The Frogger loves Disney‘s Cinderella, mainly because she thinks Cinderella’s ball gown in pretty, likes dancing, and loves all the cute animals[1,2]. As a result, I have had many opportunities over the past few months to observe this film in great detail, repeatedly. These posts resulted from subjecting the normally active mind, thirsting for stimulation, to triplicate viewings whilst traversing the wintry wastelands of the Midwest, with the first of two presented here, wherein I shall examine what we can infer about the kingdom in Cinderella is set and why you might not want to live in that land of Fairy Tales.
In what kind of kingdom does Disney’s Cinderella live? Based on the evidence from the film, we can infer that while kingdom is magical and wealthy, but that it is also a totalitarian, absolute monarchy that may generate its wealth through mining using slave labor.
The inferred characteristics of Cinderella’s kingdom are:
- Geographically small state
- Most likely located in the Pyrenees Mountains
- Dynastic succession
- Absolute monarchy
- Wealth based on mining
- Slaves comprise primary labor force
Let’s take a look at the supporting evidence in the film for these inferences.
Geographically small state
The royal ball celebrating the return of the prince, at which the king hopes to find a wife for his son, is the central plot element of the story. The king is able to summon “every eligible maiden” to the palace within 24 hours. Reasonable assumptions about communication and travel rates indicate that the kingdom’s geographic size must be very small. Similarly, the Grand Duke is able to try the glass slipper on “every eligible maiden” in the kingdom in a equally short period of time. The story would not have suffered by planning the celebratory ball for a week or month in the future (rather than that night), because the ball is the only constraint on the story’s timeline. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the screenwriters had a small kingdom in mind.
Most likely located in the Pyrenees Mountains
The background scenery suggests a mountainous background. The mixed use of French and Spanish sounding vocabulary and names suggests that these mountains may be located near the border of modern France and Spain, which would nominate the Pyrenees as the most likely location.
While there is no evidence presented that the king inherited his crown from his father, the king is clearly interested in the passage of the monarchy to his son and then to his son’s children. Even if the current king did not benefit from dynastic succession, he clearly envisions his monarchy as a dynastic monarchy. It appears to be generally assumed by others that the prince would succeed his father, implying that dynastic succession was the norm.
The king repeatedly threatens summary execution as the punishment for failure. Is this rhetoric or a legitimate threat? The fear exhibited by the Grand Duke suggests that he, the king’s closest adviser, believes that the king might actually carry out the threat. Indeed, the king makes some serious effort to kill the Grand Duke with a sword, when the Grand Duke informs him that Cinderella escaped the palace. The ability of a monarch to summarily execute a member of the nobility is characteristic of an absolute monarchy. The use of imperial titles, in what is clearly a tiny, but wealthy kingdom suggests delusions of grandeur.
Wealth based on mining
The kingdom in Cinderella is obviously wealthy. The limited territorial expanse, however, suggest that this wealth is not due to agriculture. The mining of precious metals and gems is a potential alternative that may allow for the production of great wealth from limited territory. Distributed control of mines could provide the economic basis for the noble class, much as “tracts of land” provide the economic basis for the noble class in agriculturally dependent nations. Alternatively, the kingdom could generate income from controlling a trade route through the Pyrenees, but this would not support a noble class. It might support a wealthy merchant class, but noble/military titles are used throughout the film. The financial difficulties of the Cinderella’s family might have stemmed from the failure of the family’s mine or from the step-mother having sold the family mining interests for a short term influx of cash.
Slaves comprise primary labor force
The nobles of Cinderella’s kingdom could chose to pay employees to do their mining, but there are several reasons to suspect that they used slave labor instead. Slavery was very common in Medieval Europe, with some estimates claiming that as much as 20% of the population was enslaved, depending on where one draws the definitional line. The Roman Empire almost exclusively used slaves for their unskilled mine workers, as the labor was hard and dangerous leading to the use of expendable workers without rights or a wage.
The argument that the kingdom’s mines were primarily worked by slaves is also suggested by The Grand Duke’s willingness to try the slipper on a “scullery maid” (i.e., Cinderella) without determining that she is of noble birth suggests that being of the noble class is not required to be “eligible” to marry the prince. Yet, the absence of commoners from the ballwhich “every eligible maiden” was required to attend indicates that the kingdom does not have the usual large population of commoners. One solution is to postulate that “eligible” means “free” and that the primary workforce in the kingdom is composed of slaves.
The Cinderella story may have taken place in a realm of magic and beauty, but it also occurred in a kingdom where, even if you were lucky enough to be born into the nobility, getting on the wrong side of a all-powerful and erratic king could quickly earn you a trip to join the majority of the population slaving away in the dark mines. Cinderella may have already been fortunate before her Fairy Godmother showed up.
Speaking of her Fairy Godmother. . .Part 2 (on its way, I promise).
- In the lovely innocence of youth, she even loves the cat Lucifer, even though she knows he behaves badly.
- And, Gus Gus is her favorite mouse, as it should be.
- Perhaps of dwarves, according to the Disney Continuity Principle.
- He may also be inferred that the Grand Duke is either homosexual or a eunuch, as the king clearly implies that the Grand Duke is incapable of having children, not that he simply has none so far.
- Disney Continuity Principle – The principle that, when comparing two hypotheses regarding Disney animated classics, the hypothesis that generates the greatest continuity with other Disney animated classics is to be favored.