Directed By: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, & Wilfred Jackson
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault (1697)
Premiered On: March 4, 1950
Distribution By: RKO Radio Pictures
While it cannot be denied that it was the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which started the art of animation in films and made Disney a household name, it was the likes of Cinderella that kept it going through one of the darkest hours the company had ever faced. For despite the acclaim of the films Bambi, Dumbo, and Fantasia have nowadays, none of those films did much in the box office and some were even panned by critics. That’s not even taking World War II into account either. Prior to this film, Walt Disney and his company were petering on the edge of bankruptcy, owing well over 4 million dollars in debt.
This film would either make or break the company and needless to say, it certainly made in a vast number of ways. Aside from being the first animated film to be worked on by the Disney Legends who would eventually be known as Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, this film had broken new ground on the music scene of things.
But before that let’s get the general plot of the film out of the way for those poor few who’ve never seen, or read, the tale of Cinderella. The story goes that a young girl’s father, having passed away, grows up to be treated as nothing more than a servant girl to the likes of her cruel stepmother and equally mean step-sisters. Despite the hardships of her family, Cinderella, as she is so named by her stepfamily, lives each day with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.
One day, word arrives from the castle that the king, in a desperate attempt to find his son a suitor so that he may have spend what time he has left adoring his grandchildren, has declared a ball for all eligible maiden of the land to attend. Cinderella asks her stepmother if she may go as well and is promised that she can so long as she finishes her chores and finds a suitable dress to wear for the occasion. Fortunately for Cinderella, her little mice and bird friends happily make her a dress while she goes through all of the chores as quickly as she can.
Unfortunately, though they used a dress belonging to Cinderella’s mother as a base, the beads, sash, and other such assortments were taken from her stepsisters, whom had discarded them earlier. Lady Tremaine points this out to her daughters whom angrily tear apart Cinderella’s dress and set the poor girl to tears. Thankfully, all hope is not lost as Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears and grants her goddaughter a gift or two. A fancy carriage to carry her to the ball and a dress to make any royal’s head turn, most of which will return back to normal upon the stroke of midnight save for the pair of glass slippers.
Cinderella attends the ball and has a romantic dance with the prince but the clock soon starts to strike midnight and Cinderella beats a hasty retreat back home, unwittingly leaving a glass slipper behind. The prince, eager to find the maiden who had so easily ensnared his heart, the Prince makes a declaration of his own, that each and every available maiden try on the small slipper and should the shoe fit, she shall be his bride.
News reaches Cinderella’s home and as her family prepares for the arrival of the Duke, Cinderella unknowingly hums the song that was played at the ball, leading her stepmother to realize that she is the mystery girl whom has the kingdom in such an uproar and so locks her in the attic. The animal crew comes to the rescue but Lady Tremaine tries once more to stop Cinderella’s happily ever after by causing the Duke to trip and destroy the glass slipper. Thankfully, Cinderella has the other slipper and upon proving that hers is the foot that fits, is taken back to the castle and is later wed to the young prince.
Not surprisingly, the film and its original story only differ in the smallest of details, most consisting of the inclusion of Cinderella’s animal friends and their degree of sapience but that’s a trope that will never, ever die amongst Disney animated films. Heck, the only true difference between Perrault’s tale and Disney’s version is that Disney had Cinderella’s dog turn into a footman and her old horse into a coach driver, which in its own way is incredibly ironic. In the original story, it was a lizard that was made the footman, as was the case in the more recent live action film re-imagining, and a rat that was turned into a coachman.
That’s right. A rat. Not a goose, not a dog, but a rat. Now, I’ve nothing against rats as films like The Secret of NIMH and Ratatouille have done excellent work towards their image, but really? How poorly was Cinderella being treated that she had to live with a rat’s company?
To a more lighter note, and do forgive the pun, the music and sound of the film was one of its highest points. How high? Well, following its release, Cinderella was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. Unfortunately, it didn’t win a single one of them, losing out to films that, in a twist of cruel irony, I have never heard of before.
Still, despite having lost the chance for an Academy Award, the song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” had become a hit single on four different occasions, and was even recorded as a cover version by then popular singers Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters. In point of fact, it was due to the popularity of the music in Cinderella that led to the creation of the Walt Disney Music Company and the concept of marketing film soundtracks. Prior to Cinderella, most songs from films had little value to the studio that owned them and were commonly sold off to major music companies to be made into sheet music.
While it can be argued that “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is the theme of both Cinderella the person and the film itself, I can’t help but put “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” over that one simply for the fact that it is such a fun song to sing and even more fun to watch. Mostly because you can tell that what Cinderella wants more than a ride to the ball is for her mother’s dress to be repaired, or at the least, fixed up. It’s only because of her near limitless patience and understanding that stops the poor girl from ripping her hair out as Fairy Godmother literally fails to notice the one thing she should be fixing first and foremost.
Actually, on the note of music, and again I apologize for the poor pun, it was because of the songs in Cinderella that Ilene Woods, Cinderella’s voice actress, was chosen out of 309 other candidates. On a lark, and due in no small part to her friends pushing her to do so, she had made some demo recordings of her singing a few of the film’s songs. Those same friends then secretly sent the recordings off to Disney without her knowing about it and she had no idea until Walt Disney himself called her up with the opinion that hers was a voice that had the right “fairy tale” tone.
In point of fact, it was with Ilene Woods that Walt Disney tried something that had never been done before in music but would later be utilized, and popularized, by artists like the Beatles. Namely, the use of overdubbed vocals, which is basically when an artist listens to an existing recorded performance and records a new performance simultaneously alongside it. In the case of Ilene Woods, it was for the song “Sing Sweet Nightingale,” which is a good song but with a horrendous start considering we have to subject our ears to the likes of her stepsisters brutalizing the song.
Overall, I’d give Cinderella a good five out of five stars. It’s a movie for all ages and one that if nothing else, proves that hope and kindness are one of the most powerful forces in all the world. For without either, how else can one’s dreams come true?