The Sweetest Story Ever Told

The story of Cinderella is truly universal. The earliest recorded version, about a courtesan named Rhodopis, came from Greece in the first century BCE. The Chinese story of Yeh-hsien (or Ye Xian), first published in 850 CE, may be even more ancient. These ancient tales, and many others from a surprising variety of civilizations features at least a few familiar elements: a woman in poverty, a cruel stepmother, magical assistance, perfectly fitting footwear, and a royal marriage. In the 17th century, French writer Charles Perrault wrote the version that most people know today.

However, you may be even more familiar with Disney’s adaptation of Perrault’s retelling, the 1950 animated classic Cinderella. This was their first movie to tell a single story since 1942’s Bambi, with the intervening years seeing the studio combine multiple cartoon shorts into less expensive package films. Disney had not seen major financial success since their first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and they needed a hit. It’s only natural, then, that they turned to “the sweetest story ever told.”

Disney’s Take on the Tale

Disney’s Cinderella has all the aforementioned elements of the age-old tale. Cinderella is an orphaned young woman, forced into servitude by her icy and dominating stepmother.  With magical help from her Fairy Godmother, she’s able to attend a royal ball and spend the evening with a charming young man. At the stroke of midnight, when the spell wears off, Cinderella flees the ball, leaving behind a glass slipper. The young man, actually the prince, declares that he’ll marry the woman whose foot fits the slipper. Despite the machinations of her stepmother, Cinderella gets her fitting, and she marries the prince.

This may sound like a straight adaptation, but the writers and animators added plenty. Most notably, most of the characters are quite cartoony. Many of them, such as the bratty stepsisters and the goofy royal messenger, have simplistic designs compared to the leads’ realistic features. Dressed-up mice frequently engage in Tom and Jerry antics with a cat named Lucifer. Hammiest of all is the prince’s father, who at one point swings a sword at his lackey while jumping on a bed. Perhaps the film’s most impressive feat is making these enjoyable, lighthearted elements mesh with the more grounded ones.

A Cruel Villain

Besides, the movie is “real” where it needs to be. The best example of this is the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, who is uniquely terrifying among Disney villains. She is not the queen of a domain; only the queen of her home. She has no magical powers; only power over the life of a single person, which she uses to enslave her and break her spirit. She is not a monster, but a person, one who sabotages one’s chances for happiness so she can retain her dominance over her. In a fairy tale full of singing mice and magic spells, Lady Tremaine’s domestic cruelty is all too real, keeping the stakes firmly grounded.

A Dazzling Heroine

As starkly real as Lady Tremaine may be, it is Cinderella herself who most grounds the film and makes everything work. She’s a wonderful character whose greatest strength is her kindness, which is extraordinary even when not considering her toxic environment. She is the type of person who frees mice from mousetraps and sews clothes for them. She even tries her hardest to think of one good thing about Lucifer the cat — it’s played as a joke but reveals much about her innocence. It’s this kindness that saves her, as her animal friends all band together to free her after Lady Tremaine imprisons her.

Many people remember only this aspect of Cinderella’s personality, but she is a bit more three-dimensional than you may recall. She has her snarky moments when she’s by herself: when her sisters are singing poorly as practice, she pulls a face and pauses before calling it a “music lesson.” Moreover, she may seem acquiescent to her rude and demanding stepsisters, but only because she’s in an abusive situation. The opening narration even uses the exact word “abused” to describe her. After ten years of daily malice by her own family, it’s no wonder why Cinderella lets them control her.

And yet she’s not exactly a pushover. There are three significant moments in the film where Cinderella finds an opportunity to defy her stepmother: when the Fairy Godmother gives her the means to attend the ball; when the mice unlock the door; and when Lady Tremaine causes the glass slipper to shatter, not knowing that Cinderella has the other one. A true “pushover” would have done nothing, but she seizes the moment to rebel every single time. Her reward is a happily ever after ending.

If You Keep on Believing

Cinderella’s strong characterization may anchor her movie, but it’s by no means the only great aspect of this movie. The animation is gorgeous and impressive, especially in scenes like the “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” sequence and the magical transformations. The soundtrack is gorgeous, from the seminal “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” to the catchy “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” The supporting characters are interesting and enjoyable. With all of this combined, it’s unsurprising that Cinderella became a smash hit, restored life to the studio, and practically funded Disneyland.

And how could it not have worked? It’s Disney’s take on a story that people have loved for ages, and their versions have itself proved timeless almost sixty years later. As long as people dream of escaping the circumstances that chain them, and as long as people believe that even one moment of freedom can change their lives for the better, Cinderella will resonate.

Cinderella Merchandise

If you’ve ever dreamed of finding great gifts themed to this sweet story, Your WDW Store has you covered with literally thousands of Cinderella items. We offer park-exclusive pins, fashionable shirts, a vinyl record of the stellar soundtrack, and so much more. We can help you make that dream come true today.