The Disney Princess Project: “Cinderella”

The mice are so annoyingPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

All I could remember of watching “Cinderella” when I was little is that I was bored, found the mice annoying and thought that the line “Wait! But I don’t even know your name!” to be absolutely hilarious. At that time, I enjoyed “Ever After” and the TV Movie version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical more. After all, the 1997 TV movie had Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, Bernadette Peters, Whitney Houston, Brandy and Victor Garber. If you haven’t seen it, you must because it’s amazing mostly because of the cast assembled. But I am not here to tell you about the 1997 TV movie. I am here to tell you about the 1950 film.

In a way, “Cinderella” seems like the tainted movie. It has suffered from two direct-to-video sequels, Cinderella seems to be the main princess in the Disney Princess franchise–there are 108 items for Cinderella on, although there are 111 for Snow White–and in “Sophia the First: Once Upon a Princess,” Cinderella is the one princess summoned by Sophia to save the day. Cinderella is the alpha-princess of the Disney Princess franchise, which seems a bit odd since she is from the second-oldest film that is included in the franchise. But she gets the most iconic dress–although I find Tiana’s wedding dress to be prettier–and ends up with the guy that could best be described as traditionally handsome. (Although I would take Captain Li Shang and Hercules any day over Prince Charming.)

But unfortunately “Cinderella” is as unmemorable as I remember, but not as boring.

As the story goes, there was once a man who had a daughter named Cinderella (Ilene Woods), whom he loved very much. But the man married a woman, Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley), who had two daughters, Anastasia (Lucille Bliss) and Drizella (Rhoda Williams). One day, the man dies, which leads to Lady Tremaine wasting the family fortune. She abuses Cinderella and makes her the family servant and we are informed that the house falls into disrepair. One day, the king (Luis Van Rooten) holds a ball to find a wife for his son and the house Tremaine receives an invitation. Of course, Lady Tremaine and her daughters intent to go, but Cinderella lets them know that she wishes to go to the festival and dance before the prince. Her mice and bird friends make her a dress for the ball, but they stole items from Anastasia and Drizella, who rip the items off of Cinderella, ensuring that she can’t go to the ball. Cinderella cries in the courtyard and a fairy godmother (Verna Felton) appears, giving a coach, horses, and a white-blue ball gown that is “daring.” She goes to the ball, catches the eye of Prince Charming (William Phipps)–yes, he is actually named Prince Charming–and falls in love. But the clock strikes midnight and she flees, leading to a kingdom-wide search for the girl who is missing a glass slipper.

Oh, and there are some annoying mice named Jaq and Gus (Jimmy MacDonald) and a cat named Lucifer (June Foray).

“Cinderella” in some ways resembles “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” such as the use of a storybook as a framing device and the manuscript-like text for the opening credits. There is beautiful animation, mostly with the backgrounds, such as the courtyard when Cinderella is crying or the entire “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale” sequence. But the biggest problem with the animation is that it tells instead of shows.

We are told by the narrator that the House Tremaine falls into disrepair, but the house looks beautiful. Perhaps Cinderella’s scrubbing of the floors really does help, but I keep thinking that Cinderella must be a terrific painter and have impeccable wallpaper skills since the house looks immaculate considering it has fallen into disrepair. We are also told that the stepsisters are ugly, but other than giving the audience perpetual stinkface, they don’t seem to be ugly. In fact, I’d say that their dresses for the ball are prettier than Cinderella’s initial one, but that might be because their dresses weren’t made by mice and birds. Yes, the stepsisters are awful, abusive women, but unless the narrator is talking about inner beauty, we are only to believe that they are ugly because the narrator tells us to and because they aren’t Cinderella.

The biggest problem with this movie–other than that the prince is actually named Prince Charming–is that we have Cute Animal Sidekicks that reach levels of annoying that rival Terk in Tarzan and Mater. For starters, the only way to understand Jaq and Gus is to have the subtitles on while watching the movie. Then, they have an incredibly high pitched voice and speak so quickly that one has to wonder if even slowing down their dialogue would still have them speaking too quickly. On top of that, we are treated to extended sequences where Jaq and Gus fight with Lucifer because, guess what, cats hate mice.

Early in the movie we get an approximately ten-minute-long sequence where the mice decide to upset Lucifer. This does nothing for the movie–it provides no physical comedy, no important furthering of the plot–but it still exists.

Of course, Cinderella just wants everyone to get along and is appalled that Lucifer does not get along with the mice and that the dog does not like Lucifer.

There’s also the odd aspect that all the animals except Lucifer and the dog wear clothing. This implies to us that there is such a thing as naked creatures in this film. This means that when we first meet Gus he’s wearing no clothes, which feels like he’s naked. This always disturbed me as a child, but perhaps that is not intended by the filmmakers.

And then there’s the royal family who serves as props. Yes, the king tends to get angry easily and is not nearly as great as Victor Garber as the king in the 1997 TV movie. But we have the prince, who doesn’t even seem to get a proper name. Who names their son Charming? That’s like naming the one trans character in your TV show “Unique.” (No, wait, that’s worse than naming your son Charming.) The prince only has one characteristic and that is that he’s attractive. They only serve to make Cinderella’s dreams come true because her only dream in life is to go to the ball and maybe have all the animals get along.

Which brings us to the reason I watched this movie…

But is Cinderella a Good Role Model for Children?: No.

The film sends a message to children that the way to happiness is by marrying a prince. Cinderella doesn’t intend to go to the ball in order to win a prince, like her stepsisters, but she falls in love with a man at first sight and dances with. Granted, falling in love with a man you barely know is something that pops up often in Disney movies–we’ll see this again in “The Little Mermaid,” “Pocahontas” and “The Princess and the Frog”–so this means that it will irk me immensely in subsequent pieces. At least this can be justified in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Sleeping Beauty” because both Snow White and Aurora were princesses and it was common in the time periods the films are set for princesses to participate in loveless arranged marriages.

Furthermore, Cinderella is maybe the most one-dimensional protagonist ever created for a Disney film. Except for when her dress is ruined, she only seems to have one mood, something that none of the other princesses I will examine have. In fact, were it not for the ball, she really wouldn’t seem to have any goals in life.

There are two Cinderella films that I mentioned earlier that would be better for giving a role model for children if you want to use this story. First there’s “Ever After,” which presents a bad-ass Cinderella character in Danielle (played by Drew Barrymore) who initially resists falling in love with the prince, but slowly falls in love with him. There’s also the 1997 TV movie which has Cinderella meet the prince early in the film and then appear at the ball. If you want a good role model while also presenting the Cinderella story, I suggest you look there.

The Great ’90s Animated Film Project: “The Lion King” (1994)

The Swan Princess,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
The Prince of Egypt,
Quest for Camelot,
The Iron Giant
The King and I

The final post of The Great ’90s Animated Film Project happened accidentally as “The Lion King” aired on Saturday night on ABC Family. Having not seen it in a while, I curled up on the loveseat of my mother’s house and my cat, Polo, joined me shortly afterward.

For the few of you that might not know of “The Lion King”‘s plot, the film follows a tribe of lions headed by Mufasa (JAMES EARL JONES) and he and his wife Sarabi have just had a male cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba, Matthew Broderick as adult Simba). This means that Mufasa’s brother Scar (a terrific performance by Jeremy Irons) is angry because he isn’t next in line. He then kills Mufasa, convince Simba that he’s the reason the king is dead. Simba is then presumed dead, but then raised by a warthog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and a meercat named Timon (Nathan Lane) before he can take his place in the world again.

Oddly enough “The Lion King” seems to be the one animated film from this period that Disney made that doesn’t hold up well with time. One of the main problems is the structure because if “The Lion King” is treated as a work in three acts, it has a huge problem with having a third act that only serves the purpose of introducing us to the characters of Timon and Pumbaa, whose only real purposes are to be annoying sidekicks and save Simba from death after exile. If you skip over that act, there really doesn’t seem to much lost in the film.

The reason why “The Lion King” is included in this project is because it is apparently based off of “Hamlet,” but very loosely. Additionally, there are some influences of Greek tragedy as we see Scar in many ways seem to be a tragic hero who ultimately ends up falling after usurping Mufasa.

Which brings me to another problem with the movie: Simba is the least interesting protagonist to ever appear in a Disney movie. After being kicked out of the Pride Lands, he pretty much behaves like an apathetic teenager. This means that the antagonist, Scar, is a much more interesting character, although this is probably helped by Irons’ terrific vocal performance. What is more interesting is that the film shows that Scar’s decision to disrupt the balance in the Pride Lands by killing Mufasa results in a disruption of the ecosystem by the hyenas having free range over hunting. Although this really wasn’t a concept I understood until watching “The Wild Thornberrys,” the filmmakers decided to show the environmental impact of this change in leadership.

Scar suffers from massive hubris as his belief that he would be a better king than Mufasa simply because he isn’t Mufasa. Perhaps its sibling rivalry or another psychological motivation, but the film really doesn’t seem to delve deep into why Scar wants the job other than that he feels he’s more fit to be king than either Mufasa or Simba and it would reward his hyena minions. Additionally, the fact that Scar possesses minions so that much of the blood doesn’t end up on his minions makes him one of the more terrifying villans in films during this time period, not to mention that he manipulates Simba psychologically to force his nephew to leave the Pride Lands.

This brings us to the Cute Little Animal Character Sidekick: Timon and Pumbaa. Shortly after they showed up on the screen, Polo left his spot on my stomach to sleep on a pillow. The duo is obnoxious and clearly serve the purpose to make the film less terrifying for children, as well as raise Simba while he’s out of the Pride Lands. (It seems as though they’re on the outskirts of the Pride Lands.) The film could work quite well without the characters and could be replaced by, say, a lion that raises Simba. Timon and Pumbaa might seem enjoyable while a child, but adulthood makes them seem annoying.

The film does feature a terrific score by Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice and Elton John, which actually does stand up to this day, which might be why the Broadway musical has lasted so long, other than spectacle.

But unfortunately, “The Lion King” is one of the few films that does not seem to improve with time, particularly as an adult. If anything can be learned from this project, the inclusion of a cute sidekick can often severely drag down an animated film, particularly one that strives for greatness.