Disney Review: Cinderella (1950)

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Year of release: 1950
Running time: 72 minutes
Based on: “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault
Availability: re-releasing on DVD / Blu-Ray in April 2011
Sequels/Spin-offs: Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), appearances in the Disney Princess franchise

Plot: Cinderella lives as a servant to her stepmother and two ugly stepsisters, with only animals to keep her company. With help from her Fairy Godmother, she is able to attend the Prince’s ball where the two fall in love, though she is forced to flee the party just before the stroke of midnight, leaving only her glass slipper behind. The Prince searches throughout the kingdom for his mystery love, until Cinderella is found and it is shown that only she can fit the tiny shoe. The two are married and live happily ever after.

The Heroes
Like Snow White before her, Cinderella is a young woman who is under the rule of a wicked stepmother, acting as a servant girl in her own house. She is also very kind to all animals, rescuing mice from her stepmother’s traps and making them clothes. But unlike other Disney princesses, Cinderella is never heard pining after “true love”, dreaming simply of a better life than one spent serving her step-family. Best of all, Cinderella shows none of Snow White’s sickening naivety when interacting with her stepmother: she knows exactly what is happening when her sisters overload her with chores on the day before the ball.

The other main heroes in this film are the animals that Cinderella interacts with, chief among them being two mice called Jaq and Gus. Rather than acting as mere sidekicks or background-filler, these two mice are actually responsible for freeing Cinderella from her tower in time for her to try on the glass slipper. The other mice and birds also design a beautiful dress for her while she is busy doing chores. Though they are fairly cute, I must take issue with the style of voices given to the mice – their squeaky, sped-up speech is not only difficult to understand at the best of times but also unbelievably irritating. In fact, the irritating voices of these miniature heroes are probably my biggest complaints about the film.

The Villains
Cinderella’s stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is one of the most fascinating Disney villians. She lacks the supernatural powers of Snow White’s antagonist and only has control over the three young women inside her house, yet she radiates cold, bitter malice whenever she is on-screen. In short, Lady Tremaine is a complete bitch. Although the narrator at the beginning of the film briefly mentions her jealousy of Cinderella’s beauty, it seems most of the time she abuses and overworks her stepdaughter just for the sake of it. She even goes as far as to shatter the glass slipper to try and ruin Cinderella’s chance at happiness. The voice actress for Lady Tremaine is actually the same one used for Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, a villain who is in league with Satan and can transform into a dragon. Lady Tremaine may not be quite that intense, but her straight-faced cold-heartedness can be just as effective. Also, she named her pet cat Lucifer. A formidable woman indeed.

Much like their mother, Cinderella’s stepsisters live only to make her life a mystery. They are spoilt, untalented and cruel – the complete opposite of our heroine. But I guess their cruelty is a little more understandable – they grew up in their mother’s care, so they probably don’t know any other way to behave. Their cruellest moment comes just before the ball: realising that Cinderella’s dress is made of their rejected clothes and jewellery, they violently tear it from her as she cries for them to stop. They are nowhere near their mother’s level of bitchiness, but they are not far behind.

The Story
The tale of Cinderella is both timeless and well-known – even at the time of this film’s release, there had already been several movie adaptations, one dating back as far as the 19th century. Walt Disney himself had produced an 8-minute “Laugh-O-Gram” version of the story in 1922. For his feature-length version, however, Disney made some changes to the story, most noticeably giving the animals a much larger role (in the original story, the mice are simply random animals that the Fairy Godmother transforms into horses). This use of animals is a little peculiar, especially when considering how head-strong Cinderella is shown to be. When the climax of the film arrives, all she can do is cry behind a locked door while Jaq and Gus do all of the heroic work. On the other hand, it could be argued that this resolution shows how Cinderella is rewarded for her kindness to the animals: in return for her servant-heart, she is allowed to find true love.

The other interesting aspect of Disney’s vision involves the punishment handed out to Cinderella’s step-family. Or, more accurately, the complete lack of one. Much like Pinocchio before it, Cinderella’s villains seem to get off lightly for the cruelty they showed the heroine. Early versions of the Cinderella story have had quite horrific punishments given to the stepmother and stepsisters, but here a punishment is not even mentioned – the Tremaine family simply don’t see their plan to marry into royalty succeed. Indeed, in Disney’s sequels, Lady Tremaine is shown to be perfectly well, though even more bitter towards her stepdaughter. She even returns as the primary villain in the second sequel, using the Fairy Godmother’s magic to reverse time so that Anastasia marries the Prince instead of Cinderella. She really is a total bitch.

The Music
Cinderella has a really excellent soundtrack, though only a couple of these songs have made it into public conciousness. “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” (Cinderella’s “trademark” song) and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” are both very familiar to the majority of people, the former echoing some of the sentiments from “When You Wish Upon A Star”. The film’s opening number, sung by The Jud Conlon Chorus, employs yet more of those beautiful harmonies that I apparently have to mention in every review. My favourite song by far is “So This Is Love”, a duet sung by Cinderella and the Prince while dancing at the ball. It’s a beautifully slow song, comprised mainly of hummed melodies, that sets a very peaceful mood while they walk through the moonlit gardens of the palace.

Another highlight is “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale”, a song started (terribly) by Drizella in her music lesson, but continued (beautifully) by Cinderella while she washes the tiles outside. Her reflections in the soap bubbles begin harmonising with her voice, creating a delightful sound. Oh, and the less said about the mice’s “The Work Song”, the better.

The Visuals
When Cinderella was released, it was Disney’s most expensive production to date, a fact clearly reflected in the quality of animation. Cinderella mixes the realistic motions of Snow White’s best sequences with comfortable, stylised character designs to create some of the best visuals seen so far in these reviews. Stand-out moments include the transformations of the pumpkin and animals into Cinderella’s carriage and the dark, moody close-ups of Lady Tremaine.

Other Points of Interest
One interesting aspect of Disney’s adaptation is how little the Prince appears. Although we see his father, the King, and the Duke quite a bit, the Prince himself is only present for the ball and his wedding. Admittedly, the King and the Duke are far more entertaining characters than the Prince, the former selfishly dreaming of grandchildren and the Duke desperately attempting to follow the King’s wishes to avoid execution. Still, considering the small amount of action that Cinderella sees in the film’s climax, we really don’t see an awful lot of our central couple throughout the film.

Legacy
As mentioned before, Cinderella was Disney’s most expensive production, made at a time when the Disney studio was already in a large amount of financial trouble. Had Cinderella tanked at the box office, Disney would probably have had to shut up shop. Luckily for Walt, Cinderella became his biggest hit since Snow White, enchanting audiences all across the world and producing enough profit for him to create new projects, including the beginnings of his own publishing house and Disneyland. More recently, the film was placed at #9 in the AFI’s “Top 10 Animated Films”.

Although not the earliest film to receive the sequel treatment, Cinderella is the earliest film to have an entire franchise built around it. Two sequels, “Dreams Come True” and “A Twist In Time”, were released to DVD in 2002 and 2007. The former, a collection of short cartoons based around the characters in Cinderella, was poorly received and holds a rare “0%” critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the second sequel, a full-length movie about Lady Tremaine changing the events of the first film to allow Anastasia to marry the Prince, was better received.

Conclusion
While not seeming particularly ground-breaking today, Cinderella is an extremely well-crafted fairy-tale. Crossing a strong heroine with some really fun villains, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The film falls down a little in the third act when Cinderella is locked in her room, leaving the film to focus on those irritating mice, but at the end of the day, even squeaky rodents can’t derail this experience.

I award this film 8 out of 10 evil stepsisters.

Next review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

So, what do you think ?