So you’ve decided to see the movie. Now how do you talk to your kids about Cinderella—and Jesus?
I saw the new Cinderella movie with my daughter this past weekend. Judging from the number of girls and parents there (along with a few boys), I feel safe in saying that many of the kids you know have seen it too, or soon will.
Cinderella is fun and the characters are well-played and engaging. I’m also happy to report that it is refreshingly free of language that misuses God’s name, potty humor, immodest behavior, and violence-as-amusement. (Your standards might not quite match up with mine, so check out Kids in Mind if you want to know details.) That still leaves the important question of the film’s message. What does Cinderella suggest is true and praiseworthy? What does it give as the solution to life’s problems? Does it fit the gospel?
And how can we talk about Jesus with kids who’ve seen Cinderella?
Courage and kindness
I’ll assume you know the basic story. Cinderella is saved from a miserable life under her evil stepmother when she finds her prince at the ball, with help from her fairy godmother. Rather than treat Cinderella as a mere victim, the movie says she triumphs by her courage and kindness plus a bit of magic. It literally says this, several times, to make sure we get the point.
I like the affirmation of courage and kindness. Those are fine virtues. But the story struggles to show any direct connection between Cinderella’s courage and kindness and her change of circumstances. Instead, there seems to be a vibe that says things will work out for good people, mixed with some playful belief on the side.
I might not mind this so much, except that it too closely mimics shallow religion. Many kids already think that the point of life is to be good so that God will bless them in little ways they deserve, like earning good karma. They also think the point of believing in Jesus is to get God to magically help where their own efforts fall short—like Cinderella gets a little boost when she believes in her fairy godmother. It all has a feel-good sweetness, but it’s flat compared to all-out dependence on the living God.
Romance and marriage
Of course, there’s also romance in Cinderella. She gets her prince because he likes her and chooses her. The film makes a point of showing that the prince marries not for political expediency or outward benefits, but for love. However, the question I was still asking when I left the theater is: why does he even like her?
I suppose it’s for her courage and kindness, but I was wishing for something with stronger roots. Cinderella makes me think of the account of Ruth and Boaz, which is the Bible’s own story of an outcast who meets her prince. Ruth has kindness and courage too, but Boaz invests his love in her because he also sees that she has faith (see Ruth 2:11–12). Hers isn’t a whimsical faith in fairy godmothers, but rather a gritty, all-venturing faith in the God who has an unseen plan behind the suffering in her life. That’s a foundation for a strong marriage.
Ruth and Boaz should make us think of ourselves and Jesus. Ruth is commended for her faith, and loved, despite her shameful past as a woman from Moab. That’s true love, built on the kind of love Jesus has for sinners. Cinderella is just loved because she’s a sweet darling. One wonders what will happen to that love when the spell wears off—not when carriages turn back into pumpkins at midnight, but when married life gets hard. Where’s the faith that will get this storybook couple through the next round of suffering?
Yes, I realize this is too much to ask of the movie. We all know, going into it, that Disney princesses never go to church. They aren’t going to practice faith in Jesus. But in some movies they still discover truths rooted in the gospel, the way Frozen caused us to feel the ache of living under a curse and the power of sacrificial love (see my take on that movie here). Cinderella never goes that deep.
There is one excellent moment near the end of Cinderella that does reach a little deeper. When the prince comes for Cinderella to have her try on the glass slipper, she’s insecure about going to him. She worries he might not like her without her magical gown and golden carriage. That’s when the movie tells us that the greatest courage is daring to be seen for who you really are. Cinderella must accept the fact that the prince doesn’t love her because she managed to make herself look love-worthy; he just loves her.
Here we have a glimpse of the kind of love that echoes gospel love. In Jesus’s love, we too learn to stop dressing up to impress our Savior. He comes to us as we are and loves us, and that is where we find our self-worth. Gone is the pressure of living like a fancied-up Cinderella whose gown is actually rags and whose carriage is really a garden vegetable. Our beauty comes from the fact that Jesus already loves us, not from any superficial trappings we try on to make ourselves look desirable. This is a message our kids need to hear again and again.
It’s easily the best moment in the film, but it’s fleeting. There’s little leading up to it that suggests Cinderella was wrestling with insecurity or that the prince’s love was unconditional, leaving me with the impression that the filmmakers only inserted the thought into the ending because they too realized that the movie’s larger premise is too superficial. Still, it’s a nice touch that adult filmgoers will certainly catch. If you want the little princess who sees the movie with you to notice it, though, you may have to point it out to her.
Talking about Cinderella
So how do we talk about this movie with kids? I suggest three topics:
- Talk about courage and kindness. Are these things really enough to make life turn out well? What’s good about them? What’s missing?
- Talk about romance and marriage. What qualities should you look for in a spouse? To make a story in which the prince loves Cinderella the way Jesus loves us, what would you change about the movie?
- Talk about being loved. Point out how all the fake stuff (gown, carriage, driver, and footmen) didn’t really make Cinderella special or loveable. Discuss what makes us special: not how we look or what we own or how good we are at sports, school, or other activities, but that we belong to Jesus.
Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like, and no one but me will see your email address—and I won’t use it, I promise)