Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
Written by: Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Ted Sears, Winston Hibler, Homer Brightman, Harry Reeves, Kenneth Anderson and Joe Rinaldi
Cinderella ranked amongst the Disney movies I watched as a little kid, didn’t remember much of and didn’t care to watch again. Part of that was to due to Disney’s having a reputation for producing “clichéd” content and part of that was due to the mediocrity of the Cinderella story itself. To exaggerate the point I’ll recall a version of Cinderella I heard a few years back (I believe it’s South African). That story follows the same structure as the classic fairy tale: Cinderella is told she can’t go to a ball by abusive relatives and yada, yada, yada. The difference with this version is that Cinderella solves her problem by applying some beauty products: no fairy godmother is needed. As I’m sure you can imagine, Cinderella without a fairy godmother is a boringly simple story. But then ask yourself, how much more interest can a fairy godmother even add? Her intervention in the story falls just short of being a deus ex machina in an otherwise floundering tale.
Upon starting to watch and rewatch Disney films last spring, however, I came to question the notion that they are clichéd. Sure, many of them are about princesses who talk of making dreams come true and fall in love a bit too easily, but is that the point of the movies?
Perhaps to a little kid watching the movies for the first time, likely also experiencing the fairy-tales at the movies’ cores for the first time, those plots are the central part of the Disney experience. But I think that’s because as kids we take a lot for granted. Much of what we consume is full of color, fantasy and whimsicality, and as such we read it as background noise and not the central characteristic of the works we’re consuming. Of course age is not the only factor here. Disney, especially with its modern “Disney Princess” branding doesn’t necessarily emphasize what’s best about its own movies. This trailer, for instance, lines up far more with my naive, previous perception of Cinderella than with the actual impression I was left with by the film.
But when I watched Disney’s Cinderella this year, I realized I was watching a work that was just barely about its protagonists and her cruel relatives. In the film’s opening scenes Cinderella is woken up by, and sings with birds. Sure, this scene may not be particularly innovative given its similarity to Disney’s storytelling in Snow White. Nonetheless, it is an uplifting moment, and the fact that some of the birds wear little bandanas gives it a unique breathe of adorable life.
The film then proceeds to take on a Looney Tunes –like feel as it introduces us to mice Jack and Gus, mere footnotes from the original fairy tale, who struggle daily to dodge the equally cartoonish cat Lucifer. The mice have unnatural, chipmunk-esque voices, which has perhaps prevented them from attaining the immortality of Disney sidekicks. Still, they are as much a highlight of Disney’s output as any character and are essentially the film’s pull.
Cinderella never quite escapes the shackles of its over-simple source story, preventing its conclusion from feeling too dramatic. Nonetheless, its animated set-design, and roster of cartoonish characters (the King was a “pleasant” surprise for me as well) mean viewers are in for a pleasant surprise. Early Disney films are a reminder of the vision that goes into animated filmmaking. Cinderella is but one such excellent reminder.