If Snow White is the film which established Disney's aptitude for European folk and fairy tales, Cinderella is the film which consolidated their easily marketable character archetypes, which would rear their somewhat ugly head during the Renaissance. You could almost call it Snow White's commercially-minded sister, since it occupies very similar territory in terms of source material but has far less innocent intentions. It's still enjoyable as a frothy pantomime, and contains much by way of visual beauty, but its problems are a little bit harder to ignore.
On the plus side, there can be little doubt that Cinderella looks beautiful. While in other Disney efforts it's the dark reds and deep blacks that stand out, this film offsets a relatively earthy opening with shimmering blues and whites at the ball. It uses Technicolor to its full advantage, using the brightness and high contrast of the colours to create a sense of magic which paler animation might not succeed in replicating. Even if you're a miserable cynic like me, you'd still find something to admire in the ballroom scenes or the transformations.
However, the openly bright and cheery animation is also an indication of the liberties Disney takes with the source material. It's well-documented that the famous glass slipper is a mistranslation on the part of Charles Perrault: considering that fairy tales were mostly passed down by word-of-mouth, it's understandable that you could confuse vair (meaning 'squirrel fur') with verre (meaning 'glass'). By the time Disney came along the Perrault version was the most widely-known on both sides of the Atlantic, and so it was the obvious version on which to base an adaptation. But while we can't blame Disney for that particular bout of artistic license, they are guilty of a more unfortunate departure.
The Disney version of Cinderella is a pretty accurate take on Perrault's story, including the pumpkin, the mice and the fairy godmother. But Perrault's version ends with the ugly stepsisters (here called Drizella and Anastasia) begging for forgiveness at how they treated Cinderella; Cinderella in turn forgives them and all three end up getting married. Perrault's closing words prize graciousness over beauty, intelligence or breeding, saying that "even these may fail to bring you success." The Disney version undermines this by having the stepsisters humiliated, and Cinderella rides off without them even getting a look-in during the final scene. In short, they take something quite uplifting and make it unnecessarily cruel.
This departure changes both the story and the central character quite drastically. It ceases to be any kind of Christian morality tale, about loving one's enemies and working tirelessly for the good of others, and becomes a story about getting what you deserve without doing the hard work first. In one of her typically sardonic reviews, the Nostalgia Chick called it: "the revenge fantasy where you show up to your high school reunion in a white limo and 40 pounds lighter wearing furs, all under the guise of innocence and martyrdom." Even if you don't take such a forthright view, it's certainly true that the expectations the film presents are more than a little askew.
These uncomfortable feelings become magnified by the context in which the film was made. Cinderella was Disney's first genuine feature-length effort since Bambi, after it had finally sorted out the jumble of half-finished efforts that had accumulated during WWII. In the aftermath of the war, there was a greater emphasis on the family unit in society, and with it came the promotion of female domesticity: women who were empowered during the war were now being told to stay at home and help rebuild the population. Cinderella appears to promote this, with the protagonist desiring to be whisked off by a prince, and not much else.
Cinderella is the archetype on which the modern Disney Princess phenomenon is based. It is the epitome of someone living their life based on aspirations which are simultaneously unobtainable (the prince) and beneath you (the resulting acceptance of domesticity). While these characteristics may have been exaggerated and refined still further with the Renaissance (not to mention the explosion in Disney merchandise), it's hard to let Cinderella totally off the hook. Even dismissing it as a fairy tale doesn't work, since all fairy tales contain morals to teach children the ways of the world: when done right, they are works of substance which are only fanciful or ridiculous on a superficial level.
At this point you're probably thinking: if you hate this film so much, why give it so high a rating? Why does a film with such a seemingly anti-feminist legacy merit a higher rating than the completely unobjectionable The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad? The answer is that when you put aside the unwelcome changes to the story and the repurcussions this has on creating real-life expectations, you are left with a frothy, fun little pantomime which is every bit as enjoyable as Peter Pan. Whatever my negative feelings towards the legacy of this film, as a piece of narrative cinema in and of itself it is perfectly entertaining.
Much like Peter Pan, the entertainment comes through when we embrace Disney's visual and musical conventions, in particular their talent for music-related slapstick. Some of the best scenes in the film involve the mice trying to evade the clutches of the fat, proud Lucifer, with Disney's talent for comic choreography coming through. There's nothing quite on the level of Hook's battles with the crocodile, or the tea party in Alice in Wonderland, but there's still more than enough to keep young children entertained. As for the music, it's not as memorable as other Disney efforts, including Snow White, but there's plenty of variety within the score by Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace - enough at least to take your minds off how annoying 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo' is.
When we stop trying to analyse the make-up of the central character, what we discover is that the Disney film focusses to a relatively large extent on the supporting cast. While you'd have a good case for attacking its take on Cinderella herself, the film is every bit as much about the stepmother, the mice or the king. It's much like Disney's take on Sleeping Beauty nine years later, in which the main protagonists don't do all that much, and the real drama lies in the conflict between Maleficent and the fairies.
The interactions between the King and the Duke are genuinely funny, with the physical comedy being well-timed and the sets playing up the pantomime quality, such as the King's enormous bed. The happy-go-lucky attitude of the cute mice is fun to watch, particularly in the dress-making sequence. And while Lady Tremaine is perhaps too understated and reserved to be a proper pantomime villain, she fulfils the criteria in terms of her cruelty towards the lead character and her seemingly awareness that she is being evil. Eleanor Audley would later voice Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, and it's easy to view this performance as her audition for that role.
Cinderella is a harder film to like than many of its predecessors, sticking in the throat with its worldview where Bambi did with its overriding schmaltz. There will be many out there who will balk at Disney's treatment of the Perrault fairy tale, or simply object to it on the grounds of its legacy. But for those who stay or attempt to overlook this, it passes the time very nicely as an enjoyably frothy pantomime romp with visual beauty to spare. It's not classic Disney by any means, but it's still vaguely satisfying - in spite of everything.
A great classic !!
Ever since I was a kid, I've always enjoyed watching "Cinderella." What makes "Cinderella" a great movie are all the entertaining characters that are in the movie. All the characters from the wicked stepmother, to Cinderella, and even the animals are well done and they're all entertaining in their own way. The songs in "Cinderella" are pretty good, but they're not some of the best from the Disney movies in my opinion. But "Cinderella" does have some of the best animation out of any of the classic Disney animated movies, and it has many memorable parts such as when the mice are toying with Lucifer the cat, when the Fairy Godmother helps Cinderella out, and of course, the part that everyone remembers, when Cinderella loses her glass slipper. I recommend anyone who likes classic animated movies to get "Cinderella." NOTE: That was my Amazon review from the year 2001. Yet another surefire Disney classic that's over half a century old but still holds up very well.