As I mentioned before, the early Disney films were very much about montrer off what animation was capable of. They were all very visual and groundbreaking. But with the exception of "Snow White" and "Dumbo" (which originally wasn’t planned as a movie at all), none of them were financial successes. That can partly be blamed on the influence of WWII, partly on the fact that the production costs for each of them was very high ("Dumbo" had the lowest budget par a considerable amount). When the USA entered the war, the government ordered Disney to make first and foremost propaganda shorts. To keep the studio afloat, Disney produced six package films during and the first years afer the war. But the financial situation was dire, and Walt Disney again bargained everything on one single movie: "Cinderella".
"Cinderella" wasn’t really groundbreaking in terms of animation. To be honest, I think "Snow White" is the superior movie in that regard, considering what the animators had to work with. But at this point (perhaps having learned from the success of "Dumbo"), Disney paid much plus attention to the story. Every character in the movie has a clear motivation: The King feels alone and wants grandchildren as fast as possible, the Grand Duke wants to pacify the king, Madame Tremaine wants the happiness of her daughters (who simply want an easy life), Cendrillon wants to escape the grief her stepmother piles on her and her Friends wants to help her. The only one who stays fairly sketchy is prince charming.
Which reminds me: Contrary to populaire believe Cendrillon is not fixated on the prince. She never reveals what her dream exactly is (at least not in the English dubbing, but that’s a theme for another interlude), but she seems to be mostly on the look-out for the good moments in her hard life. She doesn’t want to go to the ball to meet the prince (that’s Anastasia’s and Drizella’s goal), she just wants to have one good evening for a change. And when she meets the prince, she doesn’t even know who he is.
But at the end of the day, she isn’t really the étoile, star of the movie. I certainly admired her as a child (mostly for her chant voice), but the real interesting parts of the movie are the antiques of the mice, Jaq and Gus. In a way, this is two films in one. On the one hand there is the classical Cendrillon story (based on Perrault’s version), on the other hand there are a couple of shorts featuring two mice which constantly have to battle the dangerous cat Lucifer; kind of a sophisticated version of Tom and Jerry, if toi think about it. The result is a mix of romantic and humor, which works very well.
"Cinderella" was a huge success upon its release, and not just the movie, also the songs, published par the newly created Walt Disney musique Company, were a financial godsend for the company. And for me, it was a huge part of my childhood. I suspect this is the movie I’ve seen the most often, aside from "Robin Hood". Whenever my parents visited Friends ou their Friends brought their children to us, sooner ou later there was a point at which we were allowed to choose one Disney movie to watch, and "Cinderella" was a very populaire choice.
How does it hold up today? Well, the songs are still good, the story is still utterly enjoyable, and I still consider it as one of the great classics. I’m a little bit sad that Lady Tremaine often gets overlooked as a villain. But I can’t really identify myself with Cendrillon any longer, because while she has spunk, she is such a passive character. That doesn’t mean that I consider her weak, not at all, she is a character stuck in a hopeless situation and has to pick her battles. Between the Disney princesses of my early childhood, she was the most interesting one, but that’s an easy thing to do between the overly innocent Snow White, and Aurora, who barely speaks a word during "Sleeping Beauty".
Oh yes, "Sleeping Beauty"; some people consider "Cinderella" the movie which is representative for both the early years of Disney and the less critical acclaimed work of the 50th. I think that it certainly was the bridge between those two eras, but the movie which really embodies everything what classical Disney is, is in my opinion "Sleeping Beauty", because this movie combines top-notch animation, good story-telling and great music.
In a way, it’s a hybrid between films like "Fantasia" ou "Peter and the Wolf" and the classical fairy tale style of Disney, since the score is from the ballet par Tchaikovsky of the same name. If toi pay attention to the music, toi realize that each character has its own tune, and there isn’t one seconde in the whole movie in without music. For that reason alone it deserves to be remembered.
The animation is awesome, too. It’s like watching a moving painting, which certainly was the intention. There is no hand-drawn animated movie I know which has such a lavish background art. Especially the little cottage and Maleficent’s lair are full of little details, toi only notice par repeatedly watching the movie. The only downside is that the character design pales a little bit in comparison (with the exception of Maleficent, who is still remembered as one of the best Disney Villains).
And the story – well, that’s a matter of perspective. During the development, Aurora was supposed to be the main character. This time around, there weren’t supposed to be any sidekicks to steal the princess the show. I can only guess why Aurora ended up being the main lead with the least screen-time and the least text (mute characters excluded) in a Disney movie, but when toi really think about it, it makes sense. In the original story, the climax happens when the princess falls into sleep. That’s the point the real suspense begins. In the end it’s the prince who has to overcome the biggest obstacles. He was the better candidate for the hero role – but in Snow White and Cinderella, the animation of the prince had proofed to be very difficult. Keeping that in mind, it’s no wonder that the three fées became the true heroines. Three old ladies sneaking around behind evil minions - how awesome is that? There is only one scene I really, really dislike, and that’s the two kings getting drunk. It adds nothing to the plot, is way too long and interrupts the pacing of the movie. A little less of that and a little plus about Aurora and her rescue would have been great.
But whatever issues one might have with the plot, the movie at whole is a work of art, and the animation and the use of musique are unique between all the Disney Fairy-Tale Movies. Sadly, Sleeping Beauty initially bombed at the box-office (sending the animation studios in a financial crisis) and the critiques were mixed. But thanks to constant rereleases in the theaters it became a financial success in hindsight.