Released in 1950, Cinderella is one of Disney’s most well-known and loved films. It’s a story that so many children have grown up hearing since the original Cendrillon by Charles Perrault in 1697.
We first meet Cinderella as an adult as she is woken by her bird and mice friends, and she sings them the famous song, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes. I think this is such a lovely way to start the film, as it sets you up to see Cinderella as this gentle, kind person who keeps dreaming no matter how awful her reality is.
As she’s singing about her dreams coming true, you can see the castle out the window, in the background. The clock starts ringing and Cinderella calls it a killjoy- these are pretty big hints towards her dream of dancing with the Prince.
As Cinderella goes about her morning, tending to the animals and her wicked step-family, Jaq and Gus, two of the cutest animated mice (sorry Mickey!) out there, are trying to get breakfast. Their relationship with Lucifer is very Tom and Jerry-esque, Lucifer tries desperately to catch them while Jaq outsmarts him. Gus plays the part of the clumsy, adorable, food-driven sidekick and causes more problems rather than solving them, but he tries his best. I always wanted to be a Cinderella, but I think I’ve turned out more of a Gus!
As Cinderella races up the stairs to deliver breakfast to everyone, she loses a shoe. Now this is a sign, again, of what will happen further on in the story, but I would like to point out that this woman’s shoe falls off three times throughout the course of the film- maybe she’s just not wearing the right size shoes?
After Anastasia finds poor Gus in her teacup and throws a giant tantrum, Lady Tremaine (a wonderfully evil villain) orders Cinderella to do even more chores, as she clearly has extra time on her hands. When Cinderella protests that she has done some of them already, she is told to do them again. This isn’t just about making her step-daughter do everything that a servant would do- it’s more malicious than that. Lady Tremaine wants to humiliate her and make her suffer.
Now the King is introduced, and he’s the complete opposite of Lady Tremaine. Where she is cold, cruel, manipulative and so evil, he is very emotional and over the top, and doesn’t really have much of a plan, he just wants his son to be married so he can have grandchildren. He’s not fussed about the details of who or how. He clearly wants the best for his son and while he’s a bit ridiculous about it, he’s an endearing, blustery old man who’s just trying to help.
Any time the step-sisters are involved in the story, I think is an opportunity to contrast them with Cinderella. In the Sing Sweet Nightingale scene for example, the sisters are murdering the song, and when Lucifer leaves, even he is (momentarily) enchanted by Cinderella’s singing.
The Cinderelly song, which the mice and birds sing while making her dress, is one that is really, really difficult to get out of your head. But it’s a sweet scene, as you see how much they care for Cinderella and want her to be happy. Though I must say, the line “leave the sewin’ to the women” has not aged well…
Once Cinderella has found her dress and raced downstairs to join the step-monsters, Anastasia and Drizella are furious when they discover she has ‘stolen’ the necklace and sash they had childishly thrown away. They are so petty and spoilt the whole movie, this is probably the most infuriating scene, as Cinderella worked so hard to be ready in time and they have ruined it.
This is also the moment where Cinderella gives up, probably for the first time. As she’s sobbing in the garden, she says that she can’t believe, “not any more”. The Fairy Godmother slowly appears, and what I am baffled by, is Cinderella’s lack of surprise? She doesn’t bat an eyelid that she’s suddenly crying into the lap of a total stranger, and is only a little astonished when she realises that the stranger has a magic wand, not that she APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE?
But anyway, this is definitely the most exciting and magical part of the film- the transformation! Not only is the Fairy Godmother absolutely adorable and someone you instantly want to hug, she also rhymes a LOT and sings another earworm of a song!
The style of the pumpkin carriage is gorgeous, and I love that Disney use it even now (if you haven’t seen Disney’s Fairytale Weddings and are a fan of pumpkin carriages, watch it). It’s just so magical!
Speaking of magical, the scene where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella’s dress has to be one of the most iconic scenes in Disney film history. It’s one of the first things most people would think of when thinking about Disney, and it just captures everything you want from a princess movie- a gorgeous dress, magic, an adventure about to begin, animal sidekicks, and did I mention a gorgeous dress? As Cinderella says, “It’s like a dream, a wonderful dream come true!”
So Cinderella is finally on her way to the ball, and we now see the King and Duke arguing over whether the Prince will choose a bride. This is one of the problems I have with the film (and yes, I know it’s 70 years old, but still). Firstly, why does it have to be that he finds someone explicitly to marry? It’s not just a dance, and we’ll see how it goes, it’s a dance and then we’ll instantly get married DESPITE THE FACT HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW YOUR NAME. Secondly, what if she says no? Thirdly, at this point, we have hardly seen the Prince at all, and have no word on what he himself thinks of the plan.
As the Duke is gloating about how silly the King’s plan is, “a pretty plot for fairytales sire, but in real life?!” The Prince spots Cinderella from across the room, and of course, the fairytale comes true. They start waltzing, and even though the points I just mentioned are valid, this is such a pretty, romantic scene, it’s easy to forget that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everything about this scene is beautiful; the colours, the music, the animation, it looks and sounds as Cinderella says, a dream.
At the end of the song that old killjoy clock starts striking midnight, and Cinderella realises she has to go. We finally hear the Prince speak for the first time (when there’s only about 20 minutes left of the film), and we find out that for some reason Cinderella doesn’t know that the man she’s now in love with and has spent the past few hours with, is the Prince of her Kingdom. I guess newspapers are a little slow round those parts…
The chase home is another huge contrast to the scene before. Gone are the soft, romantic colours and music, now everything is dark and frantic. As the carriage is racing home, the clock finishes its (very slow) midnight toll, and the magic wears off everything apart from the slippers.
Once the decision has been made that the Prince will marry whoever fits into the shoe (sensible), the Duke is sent to check on every eligible maiden in the kingdom. For some reason, the Prince, supposedly desperately in love with this girl, and who would be the most likely to recognise her, doesn’t join him.
After a bit more will they, won’t they, with Lady Tremaine locking Cinderella in the attic and Jaq and Gus coming to her rescue (again) they finally find it was her all along. She’s swept off to marry the Prince (who still doesn’t say anything or have a name, other than the Prince?) and they all live happily ever after.
While I love Cinderella, and it is such a classic film, I am glad that Disney princesses have moved on from this storyline. Cinderella has so little autonomy and if it wasn’t for the external help she receives (from the mice/birds/Fairy Godmother), nothing would have happened to her. She has a lot of dreams and wishes, which is lovely, but doesn’t have much to do with actually making them happen. Her Prince is equally as useless, he barely says anything at all, and has nothing to do with meeting her, finding her or marrying her, really.
I recently watched Cinderella III: A Twist in Time which was made in 2007, and I have to say, even though it was a random third instalment you wouldn’t think anyone had asked for, I really enjoyed it. The characters had a lot more oomph than the original, and a lot more control over their lives. The Prince actually had a personality (though still no name?) and there was more adventure and excitement!
Later on in the month, I will watch the live action Cinderella from 2015 and let you know my thoughts on it compared to the original animation. Until then, keep on believing!