Final Thoughts: Cinderella

This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love.

Cynthia Rylant, Cinderella

I love fairy tale retellings in any format. It’s so interesting to see how different people envision the same familiar story, how it changes with each telling, which details stand out for some and fade to the background or disappear entirely for others. Every story says something about both the teller and the audience. Disney versions are no different and the love so many hold for them is telling about our culture and the values we prize. But a movie is a collective creation made by a whole host of people, so it can be challenging to tease out what each one contributed sometimes. How the varying views blended into the whole.

But sometimes the work of a single artist stands out enough to stand alone even apart from the movie itself. Mary Blair was that kind of concept artist that could do that and this picture book retelling of the story features her art and few specific nods to the movie it was created for. The blend of that art, the story as told by writer Cynthia Rylant, and the little pieces of the movie that stayed or went missing from it is particularly intriguing.

What made something from the movie remain, even when the art doesn’t show that moment? Why did Rylant decide to keep the moment when the glass slipper breaks and Cinderella reveals she has the other one? It isn’t in the images and is pretty iconic from the movie. But so is the moment when Cinderella appears in her mother’s remade dress and her stepfamily tears it apart, and that moment didn’t make it into the book. So why did Rylant choose one moment and not the other?

Even more interesting, is that the text brings out themes and ideas that are completely absent from the movie and too abstract to be pointed to in a picture. She talks philosophically throughout about love itself and the nature of falling in love. She evokes the idea that love is such a powerful force that it can bring two people together despite all obstacles. The movie, interestingly, doesn’t dwell on that concept. Cinderella never mentions love before she meets the prince. She wishes she wasn’t being ordered around so much and expresses frustration with her stepfamily, but love seems so far from her reality that she’s not even dreaming of it. Yet here, that is exactly what she does – dreams of love from the first page.

Who can say by what mystery two people find each other in this great wide world?

Cynthia Rylant, Cinderella

Blair’s art is beautiful and impressionistic. Details are more sketched in than explicitly painted and everything almost feels as if seen through slightly frosted or wavy glass. It adds to the dreaminess of Rylant’s retelling and I wonder if it was what put her in that mood in the first place! Usually my favorite part of the illustrations for any version of Cinderella is looking at the beautiful gowns, but in this case, they are more suggestions of beautiful gowns than detailed designs that could be copied. That said, I found myself getting lost in the dreamy landscapes, the lush unrealistically huge hallways, the magical balconies. The places felt imaginary and enchanting – the perfect setting for a fairy tale and for a philosophical musing on romantic love!

I really enjoyed the dreaminess and thoughtfulness of this retelling. Sometimes philosophy feels heavy-handed when applied to fairy tales, but in this case it enhances the story’s feeling of being a glistening soap bubble that may be perfect and beautiful now, but is going to pop and be lost to all but memory at any moment.

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