Written By: Charles Perrault (original), Ken Anderson, Perce Pearce, Homer Brightman, Winston Hibler, BilL Peet, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears & Maurice Rapf
So in 1950, after YEARS of being forced to make cheap-ass “Compilations Of Shorts” films, Walt Disney FINALLY had enough money in the Baby Boom Era to make a REAL picture again. Cinderella, based off of a famous story by Charles Perrault, is only the SECOND “Disney Princess” movie, thirteen years after Snow White, though really Disney didn’t quite go full-bore into the “Princess” thing until more recent decades- the first 40 years only sees three Princesses.
This is one I hadn’t seen literally since I was a small child, so I checked it out in a couple years ago when doing something for another site. First off, Cinderella looks different than you’d imagine if you’re only familiar with current stuff- more of a strawberry-blonde lass than the blonde girl we see in the current Disney Merchandise. The character design is very pretty, lacking any of the curves of the Evil Queen, despite being older than Snow White. The animation is quite good (keep in mind this is now SIXTY-THREE YEARS LATER and you could release it in 2018 and they’d be all “wow, that’s quite pretty in parts”), doing the usual “Disney Over-Animation” thing, but everything looks nice. The bit where you see her naked back in the shower would probably never get shown today. Also, it’s obvious I never saw this as a preteen, because I’d definitely have remembered THAT.
I’m not a fan of the songs- too old-fashioned (duh, right?) and full of just holding the notes too long. I’m practically an old man when it comes to musical tastes (everyone knows Rock attained perfection in 1976!), but this stuff is just too old-timey- long, drawn-out notes are very good to show someone’s vocal capabilities, but aren’t really good for songs. There’s a reason only one song from this movie is really well-known. When you think about it, it’s really funny how different this is from the other films in the canon- there’s very little actual danger or action sequences at all- which is something Disney usually started adding to make more authentic villains and to appeal to young boys as well as girls. Hell, there’s only even MAGIC involved for like ten minutes of plot. Compare this to nearly any other film in the Disney Animated Canon (even the Princess ones) and it basically comes across more as a domestic drama.
Not that this lessens any of the emotional impact- keeping your stepdaughter as a SLAVE is pretty low, and the scene where the two Ugly Stepsisters rip apart poor Cindy’s dress is STILL capable of seeming exceptionally inhumane, even given some of the murderous monsters in the Disney franchise. One guy I know showed this to his Elementary School class one time, and they literally BOOED when Lady Tremaine tripped the footman! Now THAT is a complete bitch move!
It’s funny how much of an Ass Pull Deus Ex Machina the whole “Fairy Godmother” thing is, but it’s basically the crux of the entire story AND it’s not coming at the climax, so it’s all okay and comes across less lame than in poorer stories- the Fairy Godmother doesn’t actually SOLVE everything, she just gets Cinderella to the ball. Everything after that is on our girl. I also get a kick out of how casually and easily Cindy just ACCEPTS the whole thing, like “oh hey there magic lady with the wand, how’s it going?”- she obviously knows these things exist. I also dig the whole “Magic, But With a Limit” thing, like how the Gargoyles TV show always handled it- Magic had pre-set limits. Of course, the “clock strikes twelve” thing is probably the most famous Magical Caveat in history, but still.
It’s hilarious how little The Prince figures into the story. He’s such a Plot Device here. He gets dragged into the ball by his grandchildren-obsessed father, falls for Cinderella, then, in a bizarre twist, the whole search for the shoe-wearer takes place without him! It’s all the Duke and his footmen! Prince Charming is in the movie for like five minutes! Also funny: they dragged every maiden in the kingdom to the Ball, and now they all gotta sit there and watch Cinderella dance with the Prince.
THAT has to suck- “oh hey thanx for coming but this chick is totally hotter than y’all K BYYYYYYYYYYYE!” That shoe she leaves behind is RIDICULOUSLY tiny- these guys’ hands are just enormous compared to it- does Cinderella practice foot-binding or something?
The traditional stories are a bit different, but keep most of the thematic elements. The Grimm Brothers of course made a freakier version where the stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by birds, but the original French version gives them a happy ending once they repent their actions.
Overall, I liked it, but it wasn’t GREAT or anything. I can see how it appeals to little girls, though, what with the Rags-To-Riches story (this is, effectively, the greatest Underdog Story of any fairy tale, and back then, marriage WAS many women’s only way out of a poor, servile existence), the mean villains, the lack of sheer mortal terror and fisticuffs figuring into everything (short of a cat versus some mice, there’s no real danger), and the happy ending with the pretty dresses. This is real “Primal Fascination” stuff for people, especially the female of the species. The animation is great (especially given the time period), the characters are good (everyone but the Prince has some great moments- the King and his obsessive, murderous demands for grandchildren are a hoot; the Grand Duke is funny as a Butt Monkey aide, the sisters are humorously stupid and rude; and Lady Tremaine is OH SO VICIOUS), and despite the Deus Ex Machina, the main crux of the story happens after that.
Cinderella herself is an interesting case-study as far as the “Princesses” go- she may be the most generic and Trope Codifying of the lot of them- she’s impeccably polite, nice, a friend to animals, is ultra-glamorous and pretty, and wears the most pimped of Pimped Out Dresses, but she’s got a bit of an edge that often gets forgotten in Disney’s efforts to Blandify the Princesses into a homogenous array of Super-Polite Girly-Girls. While she’s polite to everybody, she makes a lot of snide comments about her Stepsisters, and certainly gives Lucifer a lecture or two about his behavior. Can you imagine the modern incarnation of the character chasing a cat around with a broom?
Cinderella was originally imagined to be a 16-year old, pug-nosed girl who “dresses up” to look better, but Marc Davis animated her as a graceful, long-necked beauty who was more typically attractive.
Fun note: The official color of the dress in all Merchandise and Disney parks is BLUE, and her hair is “Barbie Blonde”. However, if you watch the movie, you will notice that the dress is quite clearly SILVER, and her hair actually strawberry-blonde. Exactly why this happened is beyond me, as the Disney Princesses are strictly “Color-Coded” (which is why Ariel was stuck in a green dress for years; Aurora already “called” pink), and silver wasn’t taken- perhaps it’s just because it was a simpler choice? Blue dresses & blonde hair are a decent look anyways, so it might have been cheaper and easier to get right than Cinderella’s more distinctive other look. There’s some thought that the silver looks too much like a wedding dress.
About the Performer: Cinderella was played by Ilene Woods, a singer of some minor repute at the time. She didn’t go on to much fame, but successfully sued Disney over licensing rights in the ’80s, dying in 2010. The sequels and other productions use Jennifer Hale, one of the more prominent (but generic) voice actresses of our time, as the voice, leading to funny situations like her and the Prince talking, and it’s the voices of the Black Cat and Spider-Man from the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon.
God DAMN that is now you sneer at someone.
It really says something that The Wicked Stepmother character of Cinderella stands out as a great Disney Villain when you consider that she’s one of the few who isn’t an outright murderer, sorceress or world conqueror. She’s really just NASTY AS HELL, and in a very human way, and that makes her all the more easy to despise. The opening narration effortlessly shows how cruel she is, when she marries a rich guy (who just wants a mother to his poor daughter Cinderella), then turns his daughter into a slave in her own home once the guy croaks. She bullies Cinderella emotionally, and turns The Ugly Stepsisters against her with quick little jibes (she’s actually REALLY good at manipulation, being able to subtly turn both daughters against Cindy just by mentioning the beads & sashes of her new dress- things that were discarded by Drizella & Anastasia earlier), and proves to be so evil that she’ll LOCK CINDERELLA IN HER BEDROOM just to avoid her getting ANY kind of happiness whatsoever.
The Lady Tremaine gets even MORE evil in the sequels (straight-to-video of course), at one point stealing the Fairy Godmother’s Wand to REVERSE TIME to prevent Cinderella from marrying The Prince, and even disallows her daughter (becoming increasingly nice as things go on) from dating a “commoner”; a baker lad. Then she turns Cinderella into a PUMPKIN, and sends her off to her death!
About the Performer: You want an iconic cultural touchstone? Eleanor Audley not only voiced LADY TREMAINE, but she was also the voice for MALEFICENT! Now THAT is some nightmarish resonance to children! Like, who the frick considers Lady Tremaine the SECOND-most-iconic of their Disney Villain performances? She was also one of the snobbish female elephants in Dumbo– it’s hard to imagine somebody who was better at playing unpleasant. Disney Parks Snobs will also happily tell you that she is the original voice for Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion rides. She was on a lot of television in her time, even playing Oliver’s disapproving mother on Green Acres.
Reception and Cultural Impact
This movie is HUGE. Not only was it wildly successful in its own time (the first Disney movie since Dumbo to do so well), it’s gone on to make the Disney company billions. Hell, the tale of Cinderella is one of the most famous, repeated stories in Western civilization, and Walt’s version is STILL by far the most famous and iconic version! Walt himself considered Cinderella’s dress forming from the fairy dust to be the finest thing his studio ever put together, and the entire tale is easily-remembered by everyone, even if they’ve only seen it once. The antics of the Wicked Stepsisters are iconic “slovenly villain” stuff (has anything ever defined a character so quickly as Anastasia uncouthly wiping her nose with an outstretched finger?), and Lady Tremaine is authentically fearsome for somebody with very little real power (she’s an economically-flailing woman with a big house, essentially)- she just has power over CINDERELLA, and that’s all we need to know.
The film is very well-respected and is beautifully-shot, though the basic story gets ripped on a lot for the very bog-standard “and then she gets married and that fixes everything” ending. Granted, that was actually a VERY COMMON THING back when the story was written. Some of that irks modern ideals a tad, but I choose to see it more as a “being a nice person pays off in the end” kind of a thing- the “winning the man” is Cinderella’s reward for a lifetime of heartbreak, hard work, and never giving up on her dreams. It’s schmaltzy, but this is GODDAMN DISNEY, and you just accept these things sometimes, especially in a 1950 film.
Cinderella herself is an iconic Disney character, and one of the lead “Disney Princesses” in the line, often taking center stage- both her and Aurora are arguably the most “Princess Classic”, being beautiful, graceful, mature young women in classic dresses- Snow White is too young and pastoral, and most of the later ones are too fight-y and/or immature.
She’s appeared on a ridiculous amount of merchandise, is a regular Face Character in the parks, and even lends her name to the centerpiece castles of Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland! “Cinderella Castle” is a fantastically-large, very beautiful structure, decked out like a cartoon castle, and given some pretty great “Forced Perspective” to make a comparatively-small castle looking absolutely massive (the spires are wider at the bases, and get thinner near the tops, creating the impression that they’re much taller, shrinking as they go into the distance). Much is made on Disney Forums about which castle is the nicest- Disney World’s is a classic, and Tokyo has a near-identical one- Paris’s is pink (and is named after Aurora), and Tokyo’s is on a giant hill/ledge thing.
Most of the Parks’s “Official Disney Princess” dress-up stores are named for the Fairy Godmother, the “Bibbidi-Bobbity Boutique”. The Prince is considered the most iconic of the “Generic Disney Princes” that populate the pre-1980s movies, too. He’s pretty bland, simple, and doesn’t do much.
The Wicked Stepsisters have gone on to become characters in their own right, often wandering around the various Parks as Face Characters acting like complete asses. Most fans will claim their best character interactions are with the sisters, as the actresses (sorry… “Friends of the Stepsisters”) just go balls to the wall with the horrendous behavior, shrieking and boorishly stomping around.
The movie received TWO controversial sequels in the 2000s, shamelessly getting by on name value. Cinderella 2 is an atrocious, poorly-told trio of Short Stories themed around daily life around the kingdom, though there’s at least a nice bit for Anastasia, who finds a boy she likes that her mother doesn’t approve of. Cinderella 3 is, I shit you not, ACTUALLY NOT THAT BAD, as it elaborates upon Cinderella’s Prince (his dad points out the oddity of choosing a wife based on shoe size), and actually features some REAL evil, as Lady Tremaine grabs hold of the Fairy Godmother’s wand, freezes her into a statue, and undoes Cinderella’s happy ending, forcing her to win it back! In the end, Anastasia is the one who comes to save the day, as she realizes her “love” for the Prince is a fake, saying “I want what YOU have” to her stepsister.
The movie received one of Disney’s patented “Live-Action Remakes” in 2015, featuring beauty Lily James (of Downton Abbey fame) in the title role, and a more dynamic relationship with various cast members. Lady Tremaine was given a bit more sympathy (the animated version has her be 100% evil). She was still rotten, but it came from a position of fear and jealousy over her new stepdaughter getting all of her husband’s attention. She also had more of a relationship with the Bland Prince beforehand, so their meeting was less “he sees her and instantly is in love”. The movie wasn’t terribly memorable overall, though. I think most of the praise went to Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine.