Disney is all about wishes, so when Walt decided to turn the popular fairy tale “Cinderella” into a full-length animated feature, he used Charles Perrault’s version, in which the Frenchman introduced elements like the glass slippers, pumpkin coach, and the fairy godmother who made it all happen for the beleaguered stepchild. It’s more romantic than the “wishing tree” that grows over Cinderella’s mother’s grave in the Grimm brothers’ version, and less violent. In Perrault’s retelling, birds don’t pluck out the eyes of the evil stepsisters at the end, as they did in “Aschenputtel.” In Perrault’s version, the sisters beg Cinderella’s forgiveness, and she obliges . . . leaving the door open for a Disney sequel or two.
World War II had slowed production at the House of Mouse, which did their part for the war effort by concentrating on cartoon shorts. “Cinderella” (1950) was a big gamble for Disney, as it was not only the studio’s first full-length feature since “Bambi” (1942), but a film that bet audiences were ready to dream again after a long and devastating world conflict. The pressure was on. Would “Cinderella” live up to features from the Golden Age of Disney?
The answer, of course, was an emphatic YES.
For the first time, Disney relied almost exclusively on live-action reference models to cut down on the number of drawings and cells normally required for a 75-minute film, and for the first time Disney hired a couple of Tin Pan Alley songwriters to contribute the tunes. And Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman did such a great job that Disney asked them to come up with the songs for “Alice in Wonderland” a year later.
In “Cinderella,” one stepsister butchers “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” on the flute while the other screeches so unmelodiously that Lucifer the cat leaves the room, covering his ears. Then he enters the grand staircase where he sees Cinderella singing the same song, but so sweetly it’s difficult to image that the cat would still dip his paws in ashes and romp all over the floor she just finished cleaning.
It’s all part of the dynamic of this film: passive aggressive villains like the cat and stepmother (with her stripe-streaked “skunk” hair), unladylike stepsisters, and a rags-to-riches story that’s known the world over. The fairytale itself is so straightforward that without the introduction of animals and their side dramas it would be a pretty short ride from the fireplace-cleaning girl to a wave-of-the-wand appearance at the Prince’s ball. But the contrast between the sister’s screeching and Cinderella’s singing makes you realize just how wonderful the songs she sings are: “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (which became one of Disney’s theme songs) and “So This Is Love.” And how memorable is it to have the Fairy Godmother sing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” as she works her magic—something we’d see repeated in countless other Disney movies. Then it’s on to the ball, the flight at midnight, and the falling action involving a search throughout the kingdom for the girl who fits the slipper.
All of that is cinematically elegant, but it’s the animal side plot that really gives the film life. Snow White had her forest friends, and Cinderella has the mice that live in her late father’s mansion, where she’s become a virtual prisoner and slave to her stepmother. Through the mice we get a view of a different world, and it gives Disney animators a chance to do what they were best known for: create animals with human qualities. Plus, when the mice sing “Cinderelly” and voice their displeasure at her lot, then resolve to make a dress for her after the stepmother stacks the deck against her being able to go to the ball, they function like a furry little Greek chorus. The animals are so much more than sidekicks or comic relief. They’re integrated into the story better than Disney managed with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” or later with “Sleeping Beauty,” which Movie Met’s John J. Puccio called “a fine piece of Disney animation, while ‘Cinderella’ is a Disney classic.”
It’s true. “Cinderella” is the stronger film, and on Blu-ray every scene is astounding.
The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is flawless, and the film looks more pristine than ever. You can’t imagine any way of improving upon this picture. The level of detail is jaw-dropping, but there’s still a thin layer of filmic grain that reminds you that this is a classic celluloid film, digitally restored but not digitally shot. Colors are rich-hued, black levels seem spot on, and the edge delineation allows for the illusion of depth. It’s a marvel to behold.
There are three ways to watch the film: with Second Screen (a hand-held device that plays separate downloaded content while you watch), in 1.37:1 aspect ratio with vertical bars on each side, or with DisneyView. The latter offers side panels painted to fill out the screen. If done well, I actually prefer watching with DisneyView, and the painted panels mostly complement the images on the screen. However, I found the cuts from panel design to different panel design to be jarring, and wished that Disney had gone with a softer fade out/fade in image for some of the panels, or synchronized better with the cuts on the screen. The changes drew too much attention away from the film. Still, when you see the spines of the book on each side as a book opens onscreen, or notice how the wallpaper pattern in family mansion is duplicated on the side panels, it sets up another way to appreciate the film, and even draws your attention to details in each frame.
One flaw in the menu screen is that you can’t select both DisneyView and a two-minute introduction by Diane Disney Miller. And then once you select Miller’s intro, you can’t use the pop-up menu to get the “play” options and switch to DisneyView. You have to start all over again. But that’s a comparatively small thing.
The English DTS-HD MA 7.1 (48 kHz) audio is almost as impressive as the video, with perfect replication of dialogue and a mix that naturally and seamlessly integrates the sound effects, music, and dialogue. It could have just a tad richer timbre, though. Purists may want to listen to the restored original theatrical soundtrack, presented here in DTS-HD MA 5.1. Additional audio options are in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
There are a bunch of bonus features ported over from the DVD:
- Two deleted scenes
- The “Cinderella” theme as originally recorded
- Seven additional unused songs
- Three radio programs
- The original trailer and five rerelease trailers
- Seven features: “From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella,” “The Cinderella That Almost Was,” “From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to the Nine Old Men,” “Storyboard-to-Film Comparison: Opening Sequence, “1922 Laugh-o-Grams: Cinderella,” and “Excerpt from ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’: With Helene Stanley”
As for new materials, in addition to Second Screen with its “Personalized Digital Storybook: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You” and the Miller intro, there’s an alternate opening sequence (presented as rough sketches) that was newly discovered, a 10-minute extra on “The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story” (about the Christian Louboutin collaboration), “Behind the Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland” (an 8-minute tour of Fantasyland at Walt Disney World currently under construction, with shots of the Beast’s castle and Eric’s castle), and the most fascinating among them, “The Real Fairy Godmother,” a 12-minute look at the inspiration for the Fairy Godmother, Mary Alice O’Connor, known as Burbank’s Fairy Godmother because of all her charity work.
The only difference between this combo pack and the three-disc combo is the digital copy contained in the latter.
“Cinderella” is the cornerstone of Disney’s whole anyone-can-be-a-princess philosophy-slash-marketing strategy, and they did the title justice. When Cinderella sings “So This Is Love,” it’s hard not to be thinking how beautiful the Blu-ray of this animated classic looks.