A lot of Disney’s old animation movies have been criticised for always having the girl/princess saved by her prince, and then ending in a wedding that’s equivalent to their happily ever after.
And while the reason I’m stating for this can basically be applied to a number of these movies, I prefer tackling them in separate articles. Thus, this one’s only going to deal with what I think the real reason was that Disney’s “Cinderella” ended with Cinderella and the Prince marrying — and to tackle how the story is not at all about a girl just being saved by a prince at the end.
So here’s my take on the matter: The reason Cinderella married the Prince in the end and why it’s denoted as the “Happily Ever After” is because . . . . . .
That’s How The Original Fairy Tale Ended.
Let me explain: Cinderella is the story about a girl who was orphaned after her father died and found herself under the mercy of her abusive and jealous step-family. Then one day, when a royal ball was happening in the kingdom (where the story is taking place), which her step-family prevented her from going to, Cinderella met her Fairy Godmother who helped her attend the ball via magic — with the important condition that she return by midnight as the magic she lent her would cease at that time.
Then there, she met the Prince, they danced and fell in love, and while she was running from the palace to make the midnight deadline, she lost a glass slipper, which was how the prince managed to find her again.
These are the bare bones of the fairy tale. And while there are many versions of it, these are also the key points that make “Cinderella” the story that it is:
Cinderella Has to have a step-family with one or more members who mistreat her and have considerable power over her. (Yes, I know there are versions of the story where it is her biological mother who mistreats her so badly, but considering that it’s not such a well-known version, it’s generally a stepmother that takes this role. Either way tho, Cinderella is abused and treated as a servant in her own house — which is necessary, as otherwise, we wouldn’t really have much of a story in the first place. Besides, this is the main “conflict” in the original story.)
There Must be a royal ball (or there wouldn’t be any turning point or “climax” to the story; she’d just be a servant forevermore, or until her stepmother died or something).
There Must be a Fairy Godmother (or some manner of magical guardian) who comes to help her attend said ball by way of magic. (This IS a fairy tale after all, and Disney obviously wanted to keep the magic. Besides, the Fairy Godmother is basically iconic to Cinderella, just as the coach, horses, and ball gown are.)
There Must Be Glass Slippers. (Do I even need to explain? If you think Cinderella, you remember unusual, breakable, somewhat see-through footwear.)
And there Must be a Midnight Curfew, Cinderella Must lose one of her slippers at the ball, the Prince Has to look for her (or else the lost slipper serves no purpose), and the story Must end with the two marrying — Because why else would the Prince search an entire kingdom for a girl with just one shoe? You can’t do something as dramatic as all that and not have an equally dramatic and momentous follow-up like marriage.
Also, consider the era and time Disney’s Cinderella is set in: A quick courtship period followed by an engagement and marriage was the norm. Dating in general was limited to trying multiple dance partners at balls, and generally, only if the girl was asked by the guy(s).
So basically, even if Cinderella hadn’t had an abusive family, and even if she had attended the ball on her own without the help of a Fairy Godmother, if she caught the Prince’s eye and enjoyed a dance or two with him, and she didn’t have her family trying to sabotage her or force her into anything, she most likely would have consented to a courtship, engagement, and, soon after, marriage. (Unless she was averse to the marriage — or averse to the Prince — this would have just been the norm; nevermind that they might have just had a dance or two to actually fall for each other.)
In short, since this is a retelling of the well-known Cinderella fairy tale, Disney had to stay true to the key plot points of the tale. Hence, basically, their “Cinderella” Had to end with the Prince and Cinderella marrying each other. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
As for the story being all about the Prince “saving” Cinderella . . . Come again now?
He basically showed up at the tail end of the Disney movie and didn’t even know her name. The only significant part he played was noticing her at the ball, dancing with her, and then making the decision to marry only the girl whose foot fit the glass slipper left behind. (Which, in hindsight, he might have probably made under duress — since he badly wanted to find the girl he’d danced with and dissuade his father from trying to find him more girls to consider marriage with. But that’s for another article to discuss.) And until she heard about it the next day, Cinderella hadn’t even realized that she had been dancing with the Prince the previous night.
Rather, the whole movie was entirely focussed on Cinderella, what her life was like, and how she dealt with it all.
She also stood up for herself when the invitation to the royal ball arrived (which, in any era or time, is incredibly hard for a victim of abuse to do). And she was going to make a dress for herself to attend it, nevermind that she had nothing but her mother’s old gowns to work with. And when the mice and birds finally made it for her, it was only because her step-family had plotted to keep her too busy to get ready — and her friends had basically done it because of how much she had helped them over the years.
Even when her stepmother locked her in her room, she escaped with the help of her friends — who were loyal to her and loved her only because she was so kind. And it was she who told them to “Get Bruno” — which is what finally helped her escape the locked room.
And, even at the end, when Lady Tremaine sabotaged her even further by making the king’s envoy drop and break the glass slipper, she was the one who took out the other slipper of the pair — thereby, once again, saving herself.
However, don’t get me wrong: If the movie had been a modern/contemporary retelling of the tale, a number of details would definitely need to be modified to be either palatable or positive.
But, Disney’s Cinderella is not set up as a contemporary story. It is a retelling of an old fairy tale and deliberately set in a past era.
And wherever the movie did add its own artistic interpretation and story details, it only helped empower and add positivity to an otherwise tragic and helpless character.