We finally got around to Cinderella this evening. I know this was one of Walt Disney’s own favorites (if not his overall favorite), and I really can’t say I’ve heard of anyone NOT liking it. Like Snow White, it uses a classic fairy tale as its basis, but adds some stuff to stretch it out to feature length. The Cinderella story is a very old one, with some scholars tracing its origins back to Greek-ruled Egypt, and others to China. Disney’s version is based on Charles Perrault’s take on the story, which is the one with the glass slippers and the fairy godmother. Other versions of the tale have different magical help for Cinderella, like a fish that’s a reincarnation of Cinderella’s late mother in the Chinese story, and a magical tree that grew from her mother’s grave in the Grimms’ version.
In the movie, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother is named Lady Tremaine, and her stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella, who are ugly in appearance as well as personality.
According to the opening narration, Cinderella’s father had already died before the stepmother started abusing her, hence leaving out the issue of why he never did anything to help his daughter. (The father is still alive in both the Perrault and Grimm versions of the story.) Like Snow White, she has animal sidekicks who help her with her work. The two main ones are the mice Jaq and Gus, but there are also several other mice and some birds. The two main female mice were later called Suzy and Perla, but they weren’t named in the actual film. The mice speak English, but sloppy English, and seem to have particular trouble with the ends of words (“Lucifee,” “Cinderelly”).
Other animals featured in the plot include the nasty cat Lucifer, the hound Bruno, and the horse Major. As for the humans, the King is played as a slapstick character, engaging in ridiculous chase sequences with the monocle-wearing Grand Duke, and at one point shouting like Goofy while taking a fall. The Fairy Godmother is also somewhat comical in her absent-mindedness. She’s voiced by Verna Felton, who was also the bitchy Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I guess voicing a kindly old lady was somewhat against type for her. The Prince has a pretty minor role and no name, but he’s somehow been dubbed “Prince Charming,” a colloquial nickname for pretty much any handsome fairy tale prince. According to Wikipedia, the term is first known to have been used in 1890 by Oscar Wilde, who used it in a sarcastic fashion. Before that, Andrew Lang used the name “King Charming” in one of his retellings. For some reason, Disney has come to use the term to refer specifically to Cinderella’s Prince, while Snow White’s is simply “The Prince.” I’m sure I’ll be taking a look at the names of princes, or the lack thereof, when I review other Disney features.
As for the plot, after the ball is announced (and scheduled for that same night, no less; the King doesn’t beat around the bush), Lady Tremaine agrees to let Cinderella go to the ball if she finishes all her chores and finds something suitable to wear, not expecting her to be able to meet either condition. The mice, who have apparently read “The Tailor of Gloucester,” adapt Cinderella’s mother’s old dress with items the stepsisters threw away, but when they see her wearing it, they tear off the bits that used to belong to them. I have to say this is one of the cruelest scenes in the movie. Yes, the Fairy Godmother shows up to give her a pretty new one, but the mice did all that work that the stepsisters ruined in about a minute! As for the Godmother’s transformations, I have to wonder whether Major and Bruno in the form of the coachman and footman were able to talk. They never addressed that.
Nor am I sure why the glass slippers didn’t change back into Cinderella’s regular shoes when all the other enchantments came undone, but I guess there couldn’t be a happy ending otherwise. It also wouldn’t work out if anyone else had Cinderella’s shoe size, I suppose. Does she have the smallest feet in the kingdom, or what? Maybe that’s where the Chinese influence comes in. The stepsisters themselves have enormous feet, of course. There’s also a scene where Lucifer falls out a window, but we don’t see whether or not he survives. Also, even though we see the mice sharing in the happy ending, we’re not told what happens to the stepmother and stepsisters. In the Grimms’ version, the stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by birds, which they totally deserve for ripping up the dress. From what I understand, the direct-to-video sequels have Lucifer still alive and the stepsisters with eyesight intact, but do they really count?