Five things to know about Cinderella

Cinderella (Lily James) arrives at the ball in her pumpkin convertible.  Image: Disney Productions
Cinderella (Lily James) arrives at the ball in her pumpkin convertible. Image: Disney Productions

The first outburst of applause during the movie Cinderella came not when the wide-eyed ingenue arrived at the ball, or when she tried on the glass slipper, or even when she married her prince.

     The applause, and it was vigorous, came unexpectedly, just after Cinderella turned to her wicked stepmother and, in so many words, asked: What is your problem?
     Starring Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and Lily James as Cinderella, the movie raked in nearly $68 million during its opening weekend, according to the Box Office Mojo website
     Cinderella is an opulent production featuring an assortment of classically trained actors under the direction of Kenneth Branagh. The script delivers everything an audience populated primarily by little girls would demand: the goofy fairy godmother, the handsome prince, the pumpkin that turns into a golden carriage and Cinderella, wearing her blue dress and glass slippers, standing at the top of the stairs.
     Yes, this Cinderella checks all the boxes -- and then some. Even so, this time around, the maiden has been given more than a fabulous pair of shoes. She has attitude. Cinderella has grown a spine! 
     But perhaps it should come as no surprise that the most famous princess has evolved, for Cinderella has literally been around a millennium. Here are five things to know about this ancient story:

     1. The story is so old it has whiskers. In written form, the Cinderella story first appeared in China during the ninth century, according to Bruno Bettelheim in the book, The Uses of Enchantment, The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Vintage books; 1975). The practice of binding girls' feet was common in ancient China, as people of the time considered small feet to be a sign of beauty. The part of the story in which the prince has a shoe that fits only one maiden would have been understood to represent the girl's extraordinary features.

     2. The story is incorporated into more books and movies than can be counted. In some stories, the Cinderella figure is a guy. In The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, Arthur is an orphan and called by the name Wart. He doesn't discover his regal heritage -- he is King Arthur -- until dislodging the sword from the stone.

     3.The original story of Cinderella is far darker than the Disney version. In all versions of the story, there is a moment when the protagonist proves his or her authenticity. In the Cinderella movie, various maidens attempt to stuff their feet into a glass slipper that fits only one woman. But in an older version of the story, one of the stepsisters cuts off a toe in a desperate attempt to become the prince's bride. Spoiler alert: It doesn't work.

     4. Cinderella is an allegorical story about class differences. When Cinderella is given a magnificent dress and arrives at the ball, the prince believes her to be a princess and a potential mate. (A quick change of clothing and -- presto! -- she becomes his equal. The prince is not just rich but vacuous. One wonders why Cinderella is interested in the guy.)
     The new movie is different. The prince, portrayed by Richard Madden, is attracted to the peasant-girl Cinderella from the moment he encounters her in the woods. Later, when told he must marry a princess for political reasons, he resists. His egalitarian instincts tell him that the country could use the example of a king married to a commoner. 

     5. Children with siblings take home a different message. They connect to Cinderella because they relate to her plight. For them, this is all about sibling rivalry and jealousy, writes Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment.
    This may also explain another wild burst of applause in the theater when the newly emancipated Cinderella leaves home with her royal boyfriend -- walking right by those stepsisters.


     Orphan or foster kid, it's still a hard-knock life

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