After Disney’s success with their first princess movie, they followed it up in 1950 with their second princess movie, Cinderella.
Now, by this time, Disney had quite a few feature-length animated works under their belt, and you can really tell that there’s a difference in experience between these two films. While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs very much felt like a simple cut-and-paste attempt to put a fairy tale on a screen (something that I appreciated about it, if you’ll recall my review of that movie), Cinderella was paced much more like a film than an oral tale. So in theory, that should work better, right? It’s much more suiting to the genre, isn’t it?
To be honest, Cinderella is not the Disney film that I watch the most often. It’s a nice story, I like it alright, but I feel that I identify with it more in how I feel I should think about it rather than how I do. After all, one of my favourite bits of trivia about this film is that Cinderella was Walt Disney’s favourite princess because he very much saw himself in her – she was a girl who worked her ass off every day, who saw no real end to her labour, until one day when fortune decided to smile on her and she managed to become actual royalty. It’s a nice idea, and I appreciate that is meant so much to a figure that I idolize as much as I do Walt Disney. But at the same time, it’s sort of one of those stories that I find has been retold and retold so many times that it’s sort of lost its meaning. I can’t bring myself to care about it as much as I feel like I should.
But ignoring that, what about the film itself? Surely, if it meant so much to its creator, then it must stand out for its passion alone, right? Well… if you’re a young child, maybe. A lot of the screen time is dedicated to the mice, in the way that a lot of the screen time for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was dedicated to the dwarfs, and they’re cute and all, but if I’m to be honest, I found myself identifying more with the dwarfs in Disney’s previous film. They had very basic, very simple-to-understand personalities that were made clear to us from the beginning, from their names alone, but the mice are just sort of… French. One of them likes to eat a lot. It’s cute, really, but as an adult viewer, I can’t find that I get a lot of enjoyment out of them.
So what about the villains? If the sidekicks don’t have a lot of personality, then the villains must, right? Okay, to be fair, they do. The stepsisters are caricatures of unattractive women, and an argument can be made that that in itself is problematic, but it is a lot of fun at the same time. The stepmother, on the other hand, is just pure, despicable evil – the sort of villain that you can have no other reaction to besides the fact that you love to hate her. Her voice actress, Eleanor Audley, who would return to voice Maleficent in Disney’s next animated princess movie, lends a lot to the role, because she just has a voice that you have no choice but to shrink away from. But to be honest, I might enjoy the stepmother’s character a bit more if I didn’t see Eleanor Audley voicing Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, specifically because I think Maleficent is a more successful, more enjoyable villain, and so Lady Tremaine just feels somewhat eclipsed by her.
And last but not least, what about the title character? What about Cinderella – or her prince for that matter. In many of these early Disney films, the protagonists are not the most interesting part. That’s just part of the genre. Most of the attention goes to the sidekicks or the villains, and the heroes are simply left to be basically good and pure in every way. This is mostly true of Cinderella. She’s there, and the prince is there too, and every once in a while she says something somewhat sassy, but for the most part she’s just there.
Before I wrap up this review, however, there is one more thing I would like to address, because as a feminist, it’s a difficult thing to ignore: why does Cinderella do nothing to try to escape her situation? Why does she, as many people have said, just sit back and wait for the prince to rescue her? Well, personally, I think that this movie does a decent job of explaining this plot hole away – better than many other adaptions, in fact. Cinderella makes no attempts to leave her abusive home because she is taken in by Lady Tremaine as a young child – presumably, she has nowhere else to go. The film never outright states this, but the way that Lady Tremaine smiles when she takes hold of the young Cinderella, the way that the film never lingers long on any outside location, one really gets the feeling that Cinderella has two choices here: live as a servant to her cruel family, or live nowhere. It’s very easy to imagine this stepmother having manipulated Cinderella from childhood into making no friends, no attachments to the outside world. And as far as sitting around waiting for the prince goes, I don’t think she does a whole lot of this in this adaption. In fact, for most of the film, she doesn’t even know that the man she danced with at the ball was the prince, or even that rescue is at all possible for her. She’s simply resigned to her fate, seeing no other alternative. Is it an example of sexist writing to have the prince rescue her at all? Maybe, but that’s the source material. That’s what Disney was working off of, and as much as Disney would later get to be known for changing up the original fairy tale to suit their storytelling needs, they didn’t do a whole lot of that when Cinderella was made yet.
So overall, would I recommend Cinderella to a modern audience? Well, just as with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, yes and no. If you love the fairy tale of Cinderella, then this is definitely a must-watch adaption of it. But personally, even as a Disney fan, I found this a difficult film to get anything out of.