We’ve returned to feature-length films, and not a moment too soon! I’m debating whether to hang up these reviews till after the holidays die down, but I’ll leave that up to the readers. Do you feel you have enough time to devote to reading two reviews, or would you prefer nothing but Christmas till the year ends?
Cinderella was a gamble for the company, and brought them back firmly into the world of feature-length animation. As a technical achievement Cinderella is gorgeous with the gown effect still being a fantastic moment in animation history. The film tells a complete story within 75 minutes, although you have to be prepared to take a lot on “magic” solving things. The songs are memorable, there’s fun comedy, and a timeless romance. So happy to be returning to Disney movies!
Cinderella was a gamble for Disney costing $3 million dollars and coming right as Disney was winding down on the package films. If the movie went belly-up the studio would be forced to declare bankruptcy which seems to be a running threat for the first 15 years of the Disney studios. Thankfully, the film turned a healthy profit, and with the proceeds Disney was able to open up a distribution company, turn to television production, and get things rolling on the theme park that would be Disneyland! Cinderella is also cited as a supporter of live action modeling where real items and people would mimic situations that the animators would study and create. There’s interesting photos out there of various live action models for Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan that are worth searching for.
Cinderella is a return to form right down to the storytelling method involving a fairy tale book. It also returns us to the amazing opening credits sequence. The film also includes a narrator telling us the hallowed “once upon a time.” The opening establishes a timeless, enchanting land, and the beauty of the animation is exquisite; especially the hand-drawn pictures used as part of the storybook. The story is the epitome of formulaic, and there’s no surprises but I think it’s expected of Disney to play it safe after the harsh war years.
The film is frothy and never seeks to be anything other than a precious retelling of a beloved fairy tale. The King’s Grand Duke (voiced by Luis Van Rooten) pokes fun at the audience by telling the King that falling in love with a woman you meet across the room is the stuff of fairy tales, and doesn’t happen in real life. Fans of romance embrace this movie for simply being a beautiful example of love and magic.
Thankfully, the use of comedy and song can sway the naysayers. After several films that don’t have memorable songs, it’s nice to return to the music I know. All the songs are beautiful, highlighting Ilene Woods‘ voice as Cinderella, as well as Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother. There are fun songs like “Bibbidi-Boppity-Boo,” “Cinderella,” and “The Work Song,” the latter two sung by the mice. The songs sung by Woods have an edge as her song is yearning and melodic. “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” is an underrated gem, but the most enduring is “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” that has become one of the stable of Disney anthems. There’s something dream-like about this song that never ceases to elevate me when I’m feeling bad. It’s on a playlist of rainy day songs that I can’t get enough of.
For a film as airy as Cinderella, it’s not surprising that character development is the last thing on the list of priorities, but it does noticeably make the film feel forgettable. Cinderella does end up being a secondary character in her own story. The mice, led by Jaq and Gus, are funny, but far too many scenes are left in their hands. I do love Gus and his jubilant mannerisms. When Jaq is left to go fight Lucifer in the beginning, all the other mice take off their hates to say farewell to him whereas Gus just shakes his hand in congratulations. You also have Lucifer and Bruno as bigger allies to Lady Tremaine and Cinderella, respectively. Several scenes are purely used to allow these animal characters to have fun whereas Cinderella is off doing something that’s seemingly unimportant. I can understand Disney’s desire to keep the story moving (there’s only so many times you can watch Cinderella on her knees scrubbing something), but Cinderella feels too one-note compared to the animals, and even the villains.
Lady Tremaine is a fantastic villain, complemented by the authoritative voice of Eleanor Audley (who we’ll see again as the voice of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty). This is a woman who thrives on power and her voice makes you believe that. Interestingly, voice actor Lucille Bliss who voices stepsister Anastasia would go on to be the voice of Smurfette! The step-sisters are as one-note as Cinderella although the attack on Cinderella’s dress is an aggressive scene for a kids movie. Lady Tremaine is animated in such a way you can’t help but follow her.
Cinderella does follow the same logic as Snow White to the letter. Cinderella is a put-upon girl who talks to animals (here they actually talk back to her), and wins in the end. The movie does spoon feed things to the audience a bit too much like having Lady Tremain’s eyes glow green when she sees Cinderella happy, and Cinderella is a middling princess. On the whole though I enjoy the movie for what it is. It’s the quintessential fairy tale told by the master of the genre. It’s good, but not great.
NEXT WEEK (Tentatively): Depending on comments we’ll be look at Disney’s trip into weirdness with Alice in Wonderland.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.