A couple months ago, I watched Disney’s 2019 remake of Aladdin (thanks to quarantine). For a few hours, I was dazzled by color, visual, a culture so unlike my own, and sheer story magic. (And I don’t like musicals, so that’s saying something.)
I must confess, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the story of Aladdin. Which got me thinking about the fairy tales that intrigue me . . . and the ones that don’t.
One that doesn’t is Cinderella.
Don’t get me wrong. I had my fair share of Cinderella when I was younger. My sisters and I would snuggle on the floor with our stuffed animals and best friends and watch it at every sleepover we hosted.
But as I’ve gotten older, and I think about the stories a little more, it lost a bit of its allure.
I’m not the only one. In a poll put on a community for teens and young adults (specifically writers), eighty-eight percent said they’d rather read an Aladdin retelling than a Cinderella retelling.
Their reasons were (almost) all the same.
Cinderella is overdone and gets really old.
(Well, and that she falls in love for no reason, but that would be a whole ‘nother post, ladies and gents.)
Sure, this could just be because there’s a lot of Cinderella retelling books out there. (A lot.) But why did this story get tired out faster than Aladdin? Especially when they share the same general plot?
Because when I sat down and thought about it, Aladdin and Cinderella are basically the same stories. An underprivileged orphan rises to royalty due to magic—magic that can only last for a limited amount of time, in which they are left to themselves to rise to royalty again.
So what makes the difference between a tired-out character and a timeless one?
*Note: This post is based on the original fairy tales, not based on my opinions on the Disney remakes (of which I have not seen Cinderella) or original films (of which I've never seen Aladdin), although some details may reference them alongside other retellings.*
Let’s start with Cinderella herself, shall we? (Read the abridged original fairy tale here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella) Cinderella is the favorite fairy tale princess of countless little girls. And she has a right to be. She has spunk and perseverance. She refuses to give up on her dreams and holds them as tight as she can. (After all, a dream is a wish your heart makes!) She is kind even in the face of her family’s rejection.
But take the magic out of her story. No fairy godmother. No pumpkin carriage. No glass slipper. Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have met the prince? Is there any sign that anything would have changed?
No. In fact, even in the original Disney Cinderella, the mice are responsible for her first dress, and once her sisters tear it to shreds, she gives up and flees to the garden. She doesn’t set about developing a new plan. She doesn’t start a new life or find a way to chase her dreams. (And her animal friends have to free her later so she try on the glass slipper, too!)
Fair reaction. But without her animal friends or the fairy godmother, Cinderella would have been scrubbing floors to infinity.
Aladdin is similar to Cinderella in many ways. (Read the abridged original version of Aladdin here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin) He has spunk and perseverance. At the opening of the original fairy tale, we find him taking care of his mother (it’s how he got in the lamp mess in the first place!). Even in the Disney version, where he is an orphan, he fights his way towards the change he dreams of. He works towards his dreams (although in rather misguided ways).
Does Aladdin never lose heart? Sure, he does. (One Jump Ahead Reprise, anyone?) In the original fairy tale, he is in despair when the genie appears (sound familiar?). But he doesn’t let himself stay there and wait for someone to come rescue him. Even when the genie disappears, he chooses to be himself and fight until he can’t fight anymore. He doesn’t wait for the bad guys to go away. He faces them down himself (fair, with the princess’ help). He refuses to be the victim of a society that labels him little better than a thief.
Here is where the fairy tale and the Disney versions go off, though: in the original, Aladdin did the same Cinderella did. He rode on the success of his magic. In this case, I like the Disney version where he loses it all and makes that choice anyway much better.
And there's the secret that Disney used to create a sparkling timeless character.
Both Cinderella and Aladdin had almost all the things they needed to do that. They had dreams. They had positive characteristics. But Disney took the final step in creating Aladdin into a character that we return to over and over again. He works towards his dreams. He acts, whether or not he always gets it right.
*Another note: Just an interesting aside--this secret works to create interesting protagonists and interesting villains. For instance, the excellently-written villain in Wayne Thomas Batson's Dreamtreaders worked towards her dreams just as much or more than the protagonists in that trilogy.*
Aladdin--and protagonists who fight for their dreams with him--inspires readers (and watchers, thanks to Disney) to be stronger—and reminds them they don’t need to wait for a glass slipper or magic lamp.
*Which is your preference—the Aladdin type or Cinderella type? What do you think makes a strong character? What retellings have changed up these stereotypes? Share your adventures below!*
8/1/2020 09:47:39 am
This was SO GOOD, Rachel! I’d never thought about Cinderella getting old before...but it really has. Aladdin is definitely more fun, more timeless, more captivating. Thanks so much for sharing, and for the writing tip!
8/1/2020 10:05:34 am
Thanks so much! I had a lot of fun looking into it and writing it! It really made me think.
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Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!