Cinderella (1950) Review

Cinderella

Disney’s animated adaptation of Cinderella is often seen as one of the studio’s classics. It’s also credited with saving the Disney company, as it ended up being the studio’s first real success since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after years of financially unsuccessful films lead the studio to the brink of bankruptcy. Today, Cinderella remains a charmer, though by today’s standards there are some notable pacing issues.

Cinderella’s story needs little explanation, as I’m sure most know it quite well: Cinderella lost her mother at a young age, and her father remarried. After her father passed away as well, Cinderella’s stepmother, Lady Tremaine, showed her true colors as a cold, unfeeling woman who was bitter towards Cinderella. Cinderella eventually became something closer to a servant than a daughter to Lady Tremaine, and her stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella were just as cruel. But with the aide of some mice, a Fairy Godmother, and a glass slipper, Cinderella might just find her happily ever after.

CinderellaLike a lot of Disney’s old fairy tale movies, Cinderella is an honest and good-natured adaptation of its source material (with the darker elements of the story removed), which makes the story timeless, though not particularly deep. That may sound a bit stingy on my part, but knowing how far animated films (including those from Disney) have come in terms of storytelling depth, a lot of the older Disney films can feel like simple, lighthearted entertainments by comparison.

The good news is that, for the most part, Cinderella remains a textbook example of that lighthearted entertainment. Cinderella herself, while not a particularly interesting character, is easy to sympathize with. Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters are appropriately despicable. The mice are charming (though the earlier parts of the film perhaps rely too heavily on them), and the human comic relief characters can be really funny, with the King and Grand Duke being highlights. Then there’s the show-stealing Fairy Godmother, whose presence is memorable enough that most people seem to forget she’s only in a single scene.

The songs are also a plus, with the now iconic numbers “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” living up to their reputation. And as is the norm with Disney, the animation is colorful and fluid, and still looks impressive today.

CinderellaOn the downside though, the movie can often feel stretched a bit thin, and many scenes feel like padding. This is especially true in the first half of the film, where we see more than a few extended breaks from the main plot to focus on the antics of the mice and Lady Tremaine’s cat, Lucifer. There’s some harmless comedy to be had in these moments, but they end up feeling too excessive and distracting. Thankfully, the second half gets things back on track with more focused storytelling.

All in all, Cinderella is definitely a good, fun addition to the Disney canon that any fan of the studio should see. With age, the film has shown some missteps with its pacing – with too many distracting detours with the animal characters – and if you’re more accustomed to more sophisticated animated features, Cinderella probably won’t win you over to the retro Disney princess formula. But if you’re looking for a charming, nostalgic piece of Disney history, Cinderella delivers just that.

 

7

The Good and Bad of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella

Cinderella

Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, it could be a whole lot worse than it is, but it also could be a whole lot better. It’s inoffensive, but it doesn’t exactly justify Disney’s recent obsession with turning their animated back catalogue into live-action films. So here’s a brief lists of the things I think worked for the new Cinderella, and the things that didn’t work.

 

The Good

It Means Well

While a straight up adaptation of Cinderella may seem a tad superfluous, seeing as Disney’s animated version is already synonymous with the House of Mouse, you have to appreciate that the live-action Cinderella isn’t trying to make the story into something “cool” or “edgy” to try to appeal to today’s audiences. It’s not trying to be hip or sexy. It’s just Cinderella. In this day and age, that’s kind of relieving.

 

It’s Better than Maleficent

Disney’s last attempt at turning one of their animated films into a live-action feature, Maleficent, was a bit of a mess. There wasn’t a single plot twist that didn’t feel both predictable and forced. It never knew whether it wanted to be a charming Disney movie or something (*cue Napoleon Dynamite-style groan*) darker and edgier. And its core relationship between Maleficent and Aurora never quite worked.

Cinderella, although lacking in surprises, at least knows what it’s going for. It may be the same story of Cinderella we all know, but I’ll take that over the clunkiness (and garish visuals) of Maleficent.

 

A Dash of Ethnic Diversity

Cinderella doesn’t aim for a whole lot of modernization, but it does have at least one respectably modern aspect about it. The movie acknowledges some diversity in the people of Cinderella’s kingdom without ever forcibly pointing it out, making it feel like a kind of idealized fairy tale world. However, there are still some areas that could have definitely benefitted from some modernization. More on that in a moment…

 

Cate Blanchett

CinderellaThank God for Cate Blanchett, who steals every last scene she’s in as Lady Tremaine (AKA the Wicked Stepmother). She commands every last scene she’s in. It doesn’t matter that her character is ridiculously antagonistic, Cate Blanchett makes Lady Tremaine interesting based on performance alone. Even when the film is at its shakiest, Cate Blanchett helps liven things up.

 

Frozen Fever!

Frozen FeverAww yeah! Frozen! Woo! Seriously, we all know the short film Frozen Fever is the primary reason Cinderella has done so well at the box office. People can’t get enough of their Frozen fix (self most especially included), and even seven minutes back in Arendelle is worth the ticket price.

 

 

The Bad

Cinderella Herself

CinderellaFirst thing’s first, I like Lily James as Cinderella. She’s charming. But although she fits the part, the part in question is still stuck in a very backwards role. I mentioned that the film makes some modernizations in ethnic diversity, yet no such improvements are even attempted on Cinderella herself.

Cinderella is still the same helpless mope she always was, if not more so. As a child, her parents teach her to “be kind and courageous.” Good advice, except once Cinderella ends up in the household of Lady Tremaine and her new, wicked stepsisters, she interprets her parents’ words as “let cruel and vindictive people walk all over you and never stand up for yourself.” There’s a great deal of difference between being kindhearted and being a pushover.

It doesn’t help that Cinderella is never given any real defining qualities other than her longing for a better life. It never seems to don on her that maybe she can be the one to make her life better. When the day is finally saved not by the heroine, but by a group of CG mice, I think it’s a sign that Cinderella needs to stop being such a sad sack. She could learn a great deal from those two sisters from Arendelle.

 

Character Backstories That Don’t Go Anywhere

Again, you have to applaud the effort. This Cinderella does give a couple of attempts at fleshing out some of the main characters by giving them more detailed backstories. The problem is that these backstories are all kind of forced into the movie through monologues, and the story never benefits from them. Lady Tremaine gives one such monologue, and although the delivery is great, it ends up going nowhere. Sure, it tries to make Tremaine a more sympathetic character (though it’s pretty hard to sympathize with someone so unreasonably cruel), but it ultimately doesn’t change her character, or her relationship with Cinderella. Again, at least the movie tried to add some interest to the characters, but I suppose these things are easier said (through monologues) than done.

 

 The Underutilized Fairy Godmother

CinderellaI actually enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the Fairy Godmother. The character seemed like she knew her role as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, but she got sidetracked on her way into the story, and kind of goes through the motions to make up for lost time. It’s a fun take on the character…for about two minutes, then she never shows up again. Granted, I wouldn’t want her to just magically get Cinderella out of all her jams (I’m looking your way, Blue Fairy from Pinocchio), but she’s a fun character who disappears all too quickly.

 

The Sidekicks Just Don’t Work

I don’t know if it’s the CG, or if it’s merely a result of the story’s transition to live-action, but the sidekicks never won me over. The mice may be cute, but something about them just comes off as sidetracking. Without the cartoonish personalities found in the animated version, they just kind of take up time. The same goes for the goose-turned-coachman and the lizards-turned-footmen (the former being charmless and the latter unnerving). The sidekicks are one aspect of the animated version that simply don’t translate in this live-action adaptation.

 

 

So Cinderella has its share of problems, but at least it has some good points as well. I’m still not onboard the whole Disney animation-turned live-action train, but at the very least Cinderella proves that, even with its missteps, this subcategory of Disney flicks isn’t entirely hopeless.