Quick: When I mention the name “Cinderella”, what’s the first thing you think of? Fatherhood? Masculinity? No? (Why are you looking at me like that?) I’m not crazy, really I’m not; yet if all you have ever seen is the quaint little cartoon from a bazillion years back, you’d probably have a reason to believe I’d flown the coop. However, I refer to last year’s Disney release, a live-action-meets-CGI version of the classic. I took my wife and daughter on a date to see the film (the boys were in the woods camping at the time…YES!), and though I expected to enjoy the girls enjoying the movie, I did not expect to really enjoy the film myself. Yet enjoy it I did, although possibly for different reasons than most in the theater.
This new iteration dives into some story elements that were barely touched upon in the classic film. We see the movie beginning with a young Ella surrounded by beauty and love; the idea that Ella is born and raised in a loving, joyful family is highlighted in a refreshing way. Her mother is a lovely woman, inside and out, and Ella’s father, who travels for work, nevertheless makes Ella the centerpiece of his world when he returns, bringing her gifts, dancing with her, and loving her with a fierce intentionality. This intentional fathering comes full circle later in the film in some incredible ways.
Early on, Ella endures the tragic loss of her mother at the hands of an unmentioned illness; but before she dies, she asks Ella to promise that she will “have courage and be kind”. Ella and her father endure for a time, after which he finds the appearance of love on his travels, and he wisely shares his intentions with Ella before moving into another relationship. This new relationship, of course, winds up being less than he’d hoped for, as the infamous stepmother and stepsisters move into the home. He leaves on one last work trip, promising to bring home what Ella asks for-the first branch he brushes on his travels, so that he will remember her the whole time and return. Alas, he does not return, as he falls ill on the road, but he makes certain that the news of his death is accompanied by the branch; a symbol that he has never forgotten his Ella, and never will.
I will spare you the familiar details of what happens next, as anyone who has lived any length of time knows the old story. However, when Ella meets the prince for the first time, it is in the forest while his entourage is on a hunt. We find out very quickly that he is a good man, as well, with a loving and engaged father (the King). They are both smitten, and he holds the ball in the hopes of seeing this mystery woman again.
What struck me in the film is how much like Ella’s father the prince turns out to be. In fact, when they dance at the ball, it turns into the exact same dance Ella’s father used to lead her in when she was a young girl. The parallels were striking. His intentionality in finding Cinderella was represented very similarly to her father’s intentionality toward her.
So my takeaway was this: Ella was the daughter of an engaged, intentional, and loving father. As a result, she was able to endure the horrors of her stepmother and sisters, the barbs and false identities hurled her way, and when she captured the heart of the prince, she wound up finding a man with all of the qualities of her father. This is, in a nutshell, what I believe intentional fatherhood does in the heart of a woman. The identity a father bestows on his children, both male and female, will carry them through their lives…or will haunt them through their lives. Do it well, and he will grow up to be strong, kind, adventurous, and bold; she will grow up to be radiant, beautiful throughout, strong, kind, merciful, and…altogether alluring. The important thing is that she will be alluring to any man, but will only give her heart to the man that best exhibits the traits of…her father. That’s what an intentional father does, and that’s what Ella’s father does.
Ultimately, as counterintuitive as it sounds, the new “Cinderella” is a great movie for men, too. It can show us what we can accomplish far beyond our lifespan here if we dedicate ourselves to intentional fathering. There’s a reason why this story has stood the test of time, after all…