Screen shot from Into The Woods, copyright © 2014 Walt Disney Pictures.
It occurred to me after watching Into The Woods that we’ve had a couple of (few?) deviations recently from the meeting-the-prince element of Cinderella – in particular the aforementioned Into The Woods and Malinda Lo’s Ash. It kind of plays around with the idea of being summoned to the ball – what if you don’t want to go or aren’t sure you want the prince? If every eligible lady must attend, what about those who don’t actually want to, who want to marry someone from their home town? In the context of the traditional story and in the context of the audience/reader, the desirable outcome is to have the prince – so romantic!
By placing our modern contexts and the idea of independence into it, you get something different. Maybe Cinderella would like to meet the prince and then have time to think about it. Maybe it shouldn’t just be up to the prince (though admittedly no one says that; though it’s the prince’s opinion and love that’s considered important to this element of the story). Is the whole before-midnight aspect useful in this way, effectively giving Cinderella time by way of a forced ‘out’ to consider what she wants, even if in the end she doesn’t use it? (Arguably this is what Into The Woods does.) Whilst it may not be possible for Cinderella in the Disney versions, the overall darkness of the traditional story… there’s a possibility there perhaps that whoever it was who first told the story thought of all this. Unlikely, but possible.
I liked how in Into The Woods Cinderella decides to leave a shoe for the prince to use to find her if he so wishes, thus making a sort-of decision for herself. It plays with the whole idea and puts a bit more active thinking into the fairly ridged concept of let’s-have-a-ball-and-choose-a-girl. Cinderella made the effort to get there, now it’s the prince’s turn. (Though of course by removing the responsibility of choosing for herself and giving it to the prince she’s just pushing away the decision. If she’d given it more thought at the time she would have realised earlier that she didn’t want to marry him.) The message is there – don’t let others decide your destiny. You’ve likely made a decision, you now have to own it.