The Walt Disney Studios have done it again: Served up a new “Cinderella” – plus a few deft “Downton Abbey” touches – with the usual dazzling creativity and the usual dilemma. After a fall from high social station, a girl has to wait for the powerful prince to lift her back up.

Lest anyone leap to the conclusion that the Disney studios are simply following some sort of “original” version of the tale, consider the following: The first serious study of the Cinderella tale type by Marian Roalfe Cox appeared in 1893 and listed 345 variants of the Cinderella story. Finding the original version is about as certain to succeed as finding the origin of meatballs. The basic plot of the “downgrading” and “upgrading” of a protagonist is as old as the hills, found in mythologies and lore around the globe. It even features a few male Cinderellas, such as the Brahmin’s son in the Himalayan “Story of the Black Cow.”

Cinderella tales are divisible into three heaps: The protagonist is treated miserably by a mother, a stepmother, a tutor, siblings or stepsiblings; the father harbors unnatural desires toward the daughter and she escapes; or, in the so-called “King Lear judgment,” a dim-witted father is bamboozled by the wicked eloquence of the likes of Goneril and Regan, and rejects the loving Cordelia.

Absent or thoughtless fathers are a common feature, the narrative energy coming mostly from female participants. How much perspicacity would it have taken for Cinderella’s father to get a bead on those paragons of egotism, the two daughters his second wife brought with her, and how dim-witted did he have to be to mistake Wife No. 2 for “a last chance of happiness”?

And must the women always wait passively for a prince to remedy the situation? In a 1634 version composed by Giambattista Basile (“The Cat Cinderella”), the mistreated daughter, following her teacher’s sage instructions, kills her stepmother. In a Chinese version, the step-relatives are killed by flying stones, and in an Egyptian version, the wicked one is flung over a tall cliff.

Even in one of the Brothers Grimm versions, Cinderella has enough get-up-and-go to perform the necessary rituals at her mother’s grave in order to get help from her spirit mother. It is one of the ironies that has escaped the attention of our contemporary filmmakers that older versions of tales are more likely to have resourceful female protagonists who think and act to get themselves out of trouble.

The iconic version of 1697 by Charles Perrault features a superstar of virtue with zero initiative. In Louis XIV’s Parisian salons of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, all Cinderella managed to do when everyone else went to the ball was cry, whereupon a godmother materializes out of thin air.

She adorns her godchild with exquisite haute couture and a stunning hairdo, and that is the way Cinderella appears at the ball. And – in the Jack Zipes translation – “all the ladies were busy examining her headdress and her clothes because they wanted to obtain some similar garments the very next day, provided they could find material as beautiful and artisans sufficiently clever … .”

And then there is the glass slipper, the “petite pantouffle de verre.” Other than Disney and Perrault, I am not aware of a single other version of the tale that features this impossible footwear, which is sure to shatter on the first step of the first dance at the ball.

Jack Zipes, one of the most knowledgeable scholars of European tales, conjectures that Perrault invented the glass slippers as an ironic joke since the glass would most likely shatter when it fell off her foot, even if she managed a minuet. What the slipper motif circumvents is the widespread feminine beauty ideal of the small foot. One shudders to think how much pain has been inflicted on women to meet that ideal.

So, enjoy this latest version for what it is, a brilliant display of the creativity and technical skill of the unstoppable Disney studios, and let us hope that someday they discover a version of the indestructible tale that breaks the stereotype and the slipper, and credits women with brains, an exit strategy and kindness.