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Cinderella from the Child's Perspective: A Reception Study on Three Film Adaptations

As part of a qualitative study by the IZI, 130 children were filmed watching the current ARD or ZDF film adaptation of Cinderella or the DEFA classic Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel (Three Nuts for Cinderella), and then they were asked in detail about their impressions of these. What is the focus of the children’s attention – i.e. what interests them in particular – in the respective fairy tales? Children want content they can relate to in terms of their own issues, content which helps them with their identity development. The possibility of comparing three different versions of the fairy tale Cinderella offers the opportunity to explore what is specific to the respective adaptations from children’s view.

Results: All three versions are very well received by the children – apart from a few points where they tend to become bored when adult minor characters are talking to one another. The children enjoy the reception. However, the children see each film adaptation as having its own specific characteristics. Despite all the differences, the most important thing for children is the positive outcome of the story. A happy ending shows children that good has triumphed. Fairy tales are still a valuable genre for children today; they can learn something from Cinderella too. 
In Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel children are mainly enthusiastic about the scenes with animals. Whereas girls clearly like Cinderella and her horse the best, the boys’ favourite character is the mysterious owl. This film adaptation is still appealing to children today, as the protagonist Cinderella is active, competent, and by no means a victim waiting tacitly for her redeemer. As a character – particularly when she is riding her horse –, Cinderella stands for emerging autonomy and hope for a good (better) life.
With the ZDF film adaptation, it is striking how intensively and emotionally the children engage in the reception. Child protagonists offer children great potential for empathising with characters in the story right from the beginning. The story addresses various identity issues, e.g. coping with loss, or the deep desire to be recognised in one’s inner beauty as an individual. Furthermore, there are some exciting scenes in this version of Cinderella which have viewers on the edges of their seats. At certain moments younger children may become very afraid, but at other times they might cheer loudly for the protagonists.   

In the ARD film adaptation the children like, above all, the humorous scenes and modern elements which chime with what they are used to watching. They enjoy the story, which deals with morality, good and evil. It presents a self-confident heroine who works hard to achieve her goal, and in the end, everything turns out well.   
Taking the three film adaptations of the fairy tale as examples, the study shows that fairy tales mirror children’s development and everyday lives. To a certain extent, children see themselves reflected in the protagonists, sharing in their fears, hopes and sufferings. Cinderella is a story that offers children ways of coping, showing them that they have an inner resistance, a strength that adults and parents perhaps either simply overlook or do not believe they possess. Moreover, the fairy tale conveys the message that people can always actively determine an outcome if they become active themselves and remain to true to their values.