Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Feature Presentation (3/49) -- Cinderella (1950)

Part of the reason I decided to do this series (other than a dearth of good ideas and penis envy) is that there are a great many Disney flicks I just flat-out haven’t seen. I did grow up with a fair few of them, and have seen even more thanks to Netflix, but there remain a select few that have still managed to evade me after all this time. There also exist several that I have only mostly seen. That is, I’m familiar with the goings-on and plot points and characters, but just haven’t been able to see the whole experience all the way through. One of these films is today’s entry, Cinderella.

We’ve all heard the tale of “Cinderella,” that paragon of working diligently and keeping your head in the clouds. Heck, thanks to years of rereleasing and constant marketing, I’m pretty sure more people are familiar with the Disney version than the traditional version, which is just as well, as the OG one is a trifle short. As such, I knew mostly what I was in for going into the movie, but was still pleasantly surprised in places that I did and didn’t expect.

Our tale begins with a wealthy man named Tremaine and his beautiful daughter, Cinderella. Tremaine and Cinderella have a nice, father-daughter relationship where she brings him joy and she receives “everything her heart desired” (as you can see, the Daddy’s Little Girl trope extended even further back than we may have initially guessed), but Tremaine is lonely, and wants his daughter to have a mother figure. In a great twist of Famous Last Words irony, he marries a woman (bringing her two daughters into the family), then promptly keels over, setting up the whole “wicked stepmother and two ugly stepsisters” bit that distinguishes this tale.

Eh. They could be worse.

We flash forward an indistinct amount of time. The narrator informs us that Cinderella was put into servitude since her father’s death, but she is still good-natured and kind, despite being harangued around and forced to constantly do the bidding of her other family members. She wiles away the time, singing while she works (effectively one-upping Snow White, who apparently can only whistle) and making friends with the household, er, vermin (whom she also makes clothes for, btw; she’s either rather considerate or rather mad).

One day, as we can recite by heart, the king calls for a ball to find his son a wife, and all are invited, including Cinderella. However, thanks to some sleight-of-hand manipulation by her stepmother (and exceptional cattiness from her stepsisters), Cinderella is left behind, without a dress or any trimmings to go to the ball.

Just then, Cinderella’s fairy godmother (read: plot device) appears to her and grants her not only a dress, but a coach, coachman, and four white horses to go along with it! She must be back by midnight, however, because the spell is broken “on the stroke of twelve.” Cinderella goes to the ball, catches the interest of the prince, and could have daaaaanced all night when the clock strikes twelve. Knowing what will probably happen, she GTFOs without telling the prince her name, leaving behind only a glass slipper (heaven knows why these were a good idea; maybe it’s the arch support).

Couldn't they bother to sweep that stuff up first?

Will the prince be reunited with the fair but obedient Cinderella? Will the other broads try to make the slipper fit on their feet? Will Cinderella be the only one whom the shoe fits in the whole kingdom? Oh, what do you think? If I sound like I’m hatin’, I’m not; while the story is full of plot devices and catches, the idea for Cinderella has been around for so long that it’s best to just take it at face value. Not only that, I rather enjoyed my time with this one.

Probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is the tone of this movie. From as soon as the film segues out of the storybook portion and into the main experience, it has an overwhelming sense of joviality and cheerfulness that is absolutely infectious. In a day and age when so much of the entertainment industry has become exceptionally cynical (heck, even read the plot synopsis of this entry!), it feels quite refreshing for a movie to be completely unironic about a character who spends her morning’s getting-ready period being assisted by the birds. The music, art style, colors, and plot progression all contribute to a wonderful sense of levity, and I found it to be quite catching.

For a character that is, for all intents and purposes, a non-entity in her own film, I found Cinderella to be a surprisingly endearing. You could argue that she seems rather bland, and that her character isn’t terribly fleshed-out (and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you), but I found her portrayal appealing for some reason. I saw her as making the most out of her lot, realizing that there’s not much she can do to fight city hall, so she holds herself with an air of serenity, waiting for a good moment to seize the day. Passive? Perhaps. But she was a heroine who I ended up rather liking, of only to probably satisfy my deep-seating male chauvinist side.

She's a bit of a looker, too, isn't she fellas?

The music was also quite fun, both score and songs. I’m a fan of the pop-music stylings of the 40’s, and many of the songs have certain melodies and –isms that couldn’t have come from anywhere else (the mice’s harmonies in “Cinderelly” come to mind). I’m a fan of nonsense-words and list-making songs, so I really enjoyed “Bippity-Boppety-Boo,” and appreciated the rhythmic spoken word sections said aloud by the Fairy Godmother (who sounds like she has a slight Irish brogue). The score makes use of string-plucks and bassoons, and sounds like many other Disney shorts of the era, and is used to accentuate the timing of several jokes.

There are a few other elements that helped make the film for me. I’m generally not a fan of flat art styles, but I found the backgrounds to be quite attractive (the interior of Lady Tremaine’s bedroom is especially well-constructed). In addition, there were a few scenes that were just pretty and impressive, like the “Sing Sweet Nightingale” scene, where Cinderella cleans the floor and her soap bubble reflections harmonize with her. The voice cast is also nice, with the standout being Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine, who is clipped, harsh, and just this side of reasonable, making her a perfect authority figure villain. Lastly, and it’s a bit odd, but I found the design of Cinderella’s bird friends to be unreasonably cute.

Seriously, look at these little guys!

The movie has a few sticking points for me, though. For the first part, the mice have a fairly good-sized chunk of the movie to themselves; there are at least three major sequences involving Jack, Gus, or the whole mousy troupe. This got a little frustrating, as they seemed to get in the way of the story (though the story of Cinderella is admittedly not the deepest narrative and could use some padding), and I got a bit peeved at Gus constantly having pratfalls and otherwise messing things up for the mice. The issue of the mice talking with Cinderella kinda got to me as well. Cinderella “talks” to her animal friends, but it seems to be more of an excuse to vocalize her thoughts. When it comes to the mice, though, they speak in an odd, repetitive bit of English, and I couldn’t tell if Cinderella could hear them or not.

Um, yeah, what's not not to like?

These are small quibbles, though, and Cinderella is ultimately a satisfying experience, surprisingly so for a male in his early twenties. The optimism and pep-in-step vibe of the film helps it stand out, and the ending is gratifying, even after so many renditions of the tale have been told. This movie almost single-handedly brought Disney back from the brink when it first came out, and it deserves a place in any Disney fan’s catalog.

Top 3 Songs:

  1. Bippidty-Boppety-Boo
  2. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes
  3. So This Is Love

Favorite Scene:

  • "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"/getting ready

Favorite Character:

  • Lady Tremaine

The Jar Jar:

  • Gus

How I Watched It:

Acquiring my copy for this entry was a bit of an adventure. The price was hovering around $25 on Amazon for several weeks, so I found one on eBay for around $16 with shipping. Unfortunately, the disc case, packaging, and movie itself seemed, well, a bit pirated (the risk you take buying things on the internet, especially eBay), and it wouldn’t play in my DVD player (neither the PS3 or Xbox 360 recognized it as playable). I was able to get my money back (which is the only reason why this particular eBay vendor is going unnamed), but I was still rendered without a copy. Fortuitously, my parents happened to have a copy on DVD, so I borrowed it for this particular viewing. Worry not, dear readers, I ordered a new one with my refunded money, and will own it again soon.

Anyway, this is another Platinum Edition, similar to The Lion King’s release last time. The movie has been restored, apparently, and while there’s no real visual splendor, the colors and art look good even on a large TV. The first disc doesn't have a commentary, and basically can be skipped if you're foraging for extras (but for heaven's sake, watch the movie!). The second disc has an extensive 40-minute doc on Cinderella and various aspects, including story origins, musical composition, and historical significance. There are also a few other featurettes, but I didn't get a chance to watch them yet.

As with most of the out-of-print DVD market, the price for a copy of Cinderella fluctuates wildly, and being a “beloved classic” certainly doesn’t help with its occasional foray into sky-high cost territory. However, at the moment, you should be able to find several copies on Amazon for around $13-$15. Get ‘em while they’re reasonable.

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