Once upon a time in a faraway land, a widowed gentleman lived in a fine house with his only daughter. He gave his beloved child everything her heart desired–beautiful dresses, a horse, a puppy. Still, he felt she needed a mother’s care. So he married again, choosing a woman with two young daughters who, he hoped, would be playmates for his little girl. Sad to say, the good man died a short time later, and the stepmother began to show her true nature. The poor girl was forced to wear a coarse, plain dress and apron and do all the hardest jobs in the house.
Such is the story of Walt Disney’s 1950 animated classic Cinderella. But long before the animated film, the story of “Cinderella” in its western form had consistently been rewritten and analyzed since Charles Perrault first published “Cendrillon” in France in 1697. Robert Samber translated it into English in 1729 and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm included it in “Kinder-und Hausmärchen,” the first edition of which was published in 1812, the last in 1857. The composer Gioachino Rossini turned it into the opera “La Cenerentola” in 1817, Rodgers and Hammerstein into a musical theater production, and it has been the subject of many films, including a 1955 film entitled The Glass Slipper starring Leslie Caron and a 1960 gender change in Cinderfella starring Jerry Lewis.
Different versions of the stories each ended in different ways. Perrault’s version is perhaps the one that has been adopted the most widely, ending on a happy note, with Cinderella forgiving her stepmother and stepsisters. In Perrault’s original story, Cinderella was given slippers made of fur. However, when Samber translated the story from the original French, the word for “fur” sounded like the English word “glass” and thus, Cinderella’s famous shoes were forever changed. The Brothers Grimm incorporated more graphic details into their version. When the stepsisters try on the glass slipper and find it doesn’t fit them, they cut off some of their toes to make it fit properly. Rossini’s opera uses bracelets instead of glass slippers, and the Disney version was the first to incorporate subplots involving talking animals that live in the house with Cinderella.
Much has been written on the subject of Cinderella, perhaps because it has become such a big part of American culture. Some have written about it as a reworking of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” where a daughter is cast out by her father because she is misunderstood. The small slipper is said to symbolize the beauty of Cinderella, because small feed were said to be a virtue of femininity. Psychoanalysis from the Freudian viewpoint has considered Cinderella’s relationship to her father and her stepmother, and her eventual overtaking of power from the stepmother. The feminist viewpoint has been that the story has exemplified ideals for women in America, particularly in the 1950s, when the film versions were released–the idea of being rewarded for being pretty and polite, and marrying not just anyone but a “prince,” is looked upon as part of the message taught to women from the 1950s onward.
Disney’s most valuable and original contribution to the tale is the addition of dozens of animals to the story. The screen bursts with little birds helping Cinderella to dress, little mice helping her along the way, a dog leaping to the rescue, and an evil cat named Lucifer chasing the birds, pouncing on the mice, spitting at the dog and doing its best to come between Cinderella and Prince Charming.
The mice and cat were actually the inspired creations of animator Ward Kimball. Walt, who often cast cats as the heavies, was dissatisfied with drawing proposals for Lucifer. One day, Walt was visiting Kimball’s full-scale railroad train and saw the family house cat, a smug, rounded calico. “There’s your model for Lucifer,” Walt said, and Kimball’s own cat instantly became the inspiration for the film’s four-legged villain. These animals serve much the same function that the Seven Dwarfs and assorted birds and forest animals did in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They provide a chorus, moral support, and a kaleidoscope of movement on the screen. Using the traditional techniques of full animation, the Disney artists provided each animal with a unique flavor and personality.
Visually, the film is full of inventive ideas. Lady Tremaine’s face is always seen in the shadows, which is particularly striking when hear beady eyes are highlighted. One of the strongest points of the film is thought to be its ability to elicit an emotional response from the audience. The most sophisticated viewers would have a hard time not reacting audibly when the stepmother trips the Grand Duke, and the glass slipper–Cinderella’s only hope, it seems–smashes to bits on the floor. By the same token the scene where the stepsisters rip Cinderella’s dress to shreds is a terrifyingly real display of wickedness, on a level more likely to strike a responsive chord with children than many a more elaborate “horror” scene.
In addition, Walt used a new technique in the production of Cinderella. Although the film is completely animated, Walt had every sequence showing Cinderella, the Prince, Lady Tremaine and the ugly stepsisters filmed entirely with human actors. This live-action footage was used by the animators as reference during the animation process and allowed them the time to experiment with new and more expressive camera angles and moves. By doing this work in advance, they essentially put the entire movie together before a pencil touched a single piece of paper. Sadly, this historic live-action film no longer exists save for a few still-frame images like the one below.
As far back as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt wanted a scene where a princess and a prince dance among the clouds. The scene was briefly outlined for Snow White, but it was cut because Walt felt it slowed the film’s pace. Then, when it came time for Cinderella, not only was an entire scene storyboarded, but a song–“Dancing on a Cloud,” performed by Ilene Woods–was also recorded. Again the scene was scrapped, but you can listen to the song from the deleted scene below.
When Cinderella was released in 1950, it was welcomed as Disney’s first full-length feature film in eight years. Critics were generally enthusiastic about the film, which became Disney’s biggest moneymaker to date, eclipsing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by grossing over $4 million in its initial release. The postwar generation, many of them with young families of their own, found in Cinderella the same kind of euphoric entertainment they had discovered with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in their own childhood. Cinderella had the same comforting message–that good will always triumph over evil.
Cinderella reached into her pocket under her apron. “See,” she said, “I have the other slipper.” The Grand Duke slipped it on her foot, and it fit perfectly. Thereupon Fairy Godmother appeared, and touched Cinderella with her wand, and all could see that she was indeed the unknown beauty who had captured the Prince’s heart at the ball. Cinderella was driven to the Royal Palace in the King’s own coach. There, amidst great rejoicing and the ringing of all the bells in the kingdom, Cinderella married her prince, and they all lived happily ever after.
Celebrate a more personal happily every after with “The Glass Slipper” custom print.