Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Source materials : Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon
Background: Walt was disillusioned. After the war, he was even considering selling the studio. He had long considered Cinderella, but he was also considering Alice in Wonderland and started both projects in competition. Walt was distracted by the live-action film Treasure Island and creating a large model train.
Plot: Having lost both parents at a young age, Cinderella is forced to work as a scullery maid for her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia. Cinderella is a kind and gentle young woman, and is friends with mice and birds. Meanwhile, at the royal palace, the King and the Grand Duke organize a ball in an effort to find a suitable wife for the Prince, requesting every eligible maiden attend. Upon receiving notice of the ball, Tremaine agrees to let Cinderella go if she finishes her chores and can find a suitable dress to wear.
Cinderella finds a gown that belongs to her mother and decides to refashion it for the ball. Her animal friends, including Jaq and Gus, refashion it for her, completing the design with a necklace and sash discarded by Drizella and Anastasia, respectively. When Cinderella comes downstairs wearing the dress, the stepsisters are upset when they realize Cinderella is wearing their accessories, and tear the dress to shreds before leaving for the ball with their mother. A heartbroken Cinderella storms out into the garden in tears, where her Fairy Godmother appears before her. Insisting that Cinderella goes to the ball, the Fairy Godmother magically transforms a pumpkin into a carriage, the mice into horses, Cinderella’s horse, Major, into a coachman, and dog, Bruno, into a footman, before turning Cinderella’s ruined dress into a white ball gown and her shoes into glass slippers. As Cinderella leaves for the ball, the Fairy Godmother warns her the spell will break at the stroke of midnight.
At the ball, the Prince rejects every girl until he sees Cinderella, who agrees to dance with him, unaware of who he is. The two fall in love and go out for a stroll together in the castle gardens. As they are about to kiss, Cinderella hears the clock start to chime midnight and flees. As she leaves the castle, one of her slippers falls off. The palace guards give chase as Cinderella flees in the coach before the spell breaks on the last stroke of midnight.
The King issues a royal proclamation ordering every maiden in the kingdom to try on the slipper for size in an effort to find the girl. After this news reaches Cinderella’s household, Tremaine realizes her stepdaughter is that girl when hearing her humming the waltz played at the ball and locks her in her attic bedroom. Later, the Duke arrives at the château, and Jaq and Gus steal the key from Tremaine’s dress pocket and take it up to the attic as Anastasia and Drizella unsuccessfully try on the slipper. As the Duke is about to leave, Cinderella appears and asks to try on the slipper. Knowing it will fit, Lady Tremaine trips the footman as he brings the Duke the slipper, causing it to shatter on the floor. Cinderella presents the Duke with the other slipper, which fits perfectly.
Animation: In 1948 Walt had the entire film shot on a sound stage, not to rotoscope, but to use as a reference. He hired actress Helene Stanley to perform the live-action reference for Cinderella.
She later did the same kind of work for the characters of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and Anita Radcliff in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Animators modeled Prince Charming on actor Jeffrey Stone, and Mary Alice O’Connor served as the live-action reference for the Fairy Godmother. Per Frank Thomas the animators were not allowed to imagine anything that wasn’t present in the live action footage, and to avoid difficult shots and angles. Frank Thomas explained, “Anytime you’d think of another way of staging the scene, they’d say: ‘We can’t get the camera up there’! Well, you could get the animation camera up there! So you had to go with what worked well in live action.”
The animation is sharper, flatter and more minimalist. Walt had Mary Blair return to the studio to design the characters.
Everything was geared to cut costs and detail. Harry Tytle suggested that the coach seem to float so the animators would not have to draw the turning wheels or the filigrees. He also suggested that the dancers dissolve into the faces of Cinderella and the prince to avoid animating them.
Lucifer was modeled after animator Ward Kimball’s cat, a plump, six-toed calico named Feetsy. To prepare for “Cinderella” Kimball studied dozens of cats but had trouble coming up with an effective design for the villainous feline. One day Walt Disney visited the animator’s home to talk shop, and Feetsy persisted in brushing against Walt’s legs throughout the conversation. Walt, who was not fond of cats, finally declared, “For gosh sakes, Kimball, there’s your Lucifer right here!”
The Nine Old Men: This is the first film where the whole group participated
Marc Davis- Cinderella
Eric Larson- Cinderella
Les Clark- Cinderella
Frank Thomas- Lady Tremaine, The Grand Duke
Milt Kahl- Fairy God mother, Prince Charming, the King
Ward Kimball- Jaq, Gus, Bruno, Lucifer, The Grand Duke
John Lounsbery- Jaq, Gus, Bruno, Lucifer
Ollie Johnston- Drizella, Anastasia
Wolfgang Reitherman- Lucifer
Ilene Woods as Cinderella. She was previously known her from her eponymous radio show “The Ilene Woods Show” which was broadcast on ABC
Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine. Audley will go on to voice Maleficent, and Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion ride. Verna Felton returns as the Fairy Godmother.
William Phipps voiced Prince Charming while Mike Douglas, who later became a talk show host, sang the role. Rhoda Williams and Lucille Bliss played the stepsisters. Jimmy MacDonald played Jaq, Gus and Bruno. He also took over the voice of Mickey Mouse from Walt. Lucifer was performed by legenday voice performer June Foray.
Critical Reception: In a personal letter to Walt Disney, director Michael Curtiz hailed the film as the “masterpiece of all pictures you have done.” Producer Hal Wallis declared, “If this is not your best, it is very close to the top.” The film was Disney’s greatest box office success since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earning $8 million in gross rentals. By the end of its original run, it was the sixth highest-grossing film in 1950 earning $4.15 million in distributor rentals.
The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Sound (C. O. Slyfield), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith), and Best Music, Original Song for “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman).
Sequels: Cinderella II: It consists of three segments featuring Cinderella planning a party, one of the mice, Jaq turned into a human, and one of Anastasia reaching her redemption through falling in love with a young baker, a low-class man of whom Lady Tremaine and Drizella do not approve.
Cinderella III: Lady Tremaine uses the Fairy Godmother’s wand to reverse time.
Cinderella: Kenneth Branagh directed a live-action version starring Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, and Cate Blanchett.
Legacy: Cinderella greets guests in the fairy tale hall, and the Fairy Godmother and the Tremaine family also appear. The centerpiece of Walt Disney World is Cinderella’s Castle. The center tunnel has a tile mosaic telling the story. Guests can get a princess makeover at the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique, and have a character breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table. The Castle also has an exclusive private suite. Behind the castle is a fountain with a statue of Cinderella. Behind the fountain there is a design on the wall with a crown. When viewed at the height of a child, the crown sits on the statue’s head. The carousel at Walt Disney World is the Prince Charming Regal Carousel. Originally built in 1917 and was known as The Liberty Carousel. Disney bought it in 1960, refurbished and painted it in 1967, and was present at opening day in 1971.
Next week: Take a trip down the rabbit hole with Alice in Wonderland