The Silver Age of Disney kicked off with a bang and Cinderella lead what is arguably one of the best eras for the company ever. This film saved the company from their struggles and financial struggles that plagued them throughout the 1940’s and became one of the crowning jewels for the company from a return to their roots while showing off what would be there design and direction for the next decade and a half and for good reason.
Cinderella (Ilene Woods) is treated as lesser than her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley) and her evil stepsisters Anastasia (Lucille Bliss) and Drizella Tremaine (Rhoda Williams). She constantly cleans, picks up and works around the house and is locked in her room with her window out looking out to the castle of Prince Charming (Williams Phipps). Meanwhile, Charming is busy trying to throw his ball in order to find a woman to marry under the rule of his father the King (Luis Van Rooten) and invites every available single woman in the kingdom to come along.
Cinderella, dreaming of one day going to the castle, sees this as opportunity until her evil stepmother puts a stop to it and embarrasses her by ripping the dress her mice friends, including Jaq and Gus (Jimmy MacDonald), help make. In the wake of her sadness, the Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton) hears her cries and grants her the wish her heart made on one condition: she must come home before Midnight. She does so and is in love with Charming, but leaves a glass slipper behind in the wake. It is up to Charming to search the kingdom far and wide to see who can fit the slipper and who is his wife to be.
Cinderella is not a hard film to talk about because it is very simple, but what it does to make up for the simple storytelling is wonderful. The design of the kingdom and the animation takes some of the crisp style seen in some package films i.e. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, even the design of Cinderella had a test run of sorts as Katrina in The Legend of Sleepy Hallow segment. Their is some simplicity in it as well, but it comes back to having live-action reference as the animators (more specifically the Nine Old Men) help bring fluidity and realistic moments. The dance sequence during “So This is Love?” remains a highlight to harness the artistry of this film. The art direction and design was done by Mary Blair, one of the greatest art designers in the history of animation, shines brightly in the design of the castle with rich minimalist design and sleek Art Deco-inspired architecture. It’s a sight to see.
The music is rich and memorable from the infectious “The Work Song” to the wonderful “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” One of the most memorable scenes with music is the opening with Cinderella singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Make” allowing the audience to understand what she wants. She is someone longing for a dream and do what they want despite their entrapment by her ultimate foil to the horrendous Lady Tremaine. She is absolutely terrifying from that great voice (Audley was also Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty) and she merely has to look and stare to make those feel weak. There is one shot of her in particular that looms in my mind is when it just has her staring and as the camera fades to black, her eyes are still visible to show her menace. It’s a carefully crafted work of art and a landmark in animation that stands the test of time, even past midnight.
Critic’s Quote: “As the Fairy Godmother puts it ‘Even miracles take a litttle time.’ For Mr. Disney and his craftsmen have brilliantly splashed upon the screen a full-blown and flowery animation of the perennially popular fairy tale.” Bosley Crowther, New York Times, February 23, 1950
Signature Moment: “So This Is Love?” is a wonderful sequence of great animation, scope and beauty.