Out of the three classic girls, Cinderella often serves as the face of the Disney princess franchise, which makes sense when you think about it. Cinderella isn’t the first Disney princess or the one who established the template (that would be Snow White), but she did codify it and her story feels even more ‘princessy’. Whether it was intended to be or not, “Cinderella” feels like a wish-fulfillment fantasy. You have this lonely, abused, downtrodden girl who gets to live out her dream of attending a classy royal ball, escape her awful, abusive family and happily elope with her handsome prince, with the help of her mice friends and a little magic. As a morality tale, “Cinderella” touts the virtue of kindness and compassion, since Cindy’s kindness and consideration to others ultimately comes back around to her a big way when her friends reciprocate it. The film also states to never give up hope in a bad situation, because there’s always a chance things can get better.
While I don’t think I would say “Cinderella” is a stronger film than “Snow White” (which was a gem of a movie), I would say it has a broader appeal towards it’s target demographic – imaginative little girls. I can easily see why Cindy was picked as the leader of the princesses. If I do have one complaint about the film, it’s that I think the Fairy Godmother’s appearance in the eleventh hour, to help out Cinderella, could have been set up better. It happens forty-five minutes into the movie, and up until now there’s been no indication that magic even exists in this universe. Perhaps Cindy could have admitted to her friends, early in the film, that she believed in fairies even if the idea was a bit silly, and that belief would pay off later in the movie.
Cinderella is a kind, polite, and hard-working young lady. She’s sassy and witty, and at times sarcastic, but also a friend to all living things – as evidenced by her taking the time to protect the mice in her home from the family pet and knit them clothes to keep them warm (when most people, least of all her relatives, would just treat them like vermin). As a result, the mice love her and support her and Cinderella treats them as her confidants. She also possesses some of the most important traits in a Disney princess – earnestness, humility, dedication and determination. Since Cinderella is basically the unpaid help of her estate, and the lightning rod for her family’s nastiness, she’s soft-spoken, demure, and submissive whenever she’s around them – years of being emotionally beaten down by Lady Tremaine has taught her to know her place in the home – but she still tries to be independent and assert herself however far she can.
Cinderella has a very positive outlook on life, though interestingly it’s not just because she’s pure of heart like Snow White. The film implies it’s a coping mechanism. Cinderella is well aware that her life is pretty awful, you can tell by the way she snaps at Lucifer and the passive-aggressive way she handles her relatives. She must also be very lonely, since she’s not allowed to have any friends, any life outside of the home, or any support system besides the animals. If Cindy didn’t try to stay optimistic about things, she would probably be terribly depressed. In fact, an arc Cinderella has over the course of the movie is realizing just how much her step-family actually hates her, and how there’s no limits to the depths they will sink to.
She finally reaches her breaking point of emotional stamina when her step-sisters tear apart a dress that belonged to her dead mother right in front of her and ruin her chances of getting to be a normal girl for the night, just to spite her. That bit of viciousness reduces her to tears. Another rare and distressing example of Cinderella losing her composure is when Lady Tremaine decides to lock her up in her tower, and quite rightly so, since the woman just went one step further from being an abusive mom and decided to basically kidnap her and hold her hostage for the rest of her (possibly very short) life.
What Cinderella wants in this film – her heart’s desire – is her freedom and a better life for herself, but if she can’t have that, she would settle for a night of escape, a night to have fun, socialize and just be normal for a change. The royal ball is that opportunity for her, and she gets to live her dream with her friends’ help. Unlike a few of the other princesses, finding love and meeting a man was never actually one of Cindy’s life goals in this movie, that was just a sweet bonus that came with her night of fun and classiness. In fact, one of Cindy’s funnier moments is when she realizes she had been flirting with royalty all night, and she promptly tunes out everything around her in a lovesick daze. Despite her stepmother’s attempts to keep them apart, Cinderella reunites with her prince after the ball and for the first time in her life, she has somewhere else to go. Cinderella wisely gets the hell out of that house the first chance she gets and doesn’t look back, moving in with Prince Charming at the palace.
Cinderella’s two best friends and most helpful allies are Jaq and Gus, a pair of tiny anthropomorphic mice with speech impediments. Jaq and Gus are your classic comedy duo who compliment each other well. Jaq is the clever, street-smart one, who’s usually very assertive and the leader of the mice. Gus is the chubby, naive newcomer who’s a bit slow and seems to be under the impression he’s tougher than he actually is, but makes up for it by having a large heart. I actually wondered a few times how old Gus is supposed to be compared to the other mice, since he seems to be the most naive about how the food chain works and he has the most trouble speaking English. Since Gus doesn’t have the most street smarts, Jaq quickly takes up a protector role.
The mice have a good deal of sympathy for Cinderella’s problems and are very loyal to her; Jaq and Gus in particular often have to work around the family pet, Lucifer, and outsmart him to give her a helping hand. You know how cats are usually stereotyped in the media as evil, fat, lazy moochers? Lucifer embodies every single one of those stereotypes, even more than Garfield does, and I kind of love him for that. He’s a non-verbal character but that doesn’t stop him from having a ton of personality, and I think the cat gets the most wild, varied and expressive character animation in the movie. Lucifer is spoiled, sneaky, mischievous, calculating, spiteful and a troublemaker. Like the step-sisters, he knows he can mistreat Cindy and get away with it, and he often serves as a predator to the mice characters. The only thing Lucifer fears is the other family pet, Bruno the hound, who may or may not do him in in the climax.
I’ve suggested before that some of the most loathsome Disney villains are the underplayed, non-magical ones that can actually exist in the real world. Cinderella’s stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is a fairly accurate depiction of a narcissist, a manipulator and an emotional abuser. She pours on the sugary sweet, false charm and dignified politeness while she has company, but behind closed doors she shows her true colors as an icy, spiteful, superficial woman. Lady Tremaine is what you would call, in non-elegant terms, a gold-digger. She only married her late husband for his money, and she has no problem encouraging her daughters to do the same, exploiting them for more power and status.
She hates Cinderella and is deeply jealous of her for her natural beauty (that exceeds that of her own biological children) and her inheritance, so she turned her into the family’s house slave; bullying her and manipulating her to keep Cindy in line, and attempting at every opportunity to break her spirit. This is what truly makes Lady Tremaine a frightening antagonist and a detestable one – the notion that someone could hate their own family member that much and try that hard to keep them under their heel (to the point of kidnapping them). The worst part is this bitch gets off scot free for everything. She receives no comeuppance for abusing her kids for over a decade, and the worst thing that happens to her by the end is that she doesn’t get to pimp her daughters out for money. It would take another two installments of this franchise for Lady Tremaine to get her due.
Anastasia and Drizella are Cinderella’s step-sisters and the ugly siblings of the fable. In contrast to Cinderella’s graceful, natural beauty reflecting her kind heart, Anastasia and Drizella love to doll themselves up and put on airs, but no matter what they do they remain incredibly unattractive, their outward appearance matching their unattractive personalities. The hotheaded duo are whiny, catty, abusive and cruel, not unlike their mother but without her cool head and calculated foresight.
I mentioned that Lady Tremaine went out of her way to make her stepdaughter miserable and did a real number on Cinderella. She didn’t really do her own daughters any favors either, swinging hard to the other extreme with them and stunting their development. From what we see, Anastasia and Drizella have no talents, no prospects, no interests, no friends outside the family, and no future. They’re also still spoiled, bratty children inside, despite the fact they’re going to be grown women real soon, because they’re never had any reason to grow up: they’ve always been overly dependent on Cinderella for labor and their mother to give them whatever they want. Without Cinderella in their lives to take advantage of, the pair of them are nothing really and are pretty pathetic (something the sequels to this movie expand on). If they weren’t such awful people, they would almost be sympathetic, since again their mother taught them to define themselves around their looks and their ability to snag themselves a man.
Regarding the king of the unnamed kingdom, Prince Charming’s father, this dude is crazy. The aging monarch is a rather bossy and hotheaded man who’s growing lonely in his old age and wants his boy to give him some grandkids. He doesn’t really care if Prince Charming wants a wife or children, he’s going to pressure him into it anyway. He also threatens his subordinate, the Grand Duke, quite often and tries to lop his head off with a sword when he accuses him of treason. I feel like in a different movie this character would probably be portrayed as an antagonist, but since he’s setting Cindy and Prince Charming up and he’s not as bad as Lady Tremaine, he counts as a good guy. In any case, Cinderella has certainly gained an eccentric and interesting father in-law, and I curiously wonder if there were any more arguments to come for the prince and his papa about the king’s meddling.
The king’s adviser and right hand man, the Grand Duke, fits the mold that other Disney characters like Sebastian, Cogsworth, and Zazu fill – the smug, stuffy servant who spends most of the movie being bossed around and is somewhat taken for granted. The Grand Duke doesn’t really believe in love at first sight and doesn’t approve of the king’s plan, but he goes along with it regardless, because otherwise he might lose his job and possibly his head. Needless to say, he’s quite stressed. In another cool example of an actor playing a double role, Luis Van Rooten voices both characters and you honestly won’t even notice.
Prince Charming (referred to only as ‘the Prince’ in the film) has two scenes and like several of the other classic princes, he’s a bit of an enigma. Strangely enough, the movie seems more interested in fleshing out his dad’s personality than his own, so we can have a matchmaking dad subplot. From what we do learn, Prince Charming is a very courageous and accomplished individual, as well as somewhat rebellious, since he’s always resisted his dad’s meddling and given him trouble in the past. The Prince also doesn’t see the world through social divides. He may be the kingdom’s most eligible bachelor, but he won’t settle for marrying a rich but annoyingly superficial woman, and he has no problem marrying a scullery maid (who’s also technically rich?).
Cinderella catches his eye precisely because she was uninterested in the pomp and circumstance of the ball, and when Prince Charming realizes she never even knew he was royalty and had no intention of wooing him for his wealth, he likes her even more. Thus, for the remainder of the movie, he’s determined to see his runaway love again. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is a one-scene wonder, and the biggest mystery in the film when it comes to the world of fairy godmothers and the rules of magic. From what we see of her, she’s kindhearted, doting, and a bit absent-minded; very much an elderly mother figure. It’s easy to wonder why she didn’t try to help improve Cinderella’s home life as well as give her that trip to the ball, but I’m pretty sure she did. She let her keep her magical glass slippers. Cindy assumed they were just a memento of the best night of her life, but I bet she was real glad she kept one of those babies the following morning.
The animation in “Cinderella” is tasteful, exquisite and refined, as you would expect for a silver era Disney princess film. The fact that the film stars a number of small animal characters allows the studio to have fun with their sense of scale once more – following the action from a mouse’s point-of-view several times, as Jaq and Gus tumble down several stories between the walls of the manor, mount a rescue mission up hundreds of never-ending stairs, and try to fend off a massive Lucifer.
Something I also find unique about the movie is the way animators constantly manipulate the shadows and the shading to set the mood: such as the Evil Stepmother’s introduction, when the animators put off revealing her face for as long as possible, or Cinderella’s night of dancing with the Prince at his castle, when the moonlight reflects off her sparkling white dress in the dark, or the death glare Lady Tremaine gives Cinderella while her back is turned. “Cinderella” doesn’t boast as many massive set-pieces as “Pinocchio” or “Bambi“, but it is a very visually stunning movie from start to finish. In fact, the sequence where the Fairy Godmother prepares Cinderella for the ball and transforms her torn pink dress into a massive, elegant white ballgown was one of Walt’s personal favorites in the canon. I already mentioned the zany character animation for Lucifer makes his scenes a delight, and the short-lived acid trip sequence in “Sing Sweet Nightingale”, as Cinderella gets lost in one of her songs, deserves a mention as well.
The soundtrack is very peaceful and understated, very much one you would expect to hear in a 1950’s film. Ilene Woods turns in a gentle, crooning, romantic performance in all of her songs, such as “Sing Sweet Nightingale”, “So This Is Love”, and “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, which quickly becomes the main theme of the film. It takes a while to grow accustomed to the squeaky chipmunk voice all the mice have (the same ones Chip and Dale sport), but you get used to it by their surprisingly fun work song and their group reprise of “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”.
“Bippi-Boppity-Boo” is a pleasant song from Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother gets to work transforming Cinderella and her friends, but you probably won’t be able to recall too many lyrics afterwards, since they’re all intentionally written to be nonsensical (you’ll also get a nice chuckle out of the Fairy Godmother advising Cinderella to have fun and be gay. That would have been a very different movie). Oliver Wallace’s score is noticeably grander than usual, as well as more suspenseful and action-packed; inspired by Cinderella’s noble lineage, her depressing predicament, the mice’s war with Lucifer, and the stately manner of Prince Charming’s palace. There were several moments in the mice and Lucifer scenes where Oliver’s score made the punchlines much funnier than they would have been otherwise.
I had a lot more fun than I expected revisiting this film for this review, and I think I’ve gained a new respect for “Cinderella”. It’s a cool bit of fairy tale escapism, it shows off the power of friendship, and it tells a pretty nice story about a girl escaping an abusive household. “Cinderella” was another good notch under Disney’s belt when it came to their princess franchise.
* Don’t make the same mistakes Cinderella’s papa made, children. Don’t assume that just because someone is a woman, they’re automatically going to be a great or loving parent. If he had just left well enough alone, none of this movie would have happened.
* “A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep. In dreams you lose your heartaches, whatever you wish for, you keep. Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true“.
* Here, have this lovely shot of Cinderella creeping.
* Somehow, I get the feeling that Walt Disney really liked mice.
* This is the look of instant regret. The distraction was your idea Jaq, it’s only fair.
* “Oh please, you don’t think-” “Hold your tongue! Now, it seems we have time on our hands” “But I was only trying to-” “Silence! Time for vicious practical jokes. Perhaps we can put it to better use?”
* As much as I hate Lady Tremaine, I do like seeing her domineering side out in full force during this ‘conversation’. She never comes right out and says it, but the intent of this scene is clear. When Lady Tremaine speaks, you shut your damn mouth.
* “Cinderelly Cinderelly! Night and day it’s Cinderelly! Make the fire! Fix the breakfast! Wash the dishes! Do the mopping!” “And the sweeping and the dusting! They always keep her hopping!” “She go around in circles till she very, very dizzy! Still they holler-” “Keep-a busy Cinderelly!” “Yeah, keep-a busy”
* “I’ll go do the sewing!” “Leave the sewing to the women, you go get the trimmings!” Wait, is she saying boys can’t sew? That’s sexist, mouse lady.
* “These beads, I’m sick of looking at them! Trash!” Tell us how you really feel, Drizella.
* It says something about Lady Tremaine that she named her cat after the devil, and it says something about Lucifer that he lived up to it.
* Jaq and Gus nearly cut that lady’s tail off and had no regrets. I’m starting to see why they were forbidden from sewing.
* These animals collaborated to sew a human dress ten times their size to help out Cinderella and got it finished. Now that’s friendship.
* Oh my god, those dresses…
* What she says: “Goodnight“. What she means: “Remember this, girlie, and never forget your place”.
* The Fairy Godmother picks the mice to pull Cinderella’s carriage, and I swear, the family horse looks betrayed. I think he wanted to go to a classy royal ball too.
* You know, for some reason Disney always presents Cinderella as being more of a classical blond than she actually was on her merchandise. In the film itself, she looks more like a strawberry blond.
* “So this is love, so this is love. So this is what makes life divine. I’m all aglow, and now I know. And now I know! The key to all heaven is mine! My heart has wings and I can fly! I’ll touch every star in the sky! So this is the miracle that I’ve been dreaming of! So this is love!”
* “Somebody stop her! Quick, close the gates!” Why is everybody in this movie so eager to kidnap people?
* I know someone, somewhere ships these two dorks.
* “Why you… you traitor! TREASON! SABOTAGE! You were in league with the prince all along! IT WAS ALL A PLOT!”
* As the King and the Grand Duke fall off the chandelier, the Grand Duke actually screams like Goofy.
* It was at this point that Lady Tremaine decided Cinderella had had a good run, but it was time to take care of her stepdaughter the same way she took care of her late husband.
* Forget what I said before, scaling a couple hundred giant stairs when you’re the size of a mouse (and in Gus’s case, not in the best shape) and making it to the top anyway – now that’s friendship.
* ‘So my dear, have you and the prince thought about when you might be giving me grandchildren?’ ‘Actually, sire, we have talked about that and we decided we didn’t want any kids – at least, not for another decade. I hope you don’t mind’ ‘TREASON!!!’
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