Cinderella saw the Walt Disney Studios return to animated feature films after a forced hiatus during World War II. The idea of adapting the classic fairy tale had been bandied about the studio for decades – even starting as a short in Walt’s early animation days – and finally became a feature released in 1950. The soundtrack went on to become of the studio’s greatest successes, and in fact won Academy Awards for Original Music Score as well as Best Song for “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”
The story of Cinderella is so time-worn as to be a description itself. After the death of her father, Cinderella is locked in almost silent servitude to her evil stepmother and selfish stepsisters. One day the king of the land decrees that all eligible ladies are to come to a ball held at the palace, in the hopes that the prince will find one to become his bride. Although hampered all along the way by her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella – with the magical help of her fairy godmother – attends the ball and steals the young prince’s heart. But in her mad dash to leave before the magical spell wears off, the prince is left without even knowing her true identity, with the exception of the glass slipper that fell from her foot.
It’s an old story that has been told countless times. But as is the case with many Disney films that retell classic tales, it’s this version that has come to define how many of us remember the tale. But the main points of the story still carry over faithfully from the French strain of the tale: the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage, the glass slipper and the prince’s search throughout the land to match it to his bride. But as Disney films continue to teach us with their princess movies, these love-lorn ladies are all left alone except for their woodland friends. And in a sharp break with reality, they often are quite fond of mice, especially here where they basically share equal billing.
The animation is oddly weighted when compared to other Disney features. Most of the humans, with the exception of the king and grand duke, are very simply drawn and often carry little in the way of facial expressions. Contrast this with the animals, which are highly expressive and detailed, especially Lucifer the cat and the lead mice roles. While Cinderella carries the lead of princess in waiting, it’s this side story of mice who are tormented – much as Cinderella is by her stepmother – that yield some of the most dynamically emotional scenes.
But behind some of these oftentimes simply drawn human figures are very ornate and intricate backgrounds. While they don’t yield the same level of high stylization that you find in Sleeping Beauty, for example, they are nevertheless just as stately. Some of the perspective backgrounds in the opening scenes of the house are beautifully understated, where space is often evoked more than detailed. And then the garden scene with the fairy godmother yields another distinctive style altogether, becoming much more softly drawn and almost impressionistic in spots. Later on when we get to the palace, there is a seamless blend of grand space mixed with the very dream-like and intimate scenes between Cinderella and the prince.
But more than the animation, it’s the characters and a brisk pacing that make Cinderella one of Disney’s crown jewels. Indeed, the story is a model of efficiency and carefully orchestrated suspense. While there is a bit of a sluggish start at the beginning, where the cat versus mice relationship is over-established, everything else proceeds with laser focus. The dynamic between Cinderella and her family is conveyed in a relatively brief span up front, and then the story kicks into gear. And the icy cold but undeniably evil and calculating stepmother makes for one of the most sinister of villains: a completely relatable one. Cinderella seems to effortlessly blend emotional suspense with the most basic of rags-to-riches stories. It’s as fundamental as underdog films get, and rarely has it ever been told as effectively.
Video / Audio
Once again, Disney delivers another stellar update to one of their classic titles. Even the excerpts from the film used in the not-that-old bonus features ported over from the previous DVD pale in comparison, where relatively dingy color and flicker were still being dealt with. Here, things have been restored to a sparkling polish. Color is everywhere in this film, and rendered like new with bright hues all the way down to deep blacks. Although the print is now free from grain, it neither loses any fine detail or edge-work. And the stability and lack of flicker in the image is truly impressive, where even restored versions such as Pinocchio deal with it to a small degree. This is a loving and fairly immaculate restoration job and fans should be instantly pleased.
Although the Blu-ray sports a new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, I found it to be a bit underwhelming, with most of the material positioned squarely in the center channel, with only light embellishment extending out to the surround speakers. The disc also comes with a lossless version of the original theatrical mono mix. And while the two are different, they’re not dramatically so. (I even tested individual speakers and compared against other Blu-rays to make sure I wasn’t just going crazy on this point.)
While a more expansive and distinguished surround track would have been nice, it is adding to history a bit, and the original theatrical mix is appropriately robust and clear. The movie experience certainly doesn’t suffer either way, and purists especially should be excited at the inclusion of a lossless mono mix.
A metric ton of supplemental items is packed onto the single Blu-ray disc of this release. Firstly, there are three ways to watch the film: in original form, with an introduction by Diane Disney Miller (HD, 1:16), or with “DisneyView” artwork on the sides.
New to this release are five items, each presented in high-definition. “Tangled Ever After” (HD, 6:29) is a new digital short from the Tangled franchise and focuses on Rapunzel’s wedding, and some misplaced rings. “The Real Fairy Godmother” (HD, 11:50) is a biography of the woman – and wife of one of the Disney animators – who inspired the character of the fairy godmother, as well as her real-life charitable work. “Behind The Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland” (HD, 8:17) is an adver-bonus about a new addition to the Disney World theme park. “The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story” (HD, 10:02) is a live-action short mixed with some animation that features shoe designer Christian Louboutin, in a fictionalized account of how he designed a very real version of the glass slipper. Finally, an alternate opening sequence to the film (HD, 1:12) is presented in storyboard form.
In addition to the above items is integration with a Second Screen iPad app for the film. Once synced with the Blu-ray, it allows for an interactive storybook mode called “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You”.
But the real fun starts in with all of the items that were ported over from previous DVD releases. There are several deleted scenes (SD, 9:42) included, as well as musical supplements in the way of the Cinderella title song (SD, 2:15) and several unused songs (SD, 17:48). There are also audio excerpts from old radio programs (SD, 12:26) featuring Ilene Woods, the voice of Cinderella, as well as a Mickey Mouse Club show excerpt featuring Helyne Stanley, the model for Cinderella.
“From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella” (SD, 38:27) is an in-depth look at the making of the film, while “The Cinderella That Almost Was” (SD, 14:08) features some abandoned artwork, scenes and music that didn’t end up making it into the film. “From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to the Nine Old Men” (SD, 22:09) features modern Disney animators reflecting on what they learned from some of the original Disney masters. And “The Art of Mary Blair” (SD, 14:58) highlights one of the animators key to the success of Cinderella, as well as her influence on many other Disney projects.
A storyboard-to-film comparison for the opening sequence of the film is included (SD, 6:49), as is an interesting and very early Walt Disney adaption of Cinderella from 1922 in the form of a Laugh-o-Gram short (SD, 7:24). Finally, a collection of theatrical trailers from the film’s various releases have been included (SD, 9:08).
Cinderella has received a stunning visual update, as well as a packed collection of bonus material. Although some of its animation isn’t quite as extravagant as other elite Disney animated films, its story development is impressive in its lean, suspenseful drive toward the finish. Not to mention that it has some of the best musical numbers of any of their films. This is a winning package all around, and a boon to any fan of animation.