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5 Lessons I Learned From Disney’s Newest ‘Cinderella’

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I am a sucker for fairytales. The magical story set in a faraway land, the hopeful promise of love and adventure in “Once upon a time,” the guarantee of a happy ending. But mostly, I love fairytales for the messages sprinkled throughout the story like faint sparkles of fairy dust, so bright and elusive that if you blink you might miss them. But if you hold out your hand and let those sparkles gently float into your palm, the wisdom and simple truth will settle into your veins and flow into your heart and sometimes even change the way you think and feel about the world.

The love story of beautiful, kind, gentle Cinderella and the determined, handsome prince is not a new one for most of us. Cinderella has been around in movie form since Walt Disney’s animated version in 1950. It’s the quintessential fairytale, complete with “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after.” Disney’s 21st century version, released last week, does not stray far from the original, but there is a compelling, realistic backstory and insight into the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters that is magnetic. And also, Cate Blanchett. Just saying.

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Here are five twinkling messages that I caught with delight as I watched Cinderella (Lily James) and her truly fabulous Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) weave their magic into my and my daughter’s heart:

1. Have courage and be kind. These are Cinderella’s gentle mother’s last words to her daughter before she dies. This message is simple, direct, and at the heart of the movie. And life.

2. I love a happy ending. Ella, as she is first called, says this to her father as she finishes reading a story aloud to him. Uh yeah, who doesn’t? And we know without a doubt that this story will have a happy ending. It’s a fairytale after all. But Ella’s story with her mother does not end happily. Nor with her father. There is cruelty and conflict with her stepmother and stepsisters, and that does not end happily either. She marries the prince, and ostensibly they “live happily ever after.”

But the message, I believe, is that happy endings should not be taken at face value. Everybody loves a happy ending, and we do our best to find happiness where and when we can, but usually there’s more (or less) to happy endings than meets the eye. Have courage. Be kind.

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3. “And you find, they’re really comfortable,” says the fabulous Fairy Godmother to Cinderella when she transforms her well-worn flats into dazzling high-heeled pumps… made of glass! The irony is that they look anything but comfortable. And the truth is when we are allowed to be ourselves, our best selves, we find we are very comfortable. Be kind.

4. Do shut up. This line, delivered impeccably by the evil stepmother (who doesn’t look evil–she looks pained, sad, and bitter), caught the attention of my daughter. Probably because her mother doesn’t condone the use of the phrase “shut up,” but also because Madame Stepmother plainly says it to one of her ridiculous daughters, and it’s what we’re all thinking. That they should all shut up and leave Cinderella alone. And sometimes the only way to express our wishes is to say them directly. Bluntly. Have courage.

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5. Because you are young and good and kind. And I’m… When Cinderella asks her stepmother why she is so cruel, this is her reply. And then she trails off with pathetic pain coloring her voice and flashing in her eyes. There is never a reason for cruelty. Ever. Even the stepmother realizes that.

Have courage and be kind. And live happily ever after.

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