The fairy godmother in the Grimm version is a little white bird. In the Disney movie, it is a plump, old lady with a magic wand. This is the biggest difference. Both serve the same purpose, to help Cinderella during her hard times. Another difference is the fact that the godmother’s magic in the movie wears off and Cinderella cannot keep her dress or carriage. In the original, the bird gives her glorious dresses and shoes that she can keep, without having a time constraint. In addition, the bird gives her more than pretty dresses for the festivals; he gives her anything she asks for, and appears whenever she visits her mother’s grave. In the movie, the fairy godmother only shows up after Cinderella’s stepsisters have torn apart her dress and she runs away crying. Lastly, the little bird in the original plays a more active role as a godparent. The bird is the one that warns the prince he has the wrong girl, and not his common sense. If it weren’t for the bird, the stepsisters would have gotten away with fooling the prince that the shoe fit them.
In both versions we see the use of animals as characters. With the Grimm tale, it is all birds, but in the movie, it is a mix of animals, such as mice and birds. However, they play different roles. In the original, the stepmother prevents Cinderella from going to the ball by throwing lentils into the ashes and forcing her to pick them out. Cinderella asks and the birds easily complete this task. In the movie, her task is a bunch of chores around the house. Cinderella completes these herself, while her animal friends work on making her a dress. While both are helpful, the tasks they do are different and help Cinderella in different ways.
Perhaps Disney makes these changes with the godparent and the animals to show that we need to take care of things ourselves, and we shouldn’t rely on other people. Cinderella does get a lot of help from her godmother in the movie, but not as much as she gets in the Grimm tale. In addition, Cinderella relies more on the white bird than she does on the godmother in the movie.
Little birds helping Cinderella pick lentils from the ashes, a scene depicted in the Grimm Brother’s version: