It took me some time and thought to realize why I liked Cinderella in Cinderella 3 so much (I mean, there’s a great list of reasons, but there was something big underneath the surface), but when I realized what it was, I practically dissolved into a pile of helpless flail.
I thought that it was that despite the fact that Cinderella does enough strong, proactive female protagonist action to give flipping Mulan a run for her money, she never devolves into a tomboyish action girl. She keeps her poise and kindness and remains the same sweet, beautiful princess that greets the children at Disneyworld and is seen on all of the backpacks. That was my initial thought, anyway, but I felt that it was something more. And then I realized what it was:
It’s because despite all of the action-girl tropes that Cinderella embodies, her greatest strength remains her kindness and her refusal to become bitter or to hold a grudge.
She’s not awesome in this movie because she can break out of a demonic carriage and jump onto a horse and ride all the way back to the palace because “I’m not going to miss my own wedding” (see the smug smile in Picture 6). She doesn’t storm back to the palace and tackle Anastasia to the ground or burst in shouting “STOP THE WEDDING” or “SHE’S LYING,” and she doesn’t attack Lady Tremaine and try to forcibly steal the wand. She returns and watches Anastasia refuse to marry the Prince because Anastasia realizes that it was wrong, and so she calls it off herself. And the reason why Anastasia does this is because she was so impressed with how happy Cinderella was. Cinderella’s positive attitude spreads to Anastasia, softening her and making her change her ways and perform one of the most selfless acts ever to grace a Disney cartoon. Which is saying a LOT. Especially considering who Anastasia is. Cinderella has no reason to like her or care about her, and Anastasia even realizes that after all she’s done, she has no right to be happy.
But she doesn’t care, because she’s seen that even though Cinderella doesn’t have a right to be happy and every right to hate everything in the world, she still doesn’t.
And that’s a really powerful message.
The bottom three pictures are the most important elements to this set, too. The first of them is proof that Cinderella cared about Anastasia even when she still hadn’t done anything nice to her; it could be argued that the final two images are just her being grateful that Anastasia turned her back on wickedness and tried to help her. But in the scene where her stepmother’s evil plot is unveiled, Cinderella ignores Lady Tremaine and speaks directly to Anastasia, asking her if this is really what she wants. She doesn’t say, “Don’t do this, you’re going to hurt me,” she says, “You’re going to hurt yourself like this.” EVEN WHEN FACED WITH THE END OF ALL HOPE, CINDERELLA REMAINS WILLING TO FORGIVE THE PERSON WHO WILL BE HER EXECUTIONER.
And so she stands between her and her stepmother, not willing to let one of her lifelong tormentors be hurt, putting herself at risk (even though she can’t do anything but stand there) and once again sacrificing herself for someone else. And it’s not Prince Charming she’s sticking her neck out for. It’s not her man, it’s not her friends, it’s one of her oppressors…the one responsible for this whole mess.
I don’t think she even asked for an apology.
And at the end, when Anastasia restores herself to normal, Cinderella hugs her as if she were her real sister, because you know what? SHE IS NOW. Cinderella finally has a true stepsister. And what we see here are two girls who worked together to save the day and sacrificed everything they had because they believed in love…and not because sacrificing everything was the only way to possess love, but because it gave them a chance and this is what they wanted.
This completely encompasses and expands Cinderella’s character, and as far as I can tell, does no harm to the girl we all knew from our childhood. And the traits that made her who she was in the original movie—her optimism, her patience, her endurance, her kindness—are ultimately the most important ones.
Kudos to you, Cinderella 3. KUDOS.