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The Problem with Cinderella

I saw the new Cinderella movie. I was a huge fan of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, and had high hopes for this live-action take on another traditional princess story. It was fine. Good even. It took me a little while to figure out what it was that I felt was lacking.

Then I figured it out.

My problem is not with the traditional love story arc embedded into the “Cinderella” story. There are many reasons I like to believe in love at first sight. And the costumes made me swoon. Truly they did.

My problem has to do with hate.

Cinderella didn’t hate anyone. She probably should have. The main message is “Have Courage and Be Kind”. Great. Love it. Yup. Bring it on. Cinderella overcomes true sadness, loss and pain and displays admirable courage, fortitude and kindness. All she represents in the movie is laudable.

Yet, and here’s the rub: how do you experience kindness without experiencing hate? I happen to have a few opinions on courage. In the absence of fear, there is simply no need for courage. It is critical to courage. You have to acknowledge fear and bring it inside you to find true courage. Did Cinderella experience fear? Perhaps. I will give her that, and thus give her "courage". Being alone can be very frightening and that is a clear obstacle she must overcome. On the kindness front, I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more with loathing and even a little hate, to make the kindness she is supposed to represent feel more fully developed and more real. Cate Blanchett does an incredible job giving the Stepmother depth and layers. I wanted to see some real loathing in Cinderella’s eyes when she looked on this woman who conspired to take so much from her. Cinderella smiles prettily all the time and her kindness seems otherworldly in its omnipresence. Thus, it feels unattainable.

Here was an opportunity to layer an iconic “princess” story with much more depth of struggle and nuance than we let our girls experience in their fantasies. Why miss the chance? Little girls experience envy, hate, anger, betrayal. I think we can teach that these dark emotions are part of us and part of both our greatest triumphs and our ageless love stories. Because when we look at the worst inside ourselves, and hold onto it, and transform it, it is then that we are capable of the greatest depths of Courage and Kindness.

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