Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Disney's Cinderella

After being four million dollars in debt from WWII and feverishly working on gaining that money back by making live-action films and shorts like Melody Times, Walt Disney was finally able to get back on track, making full length animated films. Walt didn’t have an easy task ahead of him, a guaranteed hit was needed. There was even a danger of Disney studios going under if the next movie wasn't a smash hit. The biggest crowd-pleaser up to that date was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney knew to win audiences he needed an underdog story. Walt Disney felt closest to these types of stories because he himself was an underdog. He grew up working on a farm and delivering newspapers and continued working hard to accomplish all the things we know him best for doing. So in 1950 Disney took on his biggest risk and told the tale of Cinderella.

To make things easier on his animators and keep cost down Disney first shot the film in live-action, using only a few actors and basic set pieces for them to use. This allowed the animators to pinpoint the exact movement a character could have. A simple lifting of the arm is more detailed than a person would typically think, because the animators have to know how the characters clothes move along with the body. A major influence on Cinderellas’ styling and mannerisms was from her live-action model, Helen Stanley. (She would later have the privilege of portraying Sleeping Beauty and Anita Radcliff from One Hundred and One Dalmatians.) At times the animators would even project the images of the live-action film onto giant sheets of paper so they could trace the actors. Of course they would greatly enhance these drawings into the detailed animation we love.

The movie centers around the daughter of a widowed aristocat...er sorry...aristocrat. Her father decides that Cinderella needs a mother and marries the most evil person he can find. Of course he doesn't know that, but it all becomes apparent after he passes away and Cinderella is left in the care of her new mother, Lady Tremaine (I'm pretty sure she didn't go by "Evil Stepmother"), and Tremaine's plain and socially awkward daughters from a previous marriage, Anastasia and Drizella. Ewwwww....Drizella. You are asking for an ugly kid when you name them that. The step-sisters are of course envious of Cinderella's looks and treat her badly. Lady Tremaine shows her true colors and all together, the three form the evil trio. "Yes, Cinderella, shame on you for being pretty and being an orphan, now we will make your life hell!" Did I mention they also have a cat...named LUCIFER! How did Cinderella's dad not get an inclination that this woman was psycho? Who names their cat after the ruler of all that is evil?

Cinderella is basically made into a scullery maid and has to clean up after everyone. She finds solace, like so many people do that work in the cleaning business, by making friends with animals. She specifically makes friends with a bunch of mice. I'm sure they were not crawling with the plague, but what do I know? Off at a random castle, the King is alarmed to find out that the Prince intends to be a bachelor his whole life. Like every parent ever, the King wants grandchildren, and will manipulate his child in order to get babies. The King decides to throw a grand ball for the Prince; one that all available ladies are to attend. So it's basically ladies night at the castle.

The invitation to the ball comes and Cinderella wants to know if she can go too. She is told that if she can finish all of her chores, then she can. Of course, her step-mother gives her a collection of chores as long as Nixon's enemies list. Cinderella gets all the cleaning done, while without her knowledge, her mice friends including Jaques and Gus, who are the main mice seen throughout the film, make her a dress. Gus fills out the typical lovable dope space in the film, as was the trend in the early Disney movies to have a complete moron be the comic relief. The mice and birds put together a dress made up of part of her mother's old dress and a sash and beads from Cinderella's stepsisters which were thrown out. She puts on the dress, and is all set to go when her step-mother sarcastically compliments her dress, then subtly points out the beads and sash that belong to her daughters. The daughters realize this and go crazy. Tearing clothes off crazy. I can just imagine what was going through their heads: "I know I threw that out but I CAN'T STAND TO SEE YOU WEARING IT!" They ruin Cinderella's dress and leave without her.

Cinderella is crushed. She skulks out into the garden, cursing her new family when out of nowhere, her Fairy Godmother appears. Apparently everyone has a fairy godmother. How did I not know this? Is there some sort of secret phrase you have to say? Do I have to be going to a ball for it to materialize? Maybe it just shows up when I most need it, like when I'm betting on whose going to win the Super Bowl. The Fairy Godmother cheers her up and sings a song filled with nonsense words that will never help you in real life. With the magic words of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, the Fairy Godmother turns a pumpkin into an elegant carriage, the mice into horses, a horse into the coachman, and a dog into the footman. How do I know these magic words are nonsense and don't work? I've tried to turn mice into horses with the words a few times. Didn't work. All I got from the experience was the memory of a whole classroom of my peers laughing at me during show and tell. Interesting tidbit about this scene is that Walt Disney's favorite piece of animation of all his films was Cinderella's dress transformation. The Fairy Godmother tells Cinderella that the spell will be broken at the stroke of midnight. Apparently you have to be a Fairy Godmother for awhile to be able to have spells last past midnight, just like beginning drivers can't drive past that same time. What is it with things ending at midnight?!

Cinderella tears it to the ball. The Prince, who has not been given name in the movie and is never referred to Prince Charming, is not interested in any of the women at the ball. That is until Cinderella walks through the door and the Prince is immediately captivated. They don't talk, they just look at each other, smiling and dancing. The King is very pleased that his son may have found his bride and informs his Grand Duke to make sure everything keeps going smoothly. The two dance for what I can only assume is four hours, because the clock all of a sudden strikes midnight. Cinderella acts as though she remembered that she left the oven on and runs from the Prince. In her hurry to get away, she drops one of her glass slippers. The Grand Duke has the
unfortunate task of informing the King that there was a hiccup and the future princess has disappeared. Enraged the King sends his Grand Duke on a journey to find the mystery girl or else he's a dead Duke. The Duke travels throughout the land searching high and low, and stopping at every house in the kingdom. This probably took much longer than the film lets on. With him he brings the glass slipper, as he will determine the mystery girl by if the shoe fits or not. I find it hard to believe that no one else has Cinderella's shoe size. There is an equal chance that some girl in the kingdom has the same sized shoe and she becomes the new princess. I will suspend disbelief for now. News travels fast and Lady Tremaine's household hears of the Duke's trip to find the new wife of the Prince and the evil trio gets ready. They soon realize that Cinderella is the one that the Duke is looking for and the evil stepmother locks her in the attic.

The mice attempt to get Cinderella out of her locked room by stealing the key from Lady Tremaine's pocket. This is all while the Duke arrives at their front door. The mice are able to get the key but they are stopped by Lucifer while they are climbing up the staircase. The whole sequence of the mice trying to get the key up the stairs has a certain Hitchcock suspense to it, as the film makers probably intended. Bruno, the dog which was turned into the doorman earlier, scares Lucifer off and the mice run to unlock the door. Meanwhile, the Duke tries to get the shoe on the stepsister's feet, but is unsuccessful. One sister could only fit their big toe into the slipper. I'm sure the Duke was hoping that it wasn't them the whole time. The duke is about to leave when Cinderella stops him and asks if she can try on the slipper. The evil stepmother knows that it will fit and trips the Duke's footman while he is carrying the slipper. It shatters on the floor. The Duke laments that now they will never be able to find the mystery girl, until Cinderella produces the other glass slipper. The Duke is ecstatic and the evil trio is aghast. The Duke puts the slipper on Cinderella's foot and it fits perfectly. Not a whole lot of suspense in this scene. It would have been funny if it didn't fit and she had grabbed the wrong shoe upstairs. The Prince and Cinderella are married in a church and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, I assume everyone does, as they don't mention what happened to the evil trio.

The profits from the film's release, with the additional profits from record sales, music publishing, publications and other merchandise gave Disney the cash flow to finance a slate of productions (animated and live action), establish his own distribution company, enter television production and begin building Disneyland during the decade. So, to put it plainly, Cinderella was a smashing success for Disney. Critics and audiences everywhere loved the movie. It was quite a gamble for Disney because at a cost of nearly $3,000,000, Disney insiders claimed that if this movie had failed at the box office, then Disney studio would have closed.

The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Original Music Score and Best Song for "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo". In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "10 Top 10"— the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Cinderella was acknowledged as the 9th greatest film in the animation genre.

Disney's Cinderella's story came from the an adaptation by Charles Perrault,a French author whose version is named Cendrillon. I'm glad our version didn't have the french name. The story of Cinderella is much older than the French version however, as the earliest is said to have come from ancient Greece. The Ancient Greek historian Strabo recorded in the 1st century BC the tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis, "rosy-cheeked", who lived in the Greek colony of Naucratis in Ancient Egypt. It is often considered the oldest known version of the story. Many other versions of the story have come out of China, the Philippines, and as part of the story Arabian Nights. All stories centered around the rags to riches story and a king or prince trying to find a mysterious girl. The most popular versions of the tale come from more recent times, namely from Perrault in 1697, and the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. Perrault's tale gained popularity for the addition of the pumpkin, the fairy godmother, and the glass slippers. The Grimm Brother's tale was a German version called Aschenputtel. Yuck. Never mind, the French version is much better than the German version. In that version, there is no fairy godmother, but a wishing tree that grows on her mother's grave. Of course though, there has to be some sort of gruesome scene in the book, and it doesn't disappoint. The evil stepsisters attempt to trick the Prince by cutting off parts of their feet to be able to fit into the slipper. Two birds alert the prince of the trickery and proceed to peck out the stepsister's eyes, condemning them to be blind beggars. The moral of the story: don't cut off your feet to trick someone, or you'll eyes will get pecked out by birds. Yay, Grimm Brothers! Luckily for the children, Disney chose the Perrault version and Disney's Cinderella is universally enjoyed as a classic Disney animated film.

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