Disney, Reviews

Disney Canon Countdown 12: ‘Cinderella’

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Walt Disney’s 12th animated classic is beloved by many, but I don’t know if it is quite given the credit it deserves. In my eyes, Cinderella is a real masterpiece, and I’m going to tell you the reasons why.

First of all, we have to give some credit for what it did for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Because of the war and failure of Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, Disney was in dire straits, $4 million in debt. If Cinderella had not been a huge hit, they would have declared bankruptcy, and we would not have gotten any more Disney films. Isn’t it ironic that a film about rescuing someone would do just that for the studio behind it?

Cinderella is also the first film which all of Disney’s Nine Old Men worked together as directing animators. In addition, you can see the first of Mary Blair’s distinctive geometric style in many of the backgrounds and designs. Cinderella is also important because it took two years to make and was the greatest commercial and critical hit the studio had since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Most everyone knows the story of Cinderella—mainly the girl who is orphaned and made to be a servant by her evil stepmother and sisters. Then her Fairy Godmother grants her a night out to the Prince’s ball with a new dress, coach, and everything else. Cinderella and the Prince fall in love, but she must leave before the spell breaks. Fortunately, she leaves behind a glass slipper, which the Prince tries on every girl in the kingdom. Eventually, Cinderella tries on the slipper, and she is taken by the Prince away from her life of servitude.

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Pretty simple story. So why does it resonate with generations of people going all the way back to the 1600s and in nearly every culture around the world? I think it is because Cinderella, at its heart, is a story about hope.

In this Disney version, Cinderella is a positive person. She sings while cleaning and makes friends with whomever she can (in her case, it is the mice and birds that surround her). She dreams of something better, she works hard, and she is positive about her life despite all she is forced to bear.

We all want to believe someone like that will have a happy ending. We all want to believe our own stories will have a happy ending if we work hard and are positive. It is this hopeful message of Cinderella that draws people to it time and time again.

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Some criticize the character of Cinderella as being bland and shallow. I disagree. Just look at the mice. They love her, and I think that says something about the kind of person she is. As soon as they see she is discouraged, her friends get together and make her a dress for the ball. That shows what a good friend she is that they want to help her. Plus, she exhibits an array of emotion from anger, concern, despair, wistfulness, and joy. But mostly she is a positive person, and I don’t think that inherently makes her boring.

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The other reason I think people respond to Cinderella is because it is a story about the human need for rescue. All of us have a breaking point, a point where we can’t be pushed any harder, and we give up. Cinderella reaches hers when the dress her friends made for her is destroyed by the Tremaines. This is, in my opinion, one of the most devastating moments in all of Disney. Why is it so affecting? Because she has been so positive up until that point.

It is then that the Fairy Godmother comes and rescues our princess. Some people claim Cinderella is saved by a man in marrying the Prince. I disagree. She is saved by a woman in the Fairy Godmother. She tells the Fairy Godmother:

“Oh, no. No, it isn’t true. It’s just no use. No use at all. I can’t believe. Not anymore. There’s nothing left to believe in. Nothing.”

And then the Fairy Godmother says:

“Nonsense, child. If you’d lost all your faith, I couldn’t be here. And here I am.”

I don’t think the Fairy Godmother is talking about a faith in God or religion here. She is referring to Cinderella’s faith in mankind. It has been tarnished, and yet, there is still enough for her to come and help rescue her.


I just love that message. We all have a need of rescue from time to time in life. Just recently, I was as sick as I’ve ever been in my life, and my Mother came and rescued me. That is the true message of Cinderella.

And boy does she look good in that dress!

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There are some other wonderful things about Cinderella. Lady Tremaine is one of Disney’s best villains. I mean she even has a cat named Lucifer for goodness sake! She gets her entire sense of power and control from dominating one woman. This isn’t someone like Scar who seeks a throne or Radcliffe who wants money. No, Lady Tremaine wants to turn a beauty into a slave and gets satisfaction from that control.

The vocal work is also wonderful with Verna Felton shining as the Fairy Godmother, Ilene Woods as Cinderella, and Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine.

I also love the music by Oliver Wallace, Paul J Smith, Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman with the highlight probably being “Bibbiti Bobbiti Boo.” But I also love quieter songs like “This is Love” and “Sing Sweet Nightingale.”

Some people complain about the high pitched voices of the mice, but a YouTuber a while back did  comparison of the mice with and without those voices, and I personally prefer the high pitch. To me, it seems more mice-like. What do you think?

As with all films, there are some flaws in Cinderella. Some of the goings-on with the mice goes on a little too long, the ranting of the King can be a little annoying, and the Prince is non-developed.

But at least to me those flaws are all tolerable, and the movie as a whole is one of Disney’s best. I love the emotional scope, message, villain, and the positive character of Cinderella. The artistry is beautiful with gorgeous backgrounds and animation (look at the bubbles in the “Nightingale” sequence) is beautiful.

It all comes together to make Cinderella a joy to watch and one of my all time Disney favorites.

What do you think of Cinderella? Is it a favorite of yours? Please share in the comments section.

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net