There is a way for grown-ups to believe in fairy-tales beyond the Cinderella Complex

Photography by  Dina Goldstein

Photography by Dina Goldstein

I believe in fairy-tales, but it’s complicated.

Now, before I go on, it has to be said that the original folk-tales collected by the likes of Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers were, in fact, quite hardcore and, in many cases, did not even have fairies in them. If movies were to be made after these versions, they would be R rated at least. If we’re talking fairy-tales by known authors, many of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales are the stuff that neuroses are made of and make you want to curl up into a ball of tears. Seriously – just have a look at “The [original] Little Mermaid”, “The Little Match Girl” and, for some nightmare fuel, “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf” and “The Red Shoes.”  The versions most of us are familiar with nowadays are the Disneyfied, family-friendly ones with adorable animal sidekicks.

You know what – I love both. I love how fairy-tales evolve and can constantly be rediscovered and reinterpreted. The essence, however, remains the same.

Helena Bonham Carter and Lily James in Disney's Cinderella

Helena Bonham Carter and Lily James in Disney’s Cinderella

You see, fairy-tales are, first and foremost, about staying true to yourself, taking your life into your own hands and about trusting that the just will be rewarded – sadly, the latter part is often not true in real life. What is true is hope – you know, the thing with feathers: fragile and not enough, but strangely and subtly powerful.

My favorite fairy tale is Cinderella. Hey, every girl likes herself a good Cinderella scenario. It needs to be said, however, that the Cinderella scenario is something a rational person cannot let herself believe in, but the idealist more or less secretly holds dear. Although dismissed as a gold-digger’s dream by specialists in missing the point, Cinderella’s lasting fascination has more to do with the idea that a person can be seen and loved for what they are, instead of by the place they occupy in the arbitrary order of the world. It has to do with being able to walk the thin line between clarity and pretense with Philippe Petit’s precision.

With the latter thought in mind, my all-time favorite version of Cinderella is, no question, the 1998 movie “Ever After: A Cinderella Story”, with Drew Barrymore in the title role. And the character’s name is, in fact, Danielle, though she goes by Nicole for a while, due to a misunderstanding.

Drew Barrymore in Ever After: A Cinderella Story, 1998

Drew Barrymore in Ever After: A Cinderella Story, 1998

Not only does Danielle/Nicole save the Prince (Dougray Scott) from a band of robbers – and by hoisting him over her shoulder, too –, but, in her darkest moment, when she truly seems to be done for, she manages to take action and free herself. To his honor, the Prince does not feel that his masculinity is threatened or offended by either of these situations. Granted, he is a bit perplexed during his own rescue, but not at all surprised to find her walking free just when he arrives to save her, because by then he already knows very well who he’s dealing with.

It needs to be mentioned that the “fairy godmother” role in the movie is filled by none other than Leonardo da Vinci (played by actor Patrick Godfrey), who has what is called a “crowning moment of awesome.”. Having found out that Danielle is not actually an aristocrat, the prince concludes that she is “just like everyone else.” This is when Leonardo da Friggin’ Vinci discreetly drops Cinderella’s legendary slipper on hand for the Prince, and also drops a truth bomb on his way out. If the Prince can’t see past his own pride and past social differences – says Leonardo – then he does not deserve her.

There are few certain things in any world – be it real or fictional – but one of the few certain things is that, if motherfucking Leonardo da Vinci tells you something, you better listen, fool.

In Ever After, the Prince loves Cinderella because she is hard-headed, feisty, sincere (well, except the thing about getting caught up in a confusion about her identity – but, come on, he wouldn’t have talked to her otherwise), unafraid to challenge him and endowed with a great sense of humor. However, Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella is not perfect. She is quick to judge, impulsive and a bit passive-aggressive at times – the latter being an understandable result of dealing with her stepmother (cruel, but with a few hilarious moments, thanks to a great performance by Anjelica Huston) and her airheaded, vain and mean stepsister. In fact, the second stepsister, bullied by her mother and sibling, sides with Danielle. Anyway, the point is that this incarnation of Cinderella is endearingly human.

Unknown creator

Unknown creator

But I’m not writing a movie review here. I’m just saying this movie is awesome, and here is why I think so. This movie is awesome because, in a society that seems to glorify the kind of love that obsesses and subjugates, here we have a fairy-tale-inspired movie that celebrates the kind of love that empowers. And, that, my friends, is what I truly believe in.

Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.

Read more from this author