Release Date: March 4th, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske Actors: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, James Macdonald, Luis Van Rooten
isney once again tackles a timeless fairy tale (which begins with a hardbound book opening to a page that reads “Once upon a time in a faraway land…”) to create an unforgettable masterpiece. “Cinderella” is keenly paced, expertly animated – with evident live-action actors serving as reference for the artists, adding striking realism – and sensationally scored. The songs are appropriately inserted, fashioned for singing by characters during poignant moments rather than existing merely in the background, with “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (which picked up an Oscar nomination) being the most catchy and memorable. The film’s arrival was fortunately timed for Disney, with a debut in 1950 that marked the return of feature-length traditional animation as a well-received, profitable, critically acclaimed medium, and continued to receive theatrical re-releases throughout the years – including a 2012 exhibition timed with the Blu-ray home entertainment release.
A widowed gentleman decides that it’s best for his young daughter Cinderella (Ilene Woods) to have a mother figure in her life – and so marries Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley). Tremaine has two daughters around the same age as the gentle Cinderella, though they are contrastingly awkward, vain, ugly girls named Anastasia and Drizella. Upon the death of Cinderella’s father, Lady Tremaine reveals her true nature and cruelly forces the kindhearted, continually singing girl to be a slave in her own house, residing in isolation at the top of a high tower. Her only friends are chirpy birds (not unlike Snow White) and a swarm of benevolent mice (not too dissimilar from the Seven Dwarfs), many personally rescued by Cinderella from mousetraps, and all peculiarly wearing miniscule human clothes constructed by Cinderella herself.
As the days wear on, with the unfortunate bondwoman tending to farm chores, the feeding of the domesticated animals, and cleaning of the castle-like mansion, the mischievous mice do battle with the portly feline Lucifer (a lengthy familiarizing that plays out like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, followed later by further cat-and-mouse skits), and the nearby King (Luis Van Rooten) grows tired of his son delaying the choosing of a bride. He arranges for a grand ball to be thrown in the Prince’s honor, where he can invite every eligible maiden in the land, hoping to pressure the boy into making a decision. His Majesty is aided by the Grand Duke, each frequently engaging in comedic routines, made funnier by the fact that Van Rooten performed the voices of both.
When an invitation from the palace makes its way to Tremaine’s household, Cinderella insists that the royal command applies to her as well. The wicked stepmother plots to stonewall her with chores to prevent her from attending, all the while readying her own daughters for display. Even when the mice gather discarded garments to sew a dress for Cinderella to wear at the last minute, Tremaine again intervenes. Only a miracle by a fairy godmother (Verna Felton) can save the day…
The story itself is remarkably powerful, adapted from the original classic fairy tale by Charles Perrault and given the softened, romanticized Disney touch. It’s effective, chimerical, and dreamy, with compassionate, relatable heroes; dastardly antagonists that get many, many moments to disrupt Cinderella’s happiness (Disney insisted that she never be anything but completely sympathetic); and a heartwarming, climactic, monumental conclusion. It’s one of the studio’s finest “happily ever after” productions and a stunning achievement in feature-length animation. Not uncommon for such a benchmark production, “Cinderella” spawned two sequels, which, extraordinarily, elaborated on the characters that some critics felt were underdeveloped.
– Mike Massie