What better way to start a fairytale blog than with one of the most popular adaptations of all time? By that, I mean Disney’s 1950 Cinderella, the version that most people know. While there have been others, for now, we’re going to focus on this one. Specifically, how it compares to the original — the one by the Brothers Grimm.
First, a quick summary. Cinderella’s mother dies when she’s young, and her stepsisters and stepmother torment her. By night, she sleeps in the ashes next to the hearth. When her father goes on a journey, she has him bring back a twig, which she plants at her mother’s grave and waters with her tears. But one day, the prince puts on a festival, and Cinderella can only go if she picks up the lentils scattered in the ashes. Her bird friends do this, but she has to do the same thing again. This time, the stepmother outright refuses to let her go.
But Cinderella goes to her tree, gets a dress, and dances with the prince, who chases after her. The next night, she gets another dress. She dances with the prince again, and slips away from him. The final night, the prince manages to catch her shoe in some pitch. He searches for Cinderella, finally coming to her house. The first stepsister cuts off her toe, but two pigeons reveal the deception as she rides away. The second stepsister cuts off her heel, but the pigeons tell the prince once again. At long last, the slipper fits Cinderella’s foot, and the birds blind the stepsisters at her wedding.
It makes sense, then, that an adaptation would make changes. The biggest one is the characters. In Disney’s version, their personalities are more defined. The most important characters are the stepsisters, the stepmother, and Cinderella.
First, the stepsisters. In contrast to the original, it’s clear who they are. Both are spoiled and vain, make fun of Cinderella and ruin her life any way they can. Unlike the original, it isn’t clear what happens, but they probably weren’t the most liked in the kingdom.
As for the stepmother, she is cold and cruel, with a taste for making Cinderella’s life miserable. She oscillates between manipulating Cinderella (pretending she’ll let her go to the ball) and denying her any way of speaking out (when she accuses her of putting Gus-Gus in Anastasia’s teacup). It’s consistent with the original in that she still treats Cinderella horribly, but she’s also terrifying — definitely someone we wouldn’t want to meet in real life.
Finally, we have Cinderella herself. In the original, she seems almost … too perfect. In every situation, she knows exactly what to do. When the stepmother forbids her from going to the ball, she gets the dresses from her tree. When the prince tries to catch her, she escapes him and changes clothes before he can find her. She’s always calm and in control — there isn’t any particular investment in seeing her escape.
In contrast, Disney’s Cinderella is far from perfect. While she’s always gentle and kind, she has her breaking points. She gets frustrated and angry, especially with Lucifer and her stepfamily. More importantly, she breaks down completely when her stepsisters rip apart her dress. There’s a moment of complete vulnerability, which makes the Fairy Godmother’s arrival a welcome relief. By the end of the story, she escapes from her wretched life — a wonderful development, even if she doesn’t know much about the prince she’s marrying. She deserves that happily ever after, more so than her stepsisters ever did.
While both versions are very different, they’re equally effective. The Grimm version set the baseline for every adaptation that came after it — and even if it’s not exactly suitable for kids, that makes it important. The Disney version is the one that many kids grew up with — it’s how they measure every adaptation since. It’s also considered a classic, from a time when Disney wasn’t yet a massive entertainment empire.
But even without that, the story of Cinderella is something that will always endure. It’s a timeless tale that everyone can take something from. That’s why it’s been adapted so many times, and remains one of the most beloved stories around the world.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave a comment below — I’d love to know what you think of both versions. Also, please tell me about your favorite Cinderella adaptation. Is it one of these, or a different one?
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Your Fairytale Enthusiast,