’s shattering of the slipper in order to prevent the testing of the girl’s foot. Interestingly, the golden slipper of the fable is glass in the film, which may have been Disney’s way of removing greed elements from the characters of the Prince and Cinderella.

Conclusion

It may be that nothing more powerfully illustrates the differences between the Brothers Grimm “Cinderella” and the Disney version than the ending of each. In the film, all is happiness and loveliness, and even the two mice are elevated by wearing uniforms at the wedding of the Prince and Cinderella.  In the fable, as noted, darkness closes the action, as Cinderella’s bird blind the evil stepsisters. Moreover, they do so systematically, taking out one eye each as the girls enter and exit the chapel. Competing with this contrast, in terms of importance, are two factors. The first is the presence of the father.  In the fable, he is a weak presence who stands aside as his daughter is maltreated, and only minimally assists the Prince later; in the film, he is a wise and loving man who merely dies. Then, the transformation of the spirit of Cinderella’s deceased mother into the tree is rendered safely magical and distanced by the introduction of the fairy godmother in the movie. Disney’s Cinderella and the Brothers Grimm fable from which it was taken are potent examples of how different cultures and eras may interpret the same story in very different ways.

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