OpEd: Other Princesses Evolved, But Cinderella Stayed Behind

Brandy played Cinderella, but the official Disney princess has also been played by Lily James and Camila Cabello.

Lots of Disney princesses have been getting modern makeovers in recent years, particularly with live-action adaptations of their classic movies, but as a Disney princess fan I’ve noticed that not all Disney princesses are shifting with the times. Both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are receiving the live-action treatment (with Sleeping Beauty’s live-action Maleficent movies already released and Snow White’s movie on the way), but the third classic Disney princess, Cinderella, has only gotten one modern take on her original Disney story — and that modern take actually highlights just how little this particular princess has changed.

The classic Cinderella Disney movie premiered on February 15, 1950 and is coming up on its 72nd anniversary, so now is the perfect time to look back at the fairy tale and see how little its titular Disney princess has changed over time!  I’ve seen the 1950 Disney animated movie, I’ve seen Julie Andrews play Cinderella on TV, I’ve seen the 2015 Disney remake starring Lily James and Richard Madden, I’ve seen the cult favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella starring singer Brandy, and now I’ve also seen the notoriously underwhelming retelling from Amazon Prime (starring Camila Cabello).

Which Cinderella Character Are You?

Cinderella from the original 1950 Disney film. Credit: Disney

The Disney princess Cinderella clearly hasn’t lost her influence, even after 72 years, but I was surprised to notice that the Disney heroine hasn’t really changed much when her movies are examined. Cinderella is typically known for being trapped as a servant and isolated by her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine, and bullied by her two ugly stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella, and there are usually some variations in the setting or smaller plot points in each version of the Cinderella tale. One thing that hasn’t really changed, however, is Cinderella herself.


Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, the wicked stepmother. Credit:

Cinderella’s personality almost always remains the same. She’s not one for yelling or taking charge, or even pushing her way through a crowd.

While part of Cinderella’s demure personality was most likely meant to be a sharper contrast to the abrasive personalities and mannerisms of her ugly stepsisters (and certainly does provide a nice foil to their behaviors), it does contribute to a dainty and mild-mannered persona that has been pervasive enough to influence her for almost 75 years.

Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Credit:

Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother. Credit: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Even though Brandy’s version of Cinderella was more modern than the 1950 Disney movie in some ways, it still featured a heroine who leaned towards quiet and unassuming behaviors that made her seem shy and retiring.

The movie did also steer far away from the original 1950 Disney movie in lots of ways, including a more diverse cast and an original soundtrack, but I was taken aback to see that Brandy’s Cinderella was still soft-spoken (even during her ‘I want’ power ballad about her desire for more out of life).

While the 2015 Lily James version of Cinderella placed a big emphasis on showing how Cinderella’s courage and kindness — what Prince Kit called “her goodness” — was what made her so special, this version of the Disney princess was also relatively quiet and demure.

I didn’t notice the 2015 movie’s similarities with its previous films at first — in part due to the visually stunning nature of the film and the addition of the stepmother’s unique backstory — but after rewatching it I noticed that the Lily James rendition of Cinderella is just as soft-spoken and mild-mannered as her princess predecessors, even when trying to be stern!

Lily James as Cinderella Credit:

There is one more Cinderella movie that has become well-known, and which ended up surprising me as well. In the newest version of the Cinderella story, which is from Amazon Prime and was considered to be a low-quality but entertaining version of the fairy tale, Cinderella (or “Ella”) actually shows more change than she has in the last 71 years! In this version of the fairy tale, Cinderella is an aspiring dressmaker whose focus is starting her own business. She is also sassy, forward, and bold — several traits that Cinderella most definitely did not exhibit in the original Disney movie!

Although I was initially distracted by the covers of modern music, the inappropriate joke from James Corden, and the involvement of Pierce Brosnan, I did find myself noticing that Ella stood out by choice. Camila Cabello’s Cinderella climbs on a statue to see above a crowd, refusing to move even when she receives negative attention for it, and I cannot see any of the Cinderellas before her doing the same. By being so outgoing, this most recent version of Cinderella has ended up showing me how similar (and how wallflower-esque) her descendants have been!

Camila Cabello as Cinderella Credit:

This version of Cinderella also chooses (spoiler alert!) to just enjoy expanding her business and dating her Prince Charming for a while instead of getting married. The original Cinderella was, like other classic Disney princesses (such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), a damsel in distress.

Although some people do give that original Disney princess credit for her inner fortitude in the face of strife, and I do find her sweet nature to be an admirable one, the fact remains that Cinderella’s Prince Charming saves the day and her movie ends with a big royal wedding.

Even if Cinderella’s live-action from 2015 was meant to emphasize Cinderella’s kind nature instead of her beauty, that story still ended with a Disney princess wedding too, and so did the 1997 Brandy version.

Just like I found Camila’s version of Cinderella’s personality to highlight how reserved other Cinderellas were, I also felt that the Amazon Prime movie’s lack of a wedding only exacerbated the way that all of its predecessors had shared a romance-focused ending!


Furthermore, when Cinderella is visited by her Fairy Godfather — not Fairy Godmother — she reacts to the magical ballgown with joy and confidence right away, instead of being shy or acting undeserving. Camila’s “Ella” struts her stuff and expresses pride in her appearance, which is something that other Cinderellas certainly did not do. Ironically, I think that the least well-received version of Cinderella has become the most progressive and standout Disney princess in the Cinderella lineup!

Camila’s Cinderella isn’t shy about her desire for romance, but she also isn’t shy about avoiding an early marriage; she’s also actively networking to grow her own business and is clear about valuing it. In addition, she wants to stand out in a crowd — and even though the other Cinderellas do go to the ball and steal the show, I think that the only Cinderella who genuinely would have chosen that attention is Camila’s.

Camila Cabello as Cinderella; the movie also stars James Corden, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, and Pierce Brosnan. Credit: Vulture / Amazon Studios

Cinderella seems to only have one movie that shows a woman who isn’t soft-spoken and unassuming, which does seem strange in these times of Disney do-overs like the upcoming Snow White movie (which star Rachel Zegler has declared will be a more progressive take on the original Disney princess). But even though every Cinderella until Amazon’s Cinderella had the same genteel persona, I still find the character appealing.

Yes, Cinderella has barely changed in 72 years, even though the settings and characters around her might. But part of Cinderella’s appeal is the “courage and kindness” that is emphasized in the 2015 movie and the Ultimate Princess Celebration!

Being kind to animals, considerate to other people, brave and uncomplaining in the face of hardship, and hesitant to inconvenience anyone else are all good traits to have, and they’re some of the biggest parts of Cinderella. She might have only just started to slow down in her relationship with Prince Charming, but aside from her history of focusing on romance too much, this Disney princess has some solid characteristics making her special. In a way, choosing to vilify her for her one fault would have meant ironically placing too much focus on romance myself!

Credit: Disney

Cinderella hasn’t necessarily evolved as much as many other Disney princesses have, even in her live-action adaptation by Disney — but in my opinion, the character can be an exception to the rule. Even though Cinderella is not perfect, she exhibits traits that we can see in many admirable heroines, Disney or otherwise, and that is what makes her stand out 72 years after her first Disney film. And for anyone who would rather see a Cinderella who’s the life of the party, know that you can get your fix of that one version of her with Camila Cabello!

About Sharon

Sharon is a writer and animal lover from New England. Sharon's two main focuses in her work are Disney's correlations with pop culture and the significance of Disney princesses (which was the basis for her college thesis). When she's not writing about Disney, Sharon spends her time singing, dancing, and cavorting with woodland creatures!

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