Cinderella Review (1950)
Post World War II was an interesting time for Disney. In an attempt to save costs and drive up profits – the company shifted it’s animation style to a much cheaper production method. The result was the ability to crank out films faster than ever before but with notable lapses in quality. When I reviewed Bambi – I stated how much care and attention the art direction had taken to ensure that it was rich and vibrant. But in follow up films, such as Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – the company had all but abandoned this process and instead started over-stretching short stories to fit it’s brief. The result was a drop in quality that made money but crashed morale. By the time Cinderella entered production things had to change. And change they did.
Cinderella is very obviously moulded after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. From a story standpoint the beats are almost like-for-like; Cinderella’s father has passed away leaving, leaving her in the care of her wicked stepmother. This stepmother gets jealous and along with her two wicked daughters – forces Cinderella into a life of servitude. There’s some talking mice in there who help her and eventually the fairy godmother who eventually comes to aid Cinderella in her ambition to attend the Princes Ball. But really the story is all about Cinderella rising above her squalid existence and escaping the negative she lives in.
The problem with Cinderella as a movie is that it’s characters are all shockingly one dimensional. Cinder’s herself has no discernible character trait other than “I want to marry a prince”. The King meanwhile makes no attempt to hide the fact that his son’s future princess will be there to throw out babies and that’s it. He openly insults his son, the prince, who even by prince standards in Disney is insanely lacking in his abilities to command any sort of character. He openly gets bulled by his father which mirrors the relationship with Lady Temaine – the wicked stepmother. Her single motivation in the film is to use her stepdaughters as a stepping stone to raise her own stock in high society. In short – every human character in this film is a one tone bag of desires that has boiled down wishes to satisfy gender roles – and it seriously drags the movie down.
Even from a story standpoint the film has issues. At 75 minutes long you’d think it would have the time to establish all the points it wishes to make. One of these points is that there’s no magic in the film – right up until the plot demands a twist. Giving it any thought really hurts the film because the Fairy Godmother herself only shows up when the plots needs a way back out of the cul-de-sac it traps itself in. There’s zero magic and then suddenly magic solves everything. In Disney films the presence of magic is usually long established in the first act but here we have to wait until over half the film has gone for the writers to wheel it in. It’s lazy and if the Fairy Godmother cares about Cinderella – why doesn’t she stop the mistreatment herself long before Cinderella wants a dress whipped up. Again – the characters motivations are all over the shop and out of sync with what they should be.
Song wise the film has only got one real classic in it’s batch – the insanely catchy “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” which has managed to persist in the Disney canon beyond this film. Elsewhere though we get fairly lame love ballads that pretty much play up the character flaws – “So This is Love”, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, “The Kings Plan” and the “Work Song” are songs where the characters sing about their desires and ultimately aren’t memorable. Seriously, I dare you to try and sing any of the songs without looking them up.
The films true crowning glory falls on it’s animation front where the detail makes a return. It’s not up to Bambi levels but compared to Dumbo and other mid-1940 Disney flicks has a level of finish to it that helps it to rise above the average. Backgrounds are well presented and the character animation is passable enough that you could make an argument it’s a return to form for the studio – which obviously upped the effort. Characters are well defined and in some cases iconic – drawing imagery from folklore and historical figures (The King taking huge inspiration from old German kings). It’s a wonderful bout of colour and when it gets really going it fits the bill perfectly.
Overall then we have a fairly disappointing mess of a film that really tries to harp back to Snow White but manages to come off a few shades more shallow. The animation isn’t as well rounded as previous films but manages to maintain a level of finesse that never makes it feel like it’s dragging down the party. The film is fondly remembered mostly because it’s huge success sparked the silver-age of Disney – a period of fairly substantial films that would go on to cement Disney’s legacy and ultimately allow the company to expand beyond movies and into theme parks and such. Cinderella though lacks any sort of ambition and plays it as safe as it can and as a result we get a film that when viewed as anything but Disney is insanely shallow.
Overview: As a historic piece, the film has merit. But in terms of content and story – it’s a very lacking Disney film that lacks any real charm outside of it’s obviously famously famous story. A real shame.