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A Second Look: Cinderella (1950)
In 1950, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson released Disney’s Cinderella, based on the 1697 version of the fairy tale known as Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. Starring Ilene Woods, William Phipps, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Luis van Rooten, Jimmy MacDonald, Rhonda Williams, Lucile Bliss, June Foray, Mike Douglass, Betty Lou Gerson, and Don Barclay, the film grossed $263.6 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Sound, Best Original Score and Best Song, it won the Golden Bear (Music Film) and the Big Bronze Plate Award at the First Berlin International Film Festival. There were also two direct-to-video sequels and a 2015 live-action reimagining starring Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter.
After marrying Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s father dies, leaving his daughter with her and her two daughters. But despite being abused and mistreated by her stepfamily, who make her a scullery maid in her own home, she grow into a woman unafraid to dream and befriends the animals around the chateau.
The first animated feature film with a complete storyline following World War II and the package films released during the conflict, Cinderella was Disney’s last ditch attempt to make a successful film and keep his studio open. It happened to be an incredible success mainly due to how well the story displayed the character of Cinderella. The first scene with her shows her waking up from a dream and telling her animal friends how great a dream it was. It establishes her as someone not content to let her stepmother and stepsisters get to her, though they are essentially ruining her life, and that she spends what time she can dreaming and holding onto the hope of better things. Even when they say Cinderella can go to the ball if she gets through with an insurmountable amount of chores and duties, she gets to it without stopping to think about the amount of time it’s going to take to do all of them and only grows despondent when her stepsisters completely ruin her ability to go by destroying her dress.
However, the film also does show that her optimism does get the best of her in one situation. During the climax, Cinderella hears that the Grand Duke is coming with the other slipper, and starts daydreaming about her new life by dancing upstairs. For someone who has kept a level head around her stepfamily in every instance prior, staying true to how she’s been portrayed up until then would show her going about her duties and keeping a low profile because she should know that her stepfamily would seek to stop her. It’s an odd shift in character that’s immediately spotted by Lady Tremaine. Before that Lady Tremaine and her daughters didn’t know that Cinderella had gone to the ball and believed her to have stayed home because Anastasia and Drizella had torn up and destroyed the dress. Lady Tremaine spotting Cinderella’s suspicious behavior causes her to act out said suspicion and lock Cinderella in her room.
Lady Tremaine is also incredibly interesting as far as villainous characters go. Not only is she abusive towards her stepdaughter, preferring her own daughters, but she’s also quite clever and savvy enough to know she needs to be manipulative in order to keep things following what she believes to be the pecking order. She manipulates Anastasia and Drizella into destroying Cinderella’s dress and understands what Cinderella’s behavior means when her character shifts. Further, she has enough sense to trip the footman when he’s bringing in the glass slipper as she’s unaware that there’s another one and Cinderella has it. Her best moment is during the climax after locking Cinderella in her room and tripping the footman, completely selling the moment with a smile while the Grand Duke panics and Cinderella spends a few seconds looking shocked but then produces the other slipper.
The film also has some really good comic relief in the way of Jaq, Gus, and the other mice. Their song during the creation of the dress is also pretty good, containing funny moments as well, such as the one mouse who is always very close to getting impaled with a sewing needle. Jaq and Gus stealing the key is one of their funnier moments, with the former in Lady Tremaine’s pocket and her hitting his head when patting the key to Cinderella’s room and the latter hiding in a tea cup.
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