Cinderelly Cinderelly…night and day it’s Cinderelly…
We are finally out of the package films of the 1940s, and into my favorite era of Disney films. Yes, that’s right. I like this era better than the “Renaissance Era” of films (but I love those, too.)
At this point, the studio is on the verge of closing. Their last big hit happened to be their first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Between the war and films either losing money or only making their money back, the studio was in dire trouble. The only reason the Walt Disney Company existed at the time was because of their training films for WWII and their deal to make both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Walt needed to make a huge hit or else his studio would be closed forever.
Out of the depths of the Disney files, the company decided on Cinderella. The Walt Disney Company had been working on ideas for a Cinderella since the 1930s. It was one of Walt’s favorite stories. He, himself, grew up poor, working on a farm and delivering newspapers. He built his studio out of nothing. The film itself was being built out of a lot of debt. Both were Cinderella stories. It was the perfect time to make the film, but at the same time it was a huge risk.
As Jon mentioned in his post, there are hundreds of versions of the Cinderella story. Some are rather gruesome, some not so much. There are versions from all over the world. In fact, I was lucky enough to hang out with some very ambitious and intelligent fifth graders who were comparing as many versions as they could find, including African, French, and Chinese versions of the story. The mice and Lucifer (the cat) subplot was a lovely addition added to the story by the Walt Disney Company. Walt’s adaptation is one of the most well known to this day.
In order to create the hit that would be Cinderella, Walt relied on his “Nine Old Men.” I can’t say enough about them. There are fabulous books and documentaries on them, so I won’t even try to compete. In addition to the beautiful work of the men who would be responsible for the “Disney look,” much of the concept art was designed by Mary Blair. She will be revisited with Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
In order to create the film, Disney shot the entire film (minus the cat/mouse scenes) in live action. Some of the animators weren’t thrilled with the idea, but it happened all the same. The animators look the live action footage as more than just reference; it was projected onto the paper. The lines weren’t simply traced over, but enhanced. Some things had to be adjusted for animation. Characters were exaggerated.
Ward Kimball (one of the Nine Old Men) was the only animator who did not have live action reference. He was responsible for the mice, Jacques and Gus (and others), Lucifer the cat, and Bruno the dog. Lucifer (see following post) was based on Ward’s real cat.
Speaking of Walt’s wonderful studio team, several of his voice actors would be heard in other Disney films.
Betty Lou Gerson, the narrator at the beginning of the film, would later appear in the 1961 film, 101 Dalmatians, as Cruella de Vil.
Eleanor Audley, the voice of Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother), would later be the voice of the Maleficent in the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty, along with appearing in the tv show: The Wonderful World of Disney and would also the voice of Madame Leota in Disney’s Haunted Mansion (the ride, not the movie)
Verna Felton, the voice of the Fairy Godmother, was heard as an elephant in Dumbo, voiced another elephant in The Jungle Book, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, and Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp. She died the same day as Mr. Walt Disney himself.
According to the credits, Thurl Ravenscroft also did some voice acting for Cinderella, but it is not clear as whom. You may know him as the voice of Tony the Tiger, the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” or as a singer of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” in the Haunted Mansion (he’s the first one singing in that clip).
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about one the voice actors is not because she appeared in other Disney films, but because of what happened over fifty years later. Ilene Woods (the voice of Cinderella) was the original demo voice for Cinderella. She was the demo because she was friends with the songwriters. Walt heard her and fell in love. Over fifty years later, Ilene was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had no recollection that she worked with The Walt Disney Company or did any work for Cinderella. However, when the hospital staff played the song, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” she was comforted. They played it often for her in the hospital.
My last fun fact about Cinderella is it contains Walt’s favorite piece of animation: Cinderella’s transformation.
Luckily for Walt, the film was a huge success. The studio remained open and has evolved into what we know as “Disney” today.
Admittedly, my favorite thing about the film is Lucifer. He’ll have his own appreciation post here shortly. Aside from Lucifer, Cinderella is actually one of my favorite princesses. She is simply lovely. Nothing gets her down. She’s sweet. She has a beautiful voice. And she is grateful. Oh, be back by midnight? No problem, because this is more than she could have ever asked for. No complaints. I love her attitude.
As much as I love this film, it is in no way perfect. Two things specifically bother me (one is less to do with the film, more to do with marketing/merchandise).
- Like Jon brought up previously, there is a lack of depth in the romance department. Apparently dancing once with a girl and not asking her name is grounds enough to marry her. Sounds legit. Let’s briefly take a look at the other Disney princess films:
- Snow White – We assume when she is singing at the wishing well that it is her first time meeting Prince Charming, as she runs away from him. However, one could argue that maybe she’s just a stupid young girl and doesn’t know how to interact with men. Maybe they have met before. We don’t really know, but we’ll say that it was “love at first sight.”
- Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) – She met her prince “once upon a dream.” Seems legit. They have one dance and then they’re in love.
- Ariel – stalks a guy on a boat. She has THREE days to get him to kiss her. They marry shortly after.
- Belle – Thank goodness, it isn’t love at first sight. (Sarah, he’s a beast. Of course not. Whatever. We’ll discuss that when we get to the film.) Belle is in the castle for months before there is even a hint at love.
- Jasmine – More or less love at first sight when he is himself. When he is a prince, it takes a song and a magic carpet ride.
- Pocahontas – Well, at least they don’t get married.
- Mulan – There was a war. Who knows how long that actually took, but he thought she was a man so I’m not sure how much it counts on his end, but at least she had however long to be crushing on him.
- Tiana – Another case of a couple of days, but at least there was some tribulations and not just instant love.
- Rapunzel – Another instance of it taking one day to form a relationship. It wasn’t an instant, but it certainly wasn’t realistic.
While I’m irritated at the portrayal of love, it isn’t enough to ruin the film for me. Let’s face it, everyone is looking for their interpretation of their prince or princess. I think it’s nice that the prince decides to love her, despite her status as scullery maid. I also think SNL and the folks on tumblr have a very good assumption that Prince Charming is gay.
2. Why why why why why does Disney’s marketing completely change Cinderella? They change her hair color and her dress color. She’s always portrayed as a princess, not the kind girl before she got married. She is not a big-breasted blonde run of the mill princess. She is not a material girl.
Marketed Princess Cinderella:
In regards to the tower Cinderella is locked in, who the heck would build that?
It’s a million rickety old wooden stairs that go on forever and ever. Even if it was built after Cinderella’s father died, wouldn’t whoever built it say WTF?
Anyway, I’m very happy to be out of the 40s. Next week, one of my favorites: Alice in Wonderland.
Oh good. I get to use my Pretty, Pretty Princess tag again!
So Cinderella. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seen this film, but every time I sit down to watch one of these, I try to see how much of the plot I remember. With this one, I did quite well. I’m not certain that’s speaking to my memory so much as Disney finally hitting full stride in the quality of their production with this one. It may also be due to discussing fairy tales in other contexts with another friend who reminded me that earlier versions of the story were not so child friendly.
The earliest versions did not include fairy Godmothers. In the Disney telling, Cinderella’s father dies, leaving her in the care of her step-mother. But in early versions (well, versions where glass slippers first appeared; servants and slaves leaving behind slippers are over 2000 years old in ancient Egypt and China), her father simply stopped caring about his daughter. When the two step-sisters were to try on the slipper and realized their feet were too big, one cut off her heel and the other her toes. Apparently no one noticed (which seems odd given the slipper was glass) and they were off in the carriage before little birds from Heaven stopped in to tip them off. During the wedding, the step-sisters try to snivel into her good graces, but the birds peck their eyes out. Lovely.
Aside from cutting the more grim details, Disney also shortened the period in which she met the prince. Originally, Cinderella attended the ball each of three nights which it was held. While the shortening makes financial sense (less to animate), it frustrates me because it makes the romance seem so much cheaper. Indeed, the two hardly exchange more than a few sentences as they don’t waltz to a waltz. I guess the step-mother also cheated her out of dance lessons. Apparently in earlier drafts, the two had significantly more screen time together albeit at the end of the film. In it, the prince was informed of Cinderella’s status as a scullery maid, but decides he loves her anyway. Although this scene was cut, it’s been recreated for one of the games in my favorite series: Kingdom Hearts (Birth by Sleep in this case, which I haven’t played yet).
The mice and other animals also appear to be a Disney addition. Unlike many other smaller characters, like dwarfs, the mice don’t bother me nearly so much. Their voices are slightly annoying, as they are difficult to understand sometimes, but at the very least, the mice help further the plot. Yet they’re not simply plot devices. They’re well developed characters in their own right, complete with their own antagonists, primarily the step-mother’s cat, Lucifer.
Oddly, this makes them more well rounded characters than even the step-family in my opinion. The mice have motivations for what they do: Cinderella helps them by providing food, clothes, and protection for which they wish to repay her. Meanwhile, the step-family simply does things because it’s in their petty and mean nature.
I never know if such things are intentional on the writer’s part or if I’m just over-analyzing, but if it is intentional, it’s an interesting move as it weakens the threat of the antagonist by taking out their depth. In turn, the focus must be picked up elsewhere lest the plot unravel. So where does it shift?
As I noted earlier, the relationship is paper thin, but it could benefit from the relative shrinking of the antagonist’s role, making it look larger in comparison.
But I think this also made the roles of the animals inflated as well. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since they were well developed.
Another aspect I quite liked with this movie was the music. I’m fond of waltzes, so the dance is an auto favorite. But nearly every other song from this movie has become a classic as well, which is probably why it won an Academy Award for it’s score as well as for best song for “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”.
That’s all I’ve got for this week! Next week, a trip down the rabbit hole!