Ana Veciana-Suarez

Ana Veciana Suarez: Cinderella can teach us plenty

Lily James is Cinderella in Disney’s live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale.
Lily James is Cinderella in Disney’s live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale. TNS

So here we go again with the princesses.

Disney’s 2015 version of “Cinderella” is out and it’s live-action, with all the beautiful costumes, gorgeous characters and sweeping romance we have come to expect from The Mouse. I suspect I will be roped into seeing it sometime during my own starring role as an abuela of six girls who seem to know every last word to every dang Disney song.

If you rub elbows and toes with little people, you’ll know that this princess fixation shows no sign of abating. Disney knows a thing or two about marketing. “Frozen,” the highest-grossing animated film ever, proved that.

But I’m no longer pulling out my graying hair over the culture of animated royalty. Instead I’m asking: Is it really such a bad thing to fantasize about being something we’ll never become? If we can’t get enough of these fairy tales, is it because they carry lessons that transcend cultures and generations?

In spite of my earlier attempts to counteract tiara and tulle, in spite of ranting about my granddaughters’ predilection for all things pink and princessy (in this space, no less), I find myself backtracking just a teensy bit. I’m looking at Cinderella, Snow White et al through a different lens these days. In other words, I’m studying the princess phenomena with tolerance and curiosity and, yes, a sharp interest in how we can adopt these ancient stories to 21st Century life.

This personal transformation has as much to do with the evolution of the genre as with the development of the little people. As my girls grow up, they aren’t as concerned about Prince Charming’s arrival. Or the glamorous ball. Or even living happily ever after. (Some of their friends are children of divorce, after all.) Oh, sure, they play dress up with wands and high heels. They covet Tangled’s tresses and Queen Elsa’s voice singing “Let it Go.” But as they grow older and experience more, they know these celluloid kingdoms are hardly the real world.

“It’s not for real,” one granddaughter explained to me the other day. As if I were the clueless one, the one that needed the clarification. “It’s for pretend.”

And here I was doubting my girls’ judgment when all I needed to do was wait for reality to take its natural course. Every generation eventually learns the normal constraints of a normal life. By first grade most of us know to leave fantasy behind. So why clip wings before it’s time?

Which leads me to the new “Cinderella” and a niggling thought that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been approaching this princess business all wrong. Instead of mounting a war against the pervasive princess culture, it might be better to see what lessons we can glean from it. What if these beloved fairy tales are a way to teach our children that they can remain unbroken even in the most difficult circumstances?

Cinderella 2015 is more than the standard girl-waiting-for-prince tale. Many reviewers claim director Kenneth Branagh manages a bit of revisionist magic with Lily James as Ella/Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and Richard Madden as you- know-who. Case in point: In a deathbed scene, Ella’s mother tells her, “Have courage and be kind” and those words become a mantra the girl mutters to herself many times.

Hmm, I sense an opportunity here. If there ever was a message for our times, surely this is it. In a world where coarseness is the default mode, where kindness is equated with weakness, this lesson is surely worth whatever other fluff we might find.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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