Posted November 26, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: Cinderella

Cinderella had Disney taking on their second of the famous fairytale princesses and they do not repeat themselves with what they did on Snow White. In fact it is Cinderella that sets the bar for dramatic and comedic beats for all the films that came after.


Many Disney animated features have certain stock characters that they use as tent-poles to hold up the dramatic and comedic beats as the film plays out. For example most of the comedy is provided by sidekicks – to either a hero or even a villain. Sidekicks who may be less than clever, or accident prone, or just a little more mischievous than the lead. Cinderella has both of these in the form of the animals that live around our main human characters. Some of them are on Cinderella’s side; One of them is most certainly not. But all of them provide some of the comedy highlights in the story.


As to the story itself: Cinderella has to play maid to her wicked Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and two spoilt Step-sisters. Now where Snow White was content in her chores, Cinderella actually pines more heartily for escape. The cruelty therefore put upon her is all the more vicious with chores being handed out on a regular basis, and mental cruelty never far behind it. Cinderella does not have her very life threatened, but is no less a worthy victim here. It is commentary on social and home abuse by guardians that should know better.

Much of the action we actually see from the perspective of the Mice that are there to help Cinderella in her cause when they are not doing a runner from the resident evil kitty, Lucifer. Lucifer it is worth mentioning is probably one of the more successful evil pets ever committed to film. Say what you like about the Siamese Twins from Lady And The Tramp – this kitty is just a bag of evil and rightfully gets what looks like as a well deserved demise at the end! (But I’m told the little Bastard survived the fall and appears in the DTV sequels).


But let us not let the fat cat diminish any of the presence of the spoilt siblings, and especially not that of Lady Tremaine who will have you clenching the very fibres that keep your temper at bay. Here is a lady who is well dressed, well poised, well spoken – and yet at heart is the world’s most rotten apple. She is probably the most successful in design of all the characters in this film. Her lazy, yet deliberate glances she gives Cinderella when talking even in a calm temper get the message across very quickly.


Now whereas magic worked against Snow White, Cinderella and, later, Sleeping Beauty have magic in their favour. Here it is in the guise of a Fairy Godmother who comes to Cinderella in her hour of need: The king announces a ball for all eligible maidens to attend so that his son might pick someone he fancies for his future bride. Upon learning of Cinderella’s wishes to attend, Lady Tremaine decides it is better to keep her busy to the point that she won’t be able to fix herself up for the big do. The mice decide to make a dress themselves for her, but having borrowed a few items from the Sisters, Lady Tremaine wastes no thought on setting her spawn upon it and it ends up in tatters. Enter the Fairy Godmother who after a wave of her wand and a preposterously memorable song sends her on her way to her date with destiny.

And what of the Prince? Like Disney’s first animated venture, he is a fairly mute figure. His job is to look pretty, be someone for the girl to pine for so that one day she will get to become a real Princess (Because she isn’t one in any way shape or form until she marries into it). It may be lazy that these Princes are such objects of affection – but then consider the clutzy idiots we get today who have to work through dramatic arcs in order to become better people who then deserve the girl. I think here we just have to assume that they are already perfect: so what’s to say!


Cinderella is early enough in the Disney pantheon to have featured several memorable songs. “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale” is probably the one that is comparable to the songs that draft way off into fantasy land. Here it is within her musing as she soaps the floors of the house. Bubbles float about and merge with one and other creating quite the kaleidoscope of images. It’s what we call the “Dumbo” moment.


Cinderella proves that you don’t need a main character to ever be in fear of their life in order to make a story exciting which is what sets it apart from what has come before. We may have Mice running for their lives, but do we ever really fear for them? No. The real fear comes when Cinderella is locked away by Lady Tremaine to prevent her trying on the glass slipper at the end.


And the end brings quite the joyous surprise when she is finally released from her prison and begs to try the slipper on. Before the footsman (pun intended) can get to her however he is tripped by Lady Tremaine which ends with the slipper shattering on the floor. We are heartbroken by this turn of events until Cinderella, quite rightly presents everyone with the other slipper. Once on, we cut right to the wedding and the happy ending. There is no apparent comeback on the cruel family that has abused her – merely Cinderella and her Prince in their carriage celebrating a marriage!

Steven Hurst