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Dissecting the Classics – Cinderella

May 11, 2018 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

I’d like to give a big thank you to Screen Prism, whose video on this week’s movie was very helpful. You can check out their videos on Youtube, which I highly recommend as they always have quality content.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics . In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.


Wide Release Date: March 4, 1950
Directed By: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske & Wilfred Jackson
Produced By: Walt Disney
Written By: Ken Anderson, Perce Pearce and at least eight others
Edited By: Donald Halliday
Music By: Oliver Wallace & Paul J. Wallace
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Distributed By: RKO Radio Pictures
Narrated By: Betty Lou Gerson
Helene Stanley as Cinderella/Anastasia Tremaine
Ilene Woods as Cinderella’s Singing Voice
Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine
Claire Du Brey as Fairy Godmother
Verna Felton as Godmother’s Singing Voice
Rhoda Williams as Drizella Tremaine
Jimmy MacDonald as Jaq, Gus and Bruno

What Do We All Know?

After a decade in which World War II loomed large over Disney’s projects and pushed the company to near bankruptcy, Walt Disney and his Nine Old Men went back to their roots and released their second feature length animated film about a Princess. Cinderella was a commercial and critical success, paving the way for one of Disney’s most profitable decades. Even more than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s Cinderella may be the definitive Disney movie. The story, characters, music and even props like the pumpkin carriage and the glass slipper are iconic. Her castle is the centerpiece of Disneyland for a reason.

As the film that sort of embodies Disney’s image, it inhabits a weird place among critics and fans. The film is overall well received by critics, but I don’t think many would list it among their favorite Disney animated classics. There’s some pushback against the main character, as she has become a symbol of the Disney Princess brand and all that entails. Hell, when Disney released the good but not especially great live action remake in 2015, some claimed it was superior to the original.

Is it weird for me to say that I think Cinderella might be underrated?

What Went Right?

As I rewatched this movie, it came as no surprise to me that so much of this movie is iconic. Cinderella is a gorgeous movie with beautiful colors and striking character models. Cinderella is expressive and sympathetic, her stepsisters are gloriously obnoxious, and her stepmother is full-on terrifying. Lady Tremaine is one of Disney’s great villains. She may not be a witch or a queen or a Mistress of All Evil, but she has absolute power over Cinderella and wields it cruelly. When we meet her in the dark, it’s framed like a monster in a horror movie. The hopelessness of Cinderella’s situation is easy to understand.

To compare Cinderella to last week’s film, I think this movie finds a better balance between the human story and the cartoony sidekicks. Jaq and Gus are the main ones, and aside from being distinct and likable, they compliment the main story very well. They are oppressed by Lucifer the cat in the same way as Cinderella is oppressed by the Tremaines, and while she can’t fight back against them, she can help the mice. A lot of the film’s humor comes from these animals and it serves as a nice balance. In fact, I daresay they are the best animal sidekicks in Disney animation history.

But like I said, the film is balanced and not all about the sidekicks. Cinderella’s hard work to get to the ball is compelling, because its a much needed escape from her everyday existence. Her stepsisters violently strip the opportunity from her, with the approval of her stepmother. This scene is framed as a truly vicious assault, and it’s understandable that Cinderella reaches her breaking point here. The Fairy Godmother is a memorable character with a great song (pretty much all the music is very good in this), the castle is appropriately dreamlike with a totally different color palette, and the film’s final minutes form an impressively constructed climax with clear, high stakes.

Something that becomes clear at the end is just how important Cinderella’s kindness to the animals are. When an opportunity for escape presents itself, she refuses to give up and uses the friendships she’s forged with the mice to rescue her. When Lucifer gets in the way, she has Bruno chase him off, something he couldn’t do earlier. And when Lady Tremaine tries to shatter her dreams along with the glass slipper, she provides the other one. Cinderella’s stubborn hope in the face of adversity pays off and she earns her happy ending.

What Went Wrong?

Looking back at Cinderella, I honestly have very few complaints. I think a little more time could have been spent with the main character instead of the mice, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy everything with the mice. The happy ending is cheesy and played out, but it’s hard to say Cinderella doesn’t earn it. The one weak spot is the Prince, who is barely in the movie, doesn’t have a name or much of a personality. It’s hardly a surprise that the 2015 remake put a lot of effort into developing its Prince Charming.

How Does This Affect the “Disney Princess” Trope?

Cinderella is essentially Snow White, Ver. 2.0. And I think she fairs much better over time. A lot of this has to do with her situation as a victim of domestic abuse, trapped in her home by a sadistic step-family. Cinderella is a victim, much more so than Snow White or even Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. Having a story with an understandable plight and clear stakes helps the whole film age well. The fact that Cinderella is kind, decent and hopeful in this situation makes her endearing, and those standard Princess traits stand out as being more genuine.

Cinderella isn’t just a compassionate, passive dreamer though. She’s a careful and patient, waiting for the opportunity to move onto a better life. Her anger at the situation bubbles through on occasion, but she keeps it under control. When an opportunity does present itself, she is determined and resourceful. She has help, but the help is created through her compassion (the animals) or her dreams made manifest (the godmother). And while she gets a Prince in the end, it’s more like a secondary reward; her true goal and true reward was freedom from her situation, and she attained that herself. And she is not a Princess by birth; it’s something she attains.

Cinderella may be the most iconic Disney Princess, and frankly, she deserves to be. Even a cursory examination of the film reveals a strong character whose strength is decidedly feminine. While she could perhaps afford a meaningful personality flaw to be more complex, the story doesn’t really merit it.

And In Summary…

Honestly, Cinderella has held up remarkably well considering it’s almost seventy years old. It strikes a nice balance between a compelling main story with the lead character and a complimentary side story with her animal sidekicks. It is beautifully animated with excellent songs and memorable characters. The story remains topical, as domestic abuse is never going to stop being a problem. And the rags to riches story of Cinderella feels earned because the character is resourceful and hopeful even in dire circumstances. While other Disney movies require caveats, I don’t think this does. Cinderella is a genuine classic.

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Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Blade Runner, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Princess Bride, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Toy Story, Star Wars – Part 1, Star Wars – Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Die Hard, Spirited Away, Airplane!, Dirty Dancing, RoboCop, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Captain America: The First Avenger, In the Heat of the Night, West Side Story, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Rocky, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sixth Sense, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Clerks, Goodfellas, The Avengers, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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