One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.
This is Disney By The Numbers.
Disney Princesses get talked about a lot on the internet. There are think pieces aplenty about them, and good news, you’re looking at yet another one. The most common thing to see are ranking lists, identifying the most popular (I’ve already talked about that a little bit back in the Snow White review). But amongst the lists of best Princess movies, you’ll see are discussions of the “underrated” or “unknown” Disney Princesses. These are the ones that don’t get included in the big Princess group shots, or didn’t make the cut in the princess scene during Ralph Breaks The Internet.
In these lists, you’ll see the likes of Megara, Esmerelda, or even Kida. And I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, nobody lists Princess Eilonyw. Nobody.
But you know who doesn’t make these lists but maybe should?
This might seem counter-intuitive since she’s easily one of the most recognizable princess of the group. She’s featured in every Disney Parade, and her castle is the logo of the entire Disney company. So how could she be underrated?
Don’t worry, we’ve got her number.
- Theme 3
- Tightness of Script 3
- Dialogue 2
- Use of Comedy 2
- Use of Drama 2
For most of us, the Disney version of Cinderella is the default telling of the story. Chalk it up to it being the first one most of us were introduced to as children. So it can be easy to take the way this story was told for granted. But to an audience that saw this movie at its premiere? It was actually playing with their expectations and tweaking the story they knew a bit.
For that audience, they might expect to see a version more similar to the Charles Perrault French novelization, which would include the major story beats we know plus a living father. They might be more familiar with the Brothers Grimm version, which features Cinderella getting her gown from the birds that roost in a tree growing on her mother’s grave. There’s also podiatral mutilation and the birds pecking out eyes and such but that would never had made it into a Disney movie… unless…
This is why it’s useful to approach this film from the point of view of someone seeing it for the first time. Under that mindset, things we take for granted, like turning the animals that the Fairy Godmother uses for the coach into actual sidekicks were new spins back in 1950 (more on them later). But there were other bits that weren’t just new takes but actual twists.
For example, we see the scene where the mice and birds craft a dress for Cinderella as mostly an excuse for a cutesy song. But to contemporary viewer in the Fifties, it likely felt as though it was Disney doing their take on Cinderella receiving her gown from the birds just like in the fairy tale. This is then subverted when the step-sisters tear the dress to shreds.
Then there’s the scene with the Fairy Godmother. This is a master class in trolling audience expectations. The Fairy Godmother pops up and declares her intentions of glamming out Cinderella, which sets both the character and the audience up for the expectations of Cinderella receiving her dress. But no. First thing’s first- and the pumpkin becomes a coach. With that settled, surely the dress is next. Nope! Now that we have a coach we need a horse… which is why the Fairy Godmother ignores the horse standing next to her and turns the mice into horses. So now we get the dress… Wrong! Now it’s time for the horse to be the the coachman and the dog to be the footman.
It’s only then, after literally ever aspect of Cinderella’s iconography has been established except the dress, that the Fairy Godmother declares her work to be done. Only to realize her mistake. Cinderella’s reaction to the fairy’s remarking that she can’t go to the ball dressed in rags is perhaps one of the best reactions in all of Disney Cinematography.
And this is one of the joys of watching Cinderella, especially if you’re doing it the way we have and watching all the stuff that came immediately before. This return to classic Disney storytelling, of putting their own spin on an old tale is nothing short of refreshing at this point.
- Lyrics 3.5
- Score 4
- Number of Songs 2
- Notoriety of Songs 4
Which Disney song best represents the companies ethos, or sums up it’s message? The most obvious answer is “When you wish upon a Star”. It’s been heard in front of every Disney movie since 1989 and a good many before it. It was even chosen to represent Disneyland in Walt’s inaugural tv show… Disneyland.
And don’t get me wrong, “When You Wish Upon A Star” is simply amazing, and its close association to every Disney project ties itself irrevocably into our nostalgia. But for as great as that song is, a solid case can be made for another better representing the company’s “message”. And it just so happens to be in Cinderella.
Disney is all about the fulfillment of dreams and few songs encapsulate the power of dreams better than “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”.
This song is every bit as beautiful as “When You Wish Upon A Star” and every bit as poignant. The song is both longing and reassuring at the same time, somber yet hopeful, it speaks to those who look for a better tomorrow even if their today isn’t so great and encourages them to keep on reaching for their hearts desires.
Other songs in the film vary from okay, like “Little Dressmakers(Cinderelly Cinderelly)” to really good like “Sing Sweet Nightingale” to iconic such as “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo”, but “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” is easily the stand out song and entirely underrated in Disney Musical Canon.
- Quality of Animation 2.5
- Use Of Color 3
- House Style 3
- Character Design 3
- Breaks New Ground 2.5
What’s this? A nearly perfect score? We haven’t seen something like this in entirely too long! And let me tell you, it’s refreshing as all get-out. Now, sure, we don’t see the creativity displayed to the degree that we saw in movies like Dumbo or The Three Caballeros, but we also don’t have images queuing themselves up to be in our next Night Terrors so I’d say it’s an even trade.
After nearly a decade of lackluster animation, Walt Disney took no chances in making sure Cinderella looked amazing and up to the quality that had been once been expected from his studio. He even brought back an old classic: live action reference models.
By filming scenes first, Disney would give his animators references to look at for seeing how shadows lie, and to add that little bit of extra detail. This was especially necessary with this film as Walt had let many of his animators go during the package film days due to budget constraints He had replaced them with new, green cartoonists who had to be trained to help his more senior animators.
The results speak for themselves. Cinderella is a joy to look at, with characters being in the classic Disney model, the fluid way it moves, and the animated special effects that to this day remain iconic pieces of art.
- Character Interaction 3
- Importance To Overall Plot 3
- Complexity 2
- Pulls At Heartstrings 1
- Overcomes Obstacles 3
It’s not Prince Charming.
Let’s get that out of the way right up front. Like Snow White’s Prince, he’s essentially a non-entity. He’s there as a plot device and as far as Cinderella’s happy ending goes… he’s mostly a bonus to not being enslaved to her Wicked Stepmother anymore. In fact, at no point in the movie is Cinderella focused specifically on the Prince.
Sure, she gets stricken with a case of love-at-first-sightus (wonderfully lampshaded by the Grand Duke to the King to make even the cynics back in 1950 fall for it) but she doesn’t even realize that he’s the Prince and very quickly that aspect of the movie fades back to the central goal… escaping her life of servitude.
No, the characters that actually have a relationship with Cinderella, that fight for her, are the Mice and Birds. Now this won’t be a situation like Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, where we can pick out a particular mouse that likes Cinderella more and she likes back. That would be extremely weird.
But none-the-less, the characters that Cinderella interacts with the most, that put their lives on the line to help her get her happy ending are these guys.
But don’t worry, someday, someday, there will be a time when the love story in one of these movies will be between the two romantic leads.
Spoiler Alert: It’s going to be a couple of dogs.
- Sidekick 2
- Charm 2
- Goodness 2
- Emotional Transformation 0
- Comedy 1
Like Snow White before it, Cinderella gets a bit lampooned for being outdated. And it’s easy to see why; her story is dependent on others helping her out of her horrible situation, she spends her time cleaning, and she’s the one that established the Disney Princess trope of the animal sidekick (note: Snow White had animal sidekicks too, but they weren’t actual characters like the mice are).
But when you examine what’s actually going on in Cinderella’s film you learn that there’s a lot more going on than her simply being a stereotypical princess.
First of all we need to understand the context of Cinderella’s situation.
Cinderella is a slave.
She’s not even a servant. Servants get paid and can quit. She’s outright a slave. She has no rights, she can’t visit the market and look down on her poor provincial town. She can’t go on a trip just around the riverbend, she can’t even take her father’s place in the army to fight the Huns. She doesn’t do housework because she wants to, she does it because she’s forced to by her step-mother and step-sisters. When they even think she might have done something wrong, she gets punished.
And in spite of her singing about the power of your dreams, she tells Bruno, the old family dog, the very un-Disney message of giving up on his dreams. She does this because his greatest dream is to kill Lucifer, Lady Tremaine’s cat.
And given how Lucifer is actually somehow worse than his namesake, that seems odd. But Cinderella does this out of a desire to protect Bruno since he would be thrown out if Lady Tremaine even thought he had hurt her cat.
So in a movie where the central song is about the power of dreams, the protagonist who sang that song actively discourages chasing said dreams.
This is because while Cinderella, in her heart of hearts, believes in dreams, she’s been abused to the point where she also believes the lie that you shouldn’t dream too big.
Which brings us to her dream. Is it to be swept off her feet by a handsome prince? Does she sing about how someday he will come? Or about meeting him once upon a dream? Does she even dream of wealth and power? No. The abuse and hatred heaped upon her have narrowed her dreams down to simply wanting the night off. Just one night where she isn’t working herself to the bone.
Because the story of Cinderella isn’t about how a girl got glammed out and married the richest guy in town.
Cinderella‘s story is that of someone escaping her abusive family.
In other words, she should be reminding you of a Boy Wizard.
Like Harry Potter, Cinderella is rescued from her crummy life by an outside source because of the magical circumstances surrounding her and not so much her own attempts to do so.
This isn’t to say she’s completely passive and makes no attempts to follow her dream of a night off. While no where near as sassy as Snow White could manage, Cinderella shows herself to get frustrated at her circumstances and when the opportunity to go to the ball presents itself, she’s very quick to reason and bargain with her stepmother that she should be allowed to go. She’s trying as much as she can with how limited her circumstances are.
But there’s one more thing important to note about Cinderella as our heroine. If the story of Cinderella isn’t about how she liberates herself? What is it about? That’s something that will be answered… in another category!
- Evilness 2
- Comedy 0
- Sophistication 2.5
- Henchmen 1
- Poses A Threat 2.5
Disney has some heavy hitters in the villain category. From the theatrical Evil Queen in Snow White, to the sly and sneaky Scar, to perfect incarnation of pure evil, Maleficent. With all of these iconic villains, Lady Tremaine, often gets passed over.
She can’t turn into a dragon after all, or a witch, or even command an army of Hyenas. She doesn’t have big goals like taking over the Kingdom, or dominating the world. All she’s after is the domination of as single individual for the sheer fact that that person isn’t her blood relative.
And yet… and yet… Lady Tremaine is actually one fantastic villain and the first true fiend since the Evil Queen in Snow White.
Before we mention anything else, full props have to be given to Eleanor Audley, Lady Tremaine’s voice actress. So much of what works for this villain is her tremendous vocal performance. Her voice is regal and commanding, yet when she’s preparing an insult or devising a cruel punishment, there’s just this hint of something approaching playfulness, because she just enjoys being horrible.
The voice also factors in with the character design to give her an intimidation factor that can rival the likes of Maleficent or Jafar, even without having access to any of their powers. When we’re first introduced to her she’s bathed in shadows, stroking her cat, like she’s a Bond Villain.
She doesn’t have horns, or snake motifs, or spikes, or a skeleton face… she looks like a perfectly normal middle aged lady… except she doesn’t. The angles of her face, the one streak of white in her hair… all tell you that she’s not someone to trifle with.
And like any good villain she’s everything the hero isn’t. Cinderella is meek, genuine, and kind. Tremaine is prideful, fake, and cruel. A perfect foil to our hero. You never really know what her motivation is, but you 100% believe that she will go to any lengths to accomplish her goals… which is mostly just to keep Cinderella under her heel.
Sometimes you don’t need a villain with a master plan or who has a fealty to evil. Sometimes all you need is a powerful, driven foe, who just hates the hero and wants to see her fail, even if she herself hasn’t won.
- Comedy 1
- Inventiveness 2
- Clear Help Or Hindrance 2
- Strength of Relationship with Main Character 2.5
Let’s get this out right here. The mice… they can get on your nerves. In fact, as much as Disney has a long history of awesome sidekicks, they also have a history of annoying sidekicks. And the mice? Well, they skirt the edge.
But while they can be a little too cutesy, the Mice, don’t commit the ultimate Disney Sidekick sin, which is to actively take away from the plot and contribute nothing. See the animal sidekicks in Pocahontas for examples. Or don’t because they’re awful.
The mice actually contribute a great deal to the overall story in two, very interconnected ways. First off they are the ones that ultimately help Cinderella achieve her happily ever after. At the end of the film, when Lady Tremaine locks Cinderella in the tower, it’s Jaq and Gus that steal the key, hike it all the way to the top, and deliver it to Cinderella so she can escape and prove she has the best feet in the land.
And this is leads to the second part, and what delivers the ultimate moral of Cinderella which I alluded to earlier. The mice do this because of their love and loyalty to her. And that’s because the film makes sure to show us Cinderella earning that friendship. She saves their lives from Lucifer the cat, she clothes them, she feeds them. Cinderella isn’t simply nice, Cinderella is good. The film makes it a point to show us this time and again and it’s crucial.
Because Cinderella isn’t trying to teach us about the power of empowerment, it’s teaching us the power of good deeds and caring about others. Everything that’s good that happens to Cinderella is because she goes out of her way for others, in spite of her own conditions. Because she helps the mice, in her time of need, they help her back. Because she takes care of Bruno, he aids in her rescue by viciously murdering Lucifer.
Because Dreams are powerful dreams, but friends that will help you achieve them? They’re the most powerful thing of all.
Disney Magic and Legacy
- Theme Park Presence 1
- Timelessness 1.5
- Impact On Culture 2
- Scope of Audience 2
- Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?) 3
There are milestones you look at when analyzing Disney History. The creation of Mickey Mouse, the success of the Three Little Pigs, the Debut of Snow White… and return to form with Cinderella.
Snow White began the idea of the Animated Feature, and the Disney Princess movie. Cinderella took the next big step in codifying it. So many of the tropes we associate with that brand comes from this movie.
Before Cinderella debuted, Walt Disney Animation had lost nearly all of its stature. The middling package films had eroded Walt’s personal interest in the films yet Cinderella revived much of that and propelled him toward new heights that would be located in Anaheim. It kicked off the Disney Silver Age, the next great age of Disney Animation, its tremendous success bolstering the efforts on future projects to the point where it could be said that Cinderella saved the company.
The iconography of the movie, from Cinderella’s transforming dress, the soap bubbles reflecting Cinderella while she cleans, the Glass Slipper, are etched into our collective consciousness of what “Disney Looks Like”.
Within the Disney company the Legacy of Cinderella only grows. There are of course meet and greets available but not just with Cinderella, you can also meet the Fairy Godmother under the right circumstances, and if that wasn’t enough, you can encounter Lady Tremaine and her two step daughters around Halloween time.
Then there’s this…
Walt Disney World’s central icon. But it isn’t just a castle facade that pays homage to Cinderella. Little girls can go to a beauty salon within the castle walls called the “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique” and get a Disney Princess makeover complete with Fairy Godmother hairstylists and a pinch of Pixie Dust.
But even that’s not all. Because the castle also has a sit down restaurant called “Cinderella’s Royal Table” where guests can eat in a castle like setting and meet Cinderella and Prince Charming themselves…
But there’s something even more hidden in the castle to honor Cinderella. Because located somewhere within it’s walls is the Cinderella Castle Suite, a beyond exclusive hotel room that Disney contest winners and, presumably very rich people, can stay in.
Also, Prince Charming has a merry go round in the courtyard. So there’s that or whatever.
Grand Total: 83
So given all of that, taking in account a new all time high score for a Disney movie… how on Earth can we claim that Cinderella is somehow underrated?
Because for all of the tremendous attributes this feature has, among the classic Disney Princess movies, it’s the middle child. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs gets it’s place in film history as the first animated feature. Sleeping Beauty tends to be noticed more for its incredible design and near flawless villain.
And that’s just the first three Disney Princess movies. When you expand to the Disney Renaissance and beyond then you see films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast, the first modern Disney Princess movies or Tangled and Frozen, the CG, post-modern Princess movies.
Meanwhile Cinderella is sandwiched between two other classics quietly being better than them both.
And maybe that’s just it. Cinderella, compared to the others is a much smaller movie. There isn’t an Evil Queen using black magic to poison apples, or a powerful Fairy that wields all the powers of Hell.
It’s just the story of a girl who dreams of a better life, and through her compassion for those around her she’s able to achieve her dream. It’s a much smaller story… but perhaps a message that all of us could use in this day and age. We all need to be reminded to love each other and we all need to shown the power of our dreams. Maybe you don’t need a dragon to show you that. Maybe you just need a girl and her bizarre choice in footwear to do exactly that.