Starring: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audrey, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis Van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, Lucille Bliss
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson
Released by: RKO Pictures
Synopsis: The classic of Cinderella is retold through the magic of classic Disney animation. Cinderell (Ilene Woods) a is truly living the life of cinders, but holds dear the belief that her dreams will come true every time the sun rises each morning. One day, just as her hopes are crushed a fairy godmother appears, setting in motion Cinderella’s much deserved new life.
Review: Disney’s Cinderella was a movie I didn’t watch a lot when I was a kid. I had seen some of the classics like Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland and of course the modern animated classics released in the 1980s and 90s. But with Cinderella, if I watched it twice it was a lot. It wasn’t until the film was released on DVD in 2005 that I finally got around to watching it in its entirety and simply fell in love with it. I am ashamed that as both a film and Disney fan I let this movie go unwatched for so long.
Just where do I begin? Cinderella has so many great qualities that it’s hard for me to pick one. The story of Cinderella is one that had been told long before Walt Disney produced his version. By that time, everyone had known of the story of the girl whose life is changed thanks to a glass slipper. Luckily, Disney had experience adapting classic fairy tales thanks to the success of Snow White and the seven Dwarfs. He knew that a straight telling of the story wouldn’t be enough to entertain an audience that had loved Snow White, so on top of the basic story we have these small but very crucial elements that makes it one of the most definitive versions of the Cinderella story. Scenes like how Cinderella’s mother dress gets ripped off by the Ugly Stepsisters and the exciting conclusion make the film very enjoyable to watch while adding depth and drama to the basic fairy tale.
The characters are also great to watch thanks to inspired casting and wonderful development. Cinderella herself is unbelievably played by Ilene Woods. Now, the character of Cinderella has been criticized for being a passive heroine, giving young girls the false idea that if you wait long enough your dreams will come true. While in technicality Cinderella is a tad passive when compared to the Disney princesses that came after she is far more complex than she lets out to be. She is indeed very warm, calm and trusting, but there is a sarcastic side that shows up on occasion as well as an edge that puts her above the likes of Snow White. This is all accomplished thanks to the talents of her voice actress. She expresses class and sophistication while being true to the essence of the character.
Eleanor Audrey is a fantastic Disney villain as Lady Tremaine. One of the best in Disney’s long canon of antagonists, Lady Tremaine is more than just a cartoony villain. Deep down she is a woman of full hatred and envy towards Cinderella, and knows the right thing to do in order to ruin her dreams. Her presence quickly inspires both fear and hatred because of how effective the film uses the character. The Ugly Stepsisters also receive a great presentation on film, being both mean enough that you love to hate them while being very comical and amusing to watch on screen. The mice and birds that hang out with Cinderella are very cute in the Disney tradition of comical sidekicks. But they add a lot to the narrative despite their status as secondary characters. Not only do they provide the emotional support Cinderella needs in her life they help her to try and accomplish her dreams whenever Lady Tremaine and her daughters prevent it from happening.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cinderella story without a fairy godmother, and this version has one of the best. Voiced by Verna Felton, the role gives her the opportunity to back away a bit from all the broad characters she had voiced before. She is very grandmotherly while being absent minded in a cute way. But she plays a big role in the story, and just because she is presented in a humorous manner her impact is less diminished. It is felt throughout the last half of the film thanks to great staging and presentation of the character.
The rest of the supporting cast, such as The King and Grand Duke, are great as well. Though, I can’t say much about Prince Charming. During Cinderella’s era Disney animators had trouble animating male characters, so while the female and cartoony characters received a lot of attention from animators the Prince would always get the short end of the stick, and Cinderella’s Prince Charming isn’t an exception to the rule. Still, he is in the film long enough that you understand why Cinderella falls in love with her.
The animation is simply awe inspiring. While it’s true that Disney would create livelier, more ambitious films after Cinderella it doesn’t cease to impress me how beautiful this film looks. The warm pinks, the cool blues and the simply magical atmosphere gives the film an aura of a fairy tale book come to life. The character animation is no slouch either. Cinderella herself is very beautiful and convincing as a realistic character thanks to subtle details that give her a lot of character, such as the way she dances while getting ready for her day. Lady Tremaine is also great as a realistically designed character thanks to great animated acting as well as usage of color to dictate mood. Of course, the comic relief characters have the bounce these characters are known for, and are very pleasing to watch. Best of all, they fit very well on top of the gorgeous backgrounds. Snow White may have been the first of its kind and Sleeping Beauty as ambitiously beautiful, but Cinderella is a visual, romantic treat, perhaps the best in Disney’s earlier efforts.
With Cinderella being a romantic story music plays a big role in Disney’s version, and it doesn’t disappoint. Ilene Woods was not only a great actress she was a beautiful singer that added a lot of strength to the film’s soundtrack. The first song we hear, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, is very soothing while containing the film’s message in a manner most magical. Then we hear “Sing Nightingale” which starts as a gag for the Ugly Stepsisters but ends in a beautiful melody thanks to a chorus portrayed on screen as Cinderella’s reflection on bubbles. “The Working Song” is the obligatory comic sidekick song, but rather than just amuse us the song works as an explanation of what Cinderella’s friends think of her while they create her dress. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” is an iconic song for all the right reasons. It’s a fun, light and very catchy way of showing us the iconic “getting ready for the ball” scene. Finally there’s “So This Is Love”, a tune Cinderella sings when she meets Prince Charming at the ball. It’s very slow moving and matches the visuals perfectly. It also wonderfully portrays Cinderella’s feelings of romantic love. While not all of the songs have become popular in Disney’s song catalogue, Cinderella has a very pleasing, magical and soothing set of songs that work very well with the story, characters and visuals.
For the last few years, Cinderella has been under a lot of fire because its female lead. Let’s for a moment forget about the controversies, the feminist discussions and everything else associated to the story and the film. Disney’s Cinderella is simply put a great film. The adaption of the classic fairy tale is one of the best Disney has done thanks to it staying true to the original novel but adding scenes that deepen the emotional impact. It has a lot of humor as well as a romantic heart. The animation is very beautiful and the soundtrack is unforgettable. Disney’s Cinderella is a great achievement in film thanks to passion being a key element in its creation. Once again, I regret missing this film growing up. But like the Prince finding the glass slipper, I am more than glad to have found it.
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5