Throughout the 1940’s, the Walt Disney Studio was forced to divert its efforts from producing feature films to, instead, creating a series of short Militant and Public Service cartoons that contributed to the war efforts. The lack of profit from these services meant that Disney was once again in a familiar situation – how to devise a simple and efficient film at a minimal cost. The answer? A new fairytale.
Of course, it was only new to the realm of animation. The final product was indeed based on the 17th Century French folk tale about about a peasant girl whom finds great fortune after a life of disadvantage and sadness; the typical oppression/triumph struggle. But apply the appropriate amounts of Disneyfication, and story fits for a wonderfully concise, yet highly entertaining film that was importantly for the Disney Studio, a huge financial success and the beginning of a very stylised, if more controversial era than the Golden Age of 1937 to 1941.
But Cinderella sits neatly between the two eras, dipping into the story telling that made the previous films so wonderful, and representing the advancements in animation techniques that the latter films of the 1950’s would go on to demonstrate. For these reasons, it is possibly the satisfying Disney movie of the decade, but the budget restraints prevented any kind artistic prowess or extended film time that others could offer. Some could argue however that, with these limitations, the Studio would often produce much of its most loveable work – the earliest example being Dumbo.
Because of the folk story’s European origin, many variants of the tale had already been established, leaving the studio with a lot of flexibility to produce an entertaining screen play. The result was that Cinderella, the daughter of a good-natured man who had lost his wife, then has the further grief of witnessing her Father pop his cloggs early in life, leaving her without any true parents. Although it would seem fortunate at first that Cinderella’s Father had married a new women (named Lady Tremaine, the mother of two grotesque daughters) before death, the beautiful girl soon witnesses Tremaine’s true nature her and the ugly sisters, Anastasia and Drizella, are bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s beauty and grace.
It’s a tale of jealously and favouritism that will never grow old and, no doubt, still has its place in modern society. Only you’re getting the assurance that a happy ending could come your way if you keep watching!
The character selection for the film is intriguing and not like anything produced beforehand. Cinderella’s only true friends are found in nature; that being a group of little mice that live in her dingy loft-room with her, and the animals that accumulate outside the house. They are wise to Cinderella’s misfortunes and go out of their way to help her in times of need, but interestingly, each have a distinct personality that was rarely seen before. It would be easy to suggest that this is reminiscent of Snow White, but in Cinderella, the animals actually play a vital role in the story as they can not only communicate with each other coherently, but they often take the central role of frame and oppress the trouble present.
But what would a fairytale be without a Prince? Well, if were thinking of Disney films, probably not very different since ‘this’ gentleman usually has a personality that is akin to a common house brick. It is only once Sleeping Beauty is released that we since Prince Philip – a young chap that is not only humorous, but has more than a page of dialogue. If we are to fault Cinderella in any way (which is tough enough), then we would have to look at the Prince and admit that his engagement into the story is far from dynamic. Particularly so when one considers that he’s looking for a new ‘flossy’ (or, shall we say, provider of the next heir to the throne) and is being treated to a grand ball at his own palace. Oh, any that every available maid is asked by Royal Request to attend this ball? Break a smile, fella.
Of course, once Lady Tremaine and the ugly sisters hear about this wonderful news, they try everything in their power to prevent Cinderella from attending the ball, eventually resorting to ripping the poor girls dress apart as soon as they realise that her little friends (the mice) had taken scraps from their old clothing and used them to make Cinderella’s outfit! Time for a change of heart and a good bash of the, what was then, hit song “Bibbibi-Bobbidi-Boo” (which actually contributed a great deal to the after-release profits). Our friendly Fairy-Godmother takes her place to comfort the distressed Cinderella and assure her that everything will be ok. In this wonderfully animated scene, the beautiful Cinderella is rewarded with a striking stage-coach, new dress and those glass slippers, but under the condition that everything will return to normal at midnight. The all important questions are, can Cinderella make it to the ball, and if so, will the Prince discover her true identity?…
What is interesting artistically is that, just like elements of the story, the character rendering of Cinderella herself is very similar to similar to that of Snow White. The flat colours and simple, loose drawings are a reminder of the efficient animation that the studio was so good at, but the advancements that had occurred over the 13 years since then are quite obvious in the much, much smoother physics we see here. This is all the more amazing given that, apparently, almost 90% of the film was animated using the RotoScoping technique; by which we mean using live-action footage of actors to help speed up and improve the accuracy of character animation. Stylistically however, it is only the ugly sisters and the Princes father/Chancellor that resemble any later stylistic choices of the 1950’s, with what were becoming more established Disneyfied facial ‘features’.
Other little tricks such as the Hold Pose are used to great effect too – particularly with our feline-feind Luciffer, the bad natured cat who takes after his owner and the ugly sisters (accompanied with some traditional gags for good effect). The Background paintings were produced on a Watercolour majority, and are entirely appropriate to overall soft look of the film, not to mention that it was far cheaper! Again, there are more techniques used to save time, and this is most apparent at the Princes Palace where all the guests are painted along with the surrounding environment. It’s static, but it doesn’t impact the enjoyment of the film, since these ‘characters’ would have no involvement with the story anyway.
Cinderella is important in that, as was so often the case, it saved the studio from yet more financial trouble as the films became more and more expensive to produce (consider that Dumbo cost little more than $800,000, Cinderella cost $3 million just 10 years later!). But on a cultural level, it has integrated itself into the folk-lore to such an extent that ‘the glass slipper’ and ‘the stairs’ are ultimately synonymous with what we connote with the ‘Fairytale’, yet these are elements absent from the original tale. Every young girl wants to be Cinderella, and its not difficult to understand why. To find out, just treat yourself to this classic piece of animation, and think again as to whether ‘Hannah Montana’ is an ideal role model today…
Ooops, sorry I forgot – It’s cool to be dumb! Todd and Rick will be sooo impressed…