Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cinderella (1950)

By Cinema Muse

Unlike yesterday's review, this film is a true pleasure to review because it was one of my favorites as a young child. First off, it doesn't contain anything scarier than a mean stepmother and a fat old tomcat.  It's also got plenty of cute songs and anthropomorphic animals along with a comically violent king and inept stepsisters. So yes, this is a truly kid-friendly Disney film. How rare are those? Well, at the time this film was made, they were non-existent.

Unfortunately this movie's very popularity and watchability has made it the target of relentless over-marketing and shameless sequels. The marketing may be distasteful, but it doesn't bother me nearly as much as the sequels. Call me simplistic, but when a movie ends with the words "and they lived happily ever after," that should be the final word. If you want the "happily ever after" concept challenged, let me refer you to a lovely little Preston Sturgess movie called The Palm Beach Story, which opens with a wedding and the caption "and they lived happily ever after--or did they?"Please don't do that to Cinderella unless it's a satire. Legitimate sequels ruin the whole point of a fairy tale.

Let me talk about why Cinderella is a much better protagonist than Snow White, namely because she actually has a believable personality. She actually behaves like a human being. Although she's a starry-eyed romantic and an optimist, she can still experience despair and even cynicism without having an existential crisis. I know people accuse her of being the most passive heroine, but at least she realizes that her situation is cruel, and she fails to talk herself out of being sad about missing the ball. And she takes a swing at Lucifer, much to everyone's delight. I also want to point out that she tells her stepmother that she has a right to go to the ball according to the wording of the royal proclamation, which is a certain degree of self-defense. She still lacks initiative, but she's a far cry from Snow White who feels bad about crying over her sorry plight and is uniformly cheerful through the rest of the film.

I want to take a moment to point out an interesting anachronism in Cinderella's wardrobe. I know most of you probably don't care, but since I have an interest in historical fashions, I can't help but notice these things. Cinderella has a clearly Victorian setting as evidenced by the setting, and both the men and women's costumes. To be more specific, the bustle skirts would indicate that it took place between 1870 and 1890. Now I want to point out that neither the pink dress Cinderella designs, her wedding dress, nor the silver gown her fairy godmother makes for her are period-correct. They all look like a take on 1950s gowns of varying degrees of formality--trust an avid vintage shopper on this. I'm sorry, Disney, but that just ruins the period feel for me.

Really, though, the biggest problem with the movie for me is the lack of a prince. Of course the Cinderella legend doesn't really mention the prince outside of the ball scene, so Disney didn't have much to work with. But one scene is not usually enough to establish a believable romance between two people, especially since they don't really speak to each other. I would have more respect for the prince if he went to look for her himself, but he doesn't. I will say, though, that watching the movie again recently made me think better of Cinderella because apparently she was in ignorance of the fact that she was dancing with the prince until the next morning. So kudos to her for falling in love with a guy without knowing who he was. It makes her less of a a gold-digger. But she gets negative points for being naive. Seriously, how could you not figure out he was a prince?

What can I really say about the moral of this film? It's a story of virtue rewarded, so Cinderella really just has to sit pretty while the mice and her fairy godmother manufacture the happy ending for her. Maybe it proves once and for all that it's not what you know but whom you know. Or maybe it's just the platitudinous "A friend in need is a friend indeed." It also makes me grateful that I live in a time where Child Services exists, though a lot of kids still don't fare a lot better than Cinderella did. Also I reject the notion that she could have run away from home considering she didn't have any money, and in the Victorian Era, she probably would have ended up a prostitute or starved to death. At best she could have offered herself as a domestic servant, but people didn't tend to hire them back then without references. So Cinderella doesn't really have any choices. Cut her some slack.

The Disney princess continues to evolve, and so does the Disney movie. Unfortunately it's going to be another forty years before we're going to get one with the spunk of a contemporary woman. But we can celebrate the little victories, along with a film that won't scare the pants off your three-year-olds.

**Please check out Cinema Muse's blog of classic Hollywood and book adaptation reviews, Seeing Sepia

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