The evolution of Cinderella — from silent to spunky

We feel like we’ve been waiting forever for the new Cinderella movie, but now (finally), it’s almost here. We know Disney’s latest magical movie creation will be full of the beautiful ball gowns and silly-but-chic glass slippers that we can’t help but associate with the classic tale, but before we see Cinderella’s latest update, it’s time to take a look back at her past lives, because girlfriend has come a long, long way.

Before the animated Cinderella we all know and love from the 1950 Disney film, our princess was a silent movie star. You can even watch one of these silent movies, from 1899 (!!!), here. (Am I the only one creeped out by the giant rats and the weird man-clock? I can’t be, right?) Cinderella is voiceless, both literally, as a silent movie character, and more symbolically. She cries, dances with the prince, cries some more and then gets married. The end.


In the oh-so-famous 1950 animated film, Cinderella finally gets a voice. She is honest, kind, and hardworking. She spends a lot of time wishing and dreaming. And again, crying. Then she meets the prince, and she’s suddenly in love. The prince doesn’t know her name, but at least she has one. He, however, literally does not. But Cinderella falls for him all the same, despite the fact that they’ve known each another for all of five minutes. Hey, I’m not judging. Poor Cinderella has been cooped up with her evil stepmother for a long time — and that is one legit villain. Disney’s animated stepmother might be a cartoon character, but she still terrifies me more than any other version of the wicked stepmother. (Although, I have high hopes for Cate Blanchett in the 2015 version, out Friday. After all, she’s an Oscar winner.)

But back to Cinderella. Her life circumstances are admittedly terrible. Her besties are mice. Totally awesome mice, but still mice. The animated Cinderella isn’t the type to talk back or stand up for herself, so, sadly, it’s believable that she’d be ready to marry the first guy who comes along and become Mrs. Um…Whomever.


In 1957, Rodgers & Hammerstein aired Cinderella as a live television musical starring none other than Julie Andrews, who many theater and film fans think of as actual royalty. The woman can rock a tiara; that’s all I’m saying.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was sweet, loyal and largely passive, just like her fellow 1905s, animated counterpart. She was also hugely popular. So popular that the musical was remade for television again in 1965, starring Lesley Ann Warren. And yet again in 1997…


It took a solid 30 years, but Cinderella finally started to change in the nineties, with yet another TV special. The 1997 remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy, showed all little girls that they could play an active role in achieving their dreams. The film’s racially diverse cast was groundbreaking, as was Brandy’s portrayal of Cinderella as a pro-active girl power princess.

Cinderella: “You know what the problem is with most people? They sit around wishing for something to happen instead of doing something about it.”

I think she’s looking at to you, 1950’s Cinderella.

Another great addition to the 1997 adaptation was the fact that the prince and the Cinderella meet before the ball. They have a chance to get to know each other a bit before we hear Prince Christopher Rupert Wyndemere Vladimir Carl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman Gregory James (for real, that’s his name) say things like this:

Prince: “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”

We all know the right answer to this question, right? 


The nineties were a good decade for Cinderella. She got not just one, but two major girl power reboots that decade. A year after the TV musical, Drew Barrymore brought Cinderella (Danielle, in this version — because she absolutely deserves a real name) to the big screen in her most butt-kicking iteration yet. I must admit that, to date, 1998’s Ever After is my fave Cinderella film.

Drew brings sass to the role of Danielle/Cinderella, along with a healthy dash of feminism. Independent, brave and spirited, she’s not afraid to hit the prince with a zinger… or with an apple to the head. Seriously, with great aim, she hits him in the head when she mistakes him for a common horse thief. In a refreshing twist, she even rescues him at one point and (gasp!) slings him over her shoulder and literally carries him. Danielle believes everyone deserves an education and at the end of the story, she even convinces the king to start a university with a library open to anyone. She takes an active role in governing the kingdom when she becomes queen, instead of just being pretty eye candy.


Cinderella took almost a decade off from the big screen after Ever After and our next movie “Cinderella” marked a completely new take on the tale, when Hillary Duff starred as Sam in 2004’s A Cinderella Story. The movie found Sam/Cinderella in modern-day high school, and searched for a realistic approach to the fairytale.

Here are the highlights of Sam’s modern Cinderella, who was freed of some of the more sexist and antiquated aspects of the story thanks to the modern setting:

  • Sam and her football jock “prince charming” have meaningful interaction before the big dance, even if that interaction is a collection of poems he’s sent her anonymously via instant messaging. It’s great that there’s more to their love story than a few seconds of eye contact on the dance floor, but it’s a little creepy — he could totally be catfishing her.
  • Sam has goals. At the beginning of the movie, her dad tells her, “Fairytales aren’t just about finding handsome princes. They’re about fulfilling your dreams and about standing up for what you believe in.” Sam’s dream is to go to college, specifically, the oh-so-royal-sounding Princeton.

Finally, Cinderella was starting to feel like a viable role model.  2014

Last Christmas, Anna Kendrick slipped into Cinderella’s glass slippers (actually, her slippers were gold, but you get the idea) in Into the Woods. The musical hit gave us a completely new Cinderella — one who isn’t sure she actually wants to be caught by her Prince Charming. She flees from the prince not once, not twice, but three times, because she just can’t make up her mind about him. And she’s right to be on the fence: He’s an (hilariously) unabashed narcissist. He cheats on Cinderella with the baker’s wife, and Cinderella ultimately kicks him to the curb and starts a new life.

Into the Woods‘ Cinderella sums it up with this quote: “My father’s house was a nightmare. Your house was a dream. Now I want something in between.”

Finally: A Cinderella who isn’t afraid to rewrite her happily ever after.


Will the new Cinderella measure up as a thoroughly modern fairytale princess? We’ll find out this Friday! Granted, there’s already been controversy about Cinderella’s teeny tiny waist, and some critics have mentioned the character’s passivity. But we’ve also heard some good things about the latest big screen version of this classic princess. She’s reportedly an anti-hunting activist, stopping the prince from hunting when they first meet (before the ball), so she has beliefs and opinions that are all her own. She’s not afraid to speak her mind. Her mantra is “have courage and be kind,” which really isn’t a bad advice for anyone. Plus Lily James gets extra points for showing up at the film’s premiere in the most gorgeous dress we’ve ever seen. (A princess dress with pockets!)

If the new Cinderella isn’t the modern fairy princess you’re hoping for, rest easy. If history is any indication, we’ll be talking about another, newer Cinderella before we know it. And let’s not forget, we have another amazing princess to look for at the movies soon, in the form of the AMAZE Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty & the Beast. 

Still, we’re hoping that the new Cinderella is the happily ever after we’ve always wanted for this character.

(Images via here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

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