Original Release: February 1950
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson
Something that I have ranted to friends and family about since starting this project is that it presents the potential to watch films which I may have never seen or that I have seen long ago and forgotten. I keep thinking that there’s this chance that I’ll watch a film that I haven’t watched in ages and have all but forgotten and discover that I actually love the film more than I could ever have imagined. Such is the case with our first feature film since Bambi, Cinderella. Make no mistake, dear readers, you are about to see a grown man gush about how much he loved this film, which he may have never watched again if not for this little Vault Disney project.
Versions of Cinderella pop up all over the place in history, deviating based on culture and/or time period but for the sake of this film, we’ll go with the most obvious, which is that Cinderalla is based on the fairy tale “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault, which tells the tale of a heroine who loses her father and mother and must live with her evil step-mother and two step-sisters who treat her as if she were a servant rather than a family member. The Prince of the land holds a ball and requires all the eligible maidens in the land to attend. Cendrillon is forbidden by her step-mother to go and after they leave, her fairy God Mother shows up to transform her into a beauty to behold and turns a pumpkin into a carriage to take her to the ball. She goes, dances with the prince and loses her shoe, which he then uses to find her and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, she’s a princess. Okay, there’s more to it but that’s the gist. We’ll get to specifics of the film in a moment.
Disney was still in some pretty steep debt after World War 2, but Walt was sure that the studio was ready to journey back into the realm of full-length features. Starting production in 1948 and releasing two years later, there was a lot riding on this little tale. Live action actors as well as sets were used for the artists to capture the scene easier in order to save money. Helene Stanley stood in as Cinderella’s live action model while Ilene Woods voiced her. The mannerisms and subtleties of these two ladies gave way to much of what we see in Cinderella’s character.
Woods is an excellent story in herself as she had been recording demos, which she had given to friends to listen to and was simply working on her craft when she received a call from Walt himself. It turns out her friends had sent the demos to Walt during an open call for girls with ‘fairy tale’ voices. He had chosen Woods’ voice out of 309 other girls. Without even knowing it, she had accidentally auditioned to be Cinderella.
Like many other animated films from Disney so far, new technology was created for this film. During the recording of the song “Sing Sweet Nightingale,” Walt asked if Woods would attempt to harmonize with herself, which of course had never been done. She agreed and ended up singing four separate tracks for the song, making this one of the first times ever that double tracked vocals were used. You know, that thing that only EVERY SONG now uses. Yep, thanks Disney.
You guys know I like my history, so here are just a couple more little tales and then we will get into the film itself. Walt originally made Cinderella as a short nearly 30 years before the feature as part of the Laugh-O-Gram series. This was the first film to have its songs published and copyrighted by the just-opened Walt Disney Music Company. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” became a hit single, not once, but four times. And finally, Cinderella was the biggest financial success for Walt Disney Studios since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Phew, that was a lot. But now you can’t say you didn’t learn something, right? Let’s move on.
Let’s start with Cinderella herself. If you happened to read my inaugural article in this series, you’ll know that I was not a fan of Snow White, finding her to be sort of a push over and not a great female role model. I can’t say exactly why, but none of these feelings hit me with Cinderella. I liked her character from frame one. She’s got a pretty tough life. She lives in an attic and all her friends are animals, which can probably get a little lonely, but perks include birds which do your hair for you, so that’s something. The thing that has really solidified Cinderella through the ages is that she is just so friggin’ happy. She is such a silver lining kind of girl, seeing a beautiful ball gown in her mother’s old dress or making a mouse in a cage feel instantly at ease. She is brimming with good vibes and that makes her instantly sympathetic. She’s also got a little sass to her and the animation of her facial expressions are just so fantastic. More than this though is the fact that she is a character who has seen a lot of crap. She’s lost two parents, lives with some awful people and has lost almost everything she once knew, yet she still manages to find a way to sing a happy song when she wakes up. What an inspiration.
The animals are a real staple in this film. In fact, many long sequences involve only the animals and they are key to the plot. Jaq and Gus, our two mouse heroes are quite funny although I did find their incoherent voices to get to me a little bit by the end. I wish Gus didn’t have to sound quite so unintelligent. That being said, I did love that Gus is so brave. The first time they see Lucifer the Cat, or Lucify as they call him, Gus prepares to fight the cat which Jaq promptly warns him against. Jaq and Gus are also responsible for getting the key from the Lady Tremaine and freeing Cinderella in one of the most intense scenes of the film. Bruno the dog is adorable and Lucifer makes just as formidable a villain as the Evil Stepmother at times.
What I love about Lucifer is that in many ways he looks like Figero from Pinocchio, yet the sinister smile and walk all tell us a different story. He is privileged and has just as much power to make Cinderella’s life a mess as any Step-Sister. I also want to point out that his name is Lucifer. This name is so synonymous with Satan and I found myself wondering if this film would be protested or even frowned upon for using the name if it were released as something brand new today. Maybe not, but considering that the new television show by the same name met so much controversy, it’s interesting to consider.
Interestingly enough, when Lucifer falls from the tower at the end, Evil Queen style, I was under the impression that he might have died, although we do seem him turning to land on his feet as cats do. However, Lucifer did appear in both of the animated direct to DVD sequels, Cinderella 2 and 3 so I guess that answers that question.
Now that we are getting into more classic era of Disney films, I think it’s time we discussed something important about me as a writer and as a person. The simple fact is this: I love a good villain. They are often my favorite part of the film and I live for evil laughs, stares and vindictive plans which come to fruition. I say all this to explain the fact that I loved everything about the Evil Stepmother. From her first appearance to her harsh words to Cinderella as she sits in bed giving commands. She is cold and calculating and is by far the most evil thing we’ve seen so far in any of these films. She’s also the first real villain since the Evil Queen. She is the main threat to Cinderella from start to finish and it’s easy to really dislike her early and often. She is also animated so precisely. Every curved lip or evil glare resonates as if we are watching a live actor and really makes her seem that much more menacing. Lady Tremaine was played by Eleanor Audley who you may also know as another fantastic villain which we’ve yet to meet in this series, Maleficent. What can I say, this girl really knows how to be evil and she’s a name more people should know as her voice acting surpasses even those of modern day animated films and video games.
Oh and that final moment. That moment when the Step-Mother thinks she’s won and Cinderella pulls the other glass slipper out and the face that she makes. There’s no fall to her doom or end to her ways, just the cold hard truth that she has lost this battle. Fantastic.
I will also mention that her daughters Anastasia and Drizella are also quite evil but ultimately they are more comic relief and I actually feel sort of bad for them because they really have no idea how awful they are. In the original story and in the live action remake that came out earlier this year, Cinderella’s father goes away for work and asks Cinderella and the step-daughters what they’d like from his trip. The sisters ask for silks and sashes and nice things while Cinderella asks only for the first branch that touches him as he rides. When it is discovered that he has passed away, the step-sisters care only for the fact that they won’t get the fancy things they asked for. In a way, it’s hard to be mad at them because they are so lost in how awful they are thanks to their mother, who is really only in debt because of the amount of money she spends on the girls. They’re literally spoiled rotten with no way of understanding the error of their ways.
I have some issues with the Prince. They’re less now then when I initially finished watching the film though. I’ll admit, my first reaction was this. How could she love a man she just met? That’s preposterous. He doesn’t even give her a good reason to like him other than the fact that he is handsome. I mean, she doesn’t even KNOW he’s the Prince at first. Then I thought about it a little bit more.
At the time of the story, arranged marriages, especially amongst royalty, were totally a thing. You might not even meet the person you were going to marry until the wedding day. So the fact that they didn’t know each other for very long is sort of a non-issue at that point. I also didn’t love that the Prince is not very defined. There is nothing particularly interesting about his character and he’s incredibly one dimensional. I’ve sort of come to terms with that too though. He’s more of a symbol really. I think of him less as a man and more as the hope that Cinderella can attain a life and a world that is more fitting to her beautiful, positive nature. He is not the Prince she needs, he’s the Prince she deserves.
Sorry, I just had to say it.
All in all, do I think the Prince will win any character of the year awards? No. But, he serves his purpose well and let’s be honest, like many men, it can only go down hill if he opens his mouth to speak. AMIRIGHT?
I am still waiting for that moment when we get a feature film without drinking and/or smoking. This was not it. It was a valiant effort but somewhere around the one hour mark, cigars got pulled out and my hand slapped my face. Also, I have to mention the one little bit of controversial that I saw in this film. I’m sure this is just me being overly sensitive to these things, but the line “Leave the sewing to the woman,” sticks out like a sore thumb.
I know, I know, it’s not that serious of a miss, but I think as we move forward in time, the important thing to talk about is not that weird little anti-21st Century Feminism things like this pop up, but how they change. I get it. That was the time that was lived in and it’s something I think my mother would even say to me, but the evolution of a woman saying things like this, to Elsa singing “Let it Go” is so transformative and amazing, I at least want to discuss the progression, rather than sweep it under the rug. That’s just me.
Cinderella, to my enormous surprise, has become my favorite film so far in this series. I loved the characters and the story and the music and the magic and you just leave the film feeling so damned good about life and the fact that dreams really can come true. Cinderella is a fantastic character and I loved watching her get what she deserved despite adversity, privilege and evil. The animals are cute and the characters and animations are top-notch. A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes and this movie made my dreams come true. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Next Up: Alice in Wonderland
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!