Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Disney’s “Cinderella,” “Beast Charming,” and “good” girls

Copyright 2015 Disney
There’s such a thing as being too nice.

Mainstream fairy tales, I’ve found, almost entirely disagree with me on this point. The latest example can be found in Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of “Cinderella,” where Lily James’s Ella is so good and sweet that she never even raises her voice to her cruel, manipulative stepmother. She’s pretty much sweetness personified, and the local animal life is literally drawn to the goodness radiating out of her. She keeps reminding herself to be kind – one of her mother’s last admonitions before she dies tragically – but doing so never seems to be at all hard for her. She also doesn’t seem to do much, with the fairy godmother and freakishly intelligent mice pretty much doing all the heavy lifting.

The heroines of a lot of fairy tales seem to be like this, with the author always making sure to highlight the character’s gentleness and purity of thought at every opportunity. Even more than being beautiful – though that’s always quite a factor, too – being nice seems to be the vital element in what distinguishes fairy tale heroines from the random background characters. You’ll get the happily ever after, but only if you’re so sweet and gentle sugar wouldn’t melt in your mouth.
Basically, only if you’re perfect.

I, on the other hand, am about as far away from perfect as a person can possibly be. My friends insist that I’m a nice person – though “can be” a nice person is probably more accurate – but I can also be as crabby as a nap-deprived toddler and have so little patience sometimes that it can’t be found using modern scientific instruments. I can get almost psychotically competitive in certain circumstances – I’ve actually been forbidden from playing a particular video game out of fear that I’ll injure human life or property – and I will think insulting things about people who probably have no idea how much I dislike them.

Characters like Ella should probably try to make me aspire to be a better person, but mostly they just drive me nuts. I love nice people in real life – even though they make me feel guilty – but even the best people have a flaw of some kind. The “classic” fairy tale heroine, on the other hand, is more like a beautifully carved marble statue than a living, breathing human being, and the world she lives in has no place for someone like me. If only those kind of people get happily-ever-afters, then I’m in deep trouble.

Which is why I decided to change that. In “Beast Charming,” Beauty is a basically good person who loves her sister, wants to help people, and always tries to do the best job she can. She also has a temper – her shouting fights with her father are epic enough to draw crowds – and a tendency towards sarcasm and insisting she get the last word. She’s had to fight for every drop of self-esteem she has, and she’s secretly afraid that she’ll never be quite enough for anyone. Still, she doesn’t let any of that stop her.

In short, Beauty is nowhere near perfect. And if someone like her can fight her way to a happily-ever-after, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. 

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