Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Ken Anderson, Perce Pearce, Homer Brightman, Winston Hibler
Starring: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald
As magical as it gets, even with it not being the first, Cinderella remains one of the most iconic films of Disney’s canon. A story so revered and adored by those who grow up with it that it has been interpreted and adapted by various generations in hopes to update the story but still maintain the idea of what it could mean to find your prince. Heading back to the source became a fascinating journey and makes it understandable why this movie perseveres.
After having lost her father, Cinderella (Ilene Woods) must now live with her evil stepmother and stepsisters. The only friends she has are the mice and other animals around her. When the prince of this kingdom invites every maiden to attend a ball, Cinderella hopes to attend and meet this prince.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone who has never heard the story of Cinderella, as Disney has codified it in a way we cannot avoid in our pop culture. Talking about the details of the story cannot be considered spoilers because of its prevalence in film and anyone who consumes from the Disney machine. While I knew the plot points of the story, going back and watching this for all the details ingrained in the story showed this film looks wonderful and has some oddities to it as well.
By far the biggest surprise came in the form of the mice. I knew they played a major part in the story but the amount of time they take up definitely startled me. There are whole sequences where it focuses on them trying to get food and avoid the claws of the family cat, Lucifer. Very subtle there with the name chosen for this feline. I continued to wait for when we would get more of the titular character, but there appeared to be an episode of Tom and Jerry injected into this fairytale plot. It would be fascinating to count how much screen time the mice occupied as compared to Cinderella. I infer the number would be closer than it should.
Watching this film as an adult so many years since I last watched it showed how the impact of the feature may be greater than the quality of the actual film. Seeing all of the stories this film inspired demonstrates how they elaborated more on these characters as compared to what actually occurs in this 1950 version. None of the characters really have depth in this movie as it focuses on Cinderella, but she does not receive much in character work either. She enjoys talking to the mice, does all of the work, and has the fairy Godmother save the day. If the titular character has no depth, you can forget about the others having any real substance. The prince barely puts together a sentence throughout the film. It became comical at the grand moment where Cinderella walks into the ball and the prince just walks up to her and they begin dancing. The moment gets better when she’s not sure he’s the prince, even though no other man of that age was there.
This lack of depth takes away the belief of why these two would be together except for the most superficial reasons, which is what drives many of the criticisms of this story overall. Everything just happens without any real reason given, but I’m willing to forgive it in points because of the beautiful hand-drawn animation utilized. There’s a reason these films have remained popular for generations, and the animation plays into it. The details look tremendous with the flurry of colors covering the entire frame. Similarly, the score of the film brings the classic tunes one would expect from this era of Disney animated movies. It gets laced throughout in such a satisfying way with the proper callbacks and integration to the important scenes.
Cinderella moves at a quick pace with its beautifully short runtime and methodically moves through its famous story with no intention of meditating on how these characters feel. Well, we get to learn that the King wants his son to marry for the sole purpose of having grandchildren, which came off as a bit odd. It remains foundational and influential even if others built upon it with more depth and character work.