Cinderella: The Development of a Classic

It all started with a dream and a slipper. But where did the dream and the slipper come from? When was the first tale of Cinderella told? The 1950’s Disney animated classic can’t be the original version and it most certainly can’t be the only version.  Common belief is that the French version Cendrillon and the Brothers Grimm version in their collection of folktales are the

'Cendrillon' by Gustave Dore
‘Cendrillon’ by Gustave Dore

original versions of the Cinderella theme, and just about everyone knows about, or has seen, the Disney animated film Cinderella, but is the story older than that? It is; you see, the theme of the tale can be found as far back as 7 BCE in the tale Rhodopis about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt. In another tale, the Cinderella character is known as Cordelia and she is the daughter of King Leir of Britain and in another version out of China the Cinderella character is called Ye Xian.


Breaking down the tale, the oldest version of the Cinderella theme is of a slave girl, not a misused stepsister who is trying to get away from her cruel family. It is simply the story of a slave who is eventually freed by the pharaoh. It’s not until the version told of Cordelia that there are stepsisters involved. (Cool side note, this version inspired Shakespeare’s King Lear, he just gave it a much more tragic ending.) The missing slipper was added in the Chinese version with Ye Xian as the Cinderella character. She lost her slipper at a festival and the king found it and made her his wife. With each version of the tale, a different piece of the story we know and love was created, until finally the Brothers Grimm tale was born, with it’s dark new telling of the story.


If you’ve ever read the Brothers Grimm collection of fairy tales then you’ll know that they tend to be bloody and a little bit on the scary side. For example, their version of Cinderella involves the stepsisters cutting off their toes and a heel to get the glass slipper to fit their larger feet. Gross, right?! The difference in their version is that the help comes not from a fairy godmother, but from the wishing tree that grows on her mothers grave. This is another variable in the stories that changes, depending on who is telling it. But what I found so interesting, is this seems to be the key inspiration for the new live action Disney’s Cinderella (2015).


The film versions are far and wide, their origins starting when silent films began and then on to continue in the talkies that we know and love today. Those versions include the animated Cinderella (1950) by Disney and then the follow up that came out of March 13, 2015, but Disney is not the only one who has made the film. The very first film adaptation came out in 1899, as a silent film. There are even stage versions in ballet and the highly popular Into the Woods (2014) features the Cinderella character with the storyline of the Brothers Grimm story.


EverafterposterWith the recent live action version of the film, we come to wonder, why rehash a story over and over again? There have been wonderful and loved versions of Cinderella made, in both literature and film. One of my favorites is the Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998), which includes Drew Barrymore as the Cinderella character (her name is Danielle in the film) and Leonardo Da Vinci is her “Fairy Godmother” (yes that sounds weird but it’s how it happens). It’s a version where the question is asked of the viewer, what would have happened if the story was indeed true?


With the most recent rendition, reality is set aside for the magical effect. The film is very much stuck between a kids movie and a more serious film. It attempts the more serious themes, which include a sexuality to Cinderella that is lost among the younger viewers, while also being extremely childish for a younger audience, with a young woman still talking to mice and farm animals as an adult. The film feels confused in that sense, where as some of it’s predecessors did not. The story takes from the Disney animated classic and from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, including a fairy godmother, farms animals transformed into coachmen, a hazel branch and a glass slipper.


The two leads, Lily James as Cinderella and Richard McFadden as Prince “Kit” Charming, both make the film worth watching. Both are classically trained and show it in the way they carry themselves in the film. The rest of the cast is amazing, with acting veterans such as Stellan Skarsgard and Cate Blanchett, but the film does seem to fall flat even with the great cast that it has. Where adult viewers would want something a little more serious, the younger generation is sure to love it.Cinderella-1
The film is indeed very entertaining, yet Disney’s Cinderella (2015) lacks in the knowledge of its targeted audience. Is it adults or children? With both sophisticated and magical themes, it makes the film hard to watch, as you wonder what type of mindset you should be in as you watch the film. For the Disney lover, it is simply a live action remake of a classic we all know and love, but for those who love the origins of Cinderella, maybe watch a different rendition of the s

3 Replies to “Cinderella: The Development of a Classic”

  1. This is really interesting and important historical background information that I did not realize about the tale of Cinderella; knowing this improves and informs my understanding of the film, the written story, and all depictions in between.


  2. Actually, both the Disney film draw from the Perrault version rather than the Grimms’, resulting in the fairy godmother mice-turned-horses, and pumpkin coach. If you’ve not read this version, it’s interesting to compare it to the Grimms. You can find it here

    I love the other history you’ve researched, though. Very cool!


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