Back into the narrative feature length films, Disney returns with an instant classic. “Cinderella” is an adaptation of the fairy tale “The Little Glass Slipper”, and there’s a clear return to form, following the recipe used in their previous successes. It even opens with the live action storybook (though it’s always a nicer edition than you could ever hope to find in reality).
The story is about a young girl named Cinderella who lives with her wicked stepmother and her two sniveling stepsisters. This all happened after her father died of unknown circumstances. I’m not saying the stepmother had anything to do with that, and the movie doesn’t even imply such a thing, but…I think she did it. Anyway, the stepmother squanders the family fortune on her two moronic spawn so that they can no longer afford servants. The answer to this is to make Cinderella their unpaid servant, responsible for all the cleaning, cooking, washing, animal tending, etc.
Cinderella (voiced by Ilene Woods), a beautiful young woman with infinite patience and charm, has spent so long alone and abused that she succumbed to her madness. She spends her free time sewing clothing for the local birds and the vermin that infest her home. Luckily, being a Disney movie, these animals are all fairly intelligent and comical. You probably know this story and the rest of it, what with the ball and the glass slipper. It’s an iconic fairy tale about oppression.
Unlike the short film compilations during the 1940s, the animation here is once again top notch. The colors and the large intricate backgrounds add depth and life to the world of this fictional French kingdom. More than that however is the characters. The characters make this movie, particularly the supporting cast. The character animations and the nuanced facial expressions go a long way personalizing each character and making them seem alive. Cinderella is likeable and sympathetic, the mice, the birds, and the other friendly animals are all cute and funny when they need to be, with the two central mice, Jaq and Gus as the central comic relief. Anastasia and Drizella, the wicked stepsisters, are animated so wonderfully off, their every expression one of awkward disgust matched only by their voice actors (Lucille Bliss and Rhoda Williams, respectively). Even the King and the Grand Duke (both voiced by Luis Van Rooten), what could easily have been throw away characters since their sole purpose is to deliver exposition, are hilarious and over the top in their violent exchanges.
So many great characters, but all are overshadowed by Lady Tremaine, also known as the wicked stepmother. With a brilliantly cast Eleanor Audley as her voice, this character oozes maliciousness. She spends her every waking moment tormenting Cinderella in a way that is best described as vindictive and petty. She delights in enforcing her will over her, since she’s been jealous of her charm and beauty since she was a child (which is not creepy at all). She pretends to be so generous and benevolent, but the festering reality behind her green eyes always seeps through the cracks. She’s one of the all-time great Disney villains, but even better is that she’s not a witch or some kind of powerful being. She’s not a motivated by plot or some grand scheme to seize power. She’s just an awful human being who delights in her power over another.
To counter the wonderful evil and cruelty of the villains, this is also a fun musical with a lot of great songs. It features some memorable classics like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, “The Work Song”, “So This is Love”, and of course, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”, the song sung by the Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton).
This is classic Disney and marked a wonderful return to what made their first films so great. It was a tremendous follow up after so many years of compilation features, but it proved without a doubt that Disney was still the one and only name in the animated movie business.