Films we watch as children fundamentally shape us. We all have films that, though they may not be anything special, are held dearly to us. For me, this film is undoubtedly Cinderella (1950), a film that I have loved from childhood all the way through to my adult life. It is a film about struggle, magic, acceptance, and love, and one that not only helped shape my life, but also the path Disney would go on to take.
I first encountered Cinderella as a very young child. My dad was a milkman so had to leave in the early hours, and I, like the dutifully stubborn child I was, refused to go back to sleep. Instead I would lie on the sofa with my mum and watch our VHS. The film wasn’t long; at only 75 minutes it’s a breeze, so I would sit and force my mum to watch it with me over and over again, fascinated by the world in which Cinderella existed and, more specifically, her two closest allies: Jack and Gus, a pair of mice. Cinderella’s mice were so warm, and lovingly goofy, they felt so real to me and I imagined how wonderful it would be to have such loyal, pocket sized friends. Warm characters such as Jack and Gus were also key to the production of the film, with its compassionate characters giving it an edge, getting the film greenlit ahead of both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, with producers citing its similarities to what was, at the time, the jewel in Disney’s crown: Snow White.
As I grew slightly older, around five or six, and now with a baby brother, I would sit him in front of the television and force him to watch the same tape I’d watched with my mum. I remember repeating Jack and Gus’ lines to him, hoping that somehow my new-born brother would somehow speak the appropriate response. We would spend hours in front of the TV watching the film, singing the songs, and trying to make sure that we’d end up friends just like the two mice. Love is such an important part of Cinderella, in both the way which it propels the story, and the way in which its absence creates stumbling blocks. The film is such a gentle experience, its villains and their barbs don’t manage to pierce the softness of the animation, but instead sink into the darker colours. The elegance of Cinderella in the body language of its characters is relatively subtle for such an early animation, allowing more magical moments to truly shine. This may be, in part, down to the fact that the film used live actors to plan and reference its movements, reducing production costs and making the animation of the film’s characters feel more human. The only characters not to receive this treatment were, appropriately, the film’s cast of animals, whose characters are largely found in their bubbly, fawnlike movements.
Since its release, Cinderella has arguably become Disney’s most iconic film. Disney’s logo, a reference to the Cinderella’s castle, will forever remind me of the long hours spent watching the film as a child, each time filled with the magic, as though nothing was impossible. The film’s magic sparkles so beautifully, even watching the film again now, it feels as though it will seep from off the screen and fill up the room. And it’s not just the visuals; the soundtrack for the film creates a real atmosphere for magic, perhaps only being bested by Pinocchio for its ability to send tingles down your spine and give you that real feeling of Disney magic. Pinocchio however, despite its beautiful instrumentation, brought Disney no magic. Suffering a post-war slump with both Pinocchio and Bambi bombing at the box office, it would be Cinderella that would change Disney’s fortunes, hailed both commercially and critically, with Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca and Mildred Pierce) exclaiming that the film was Disney’s masterpiece. This allowed Disney to push forward, growing into the largest media corporation in the world, and 70 years since Cinderella’s release, Disney now virtually holds a monopoly over the industry.
Though this level of success and acclaim might have saved Disney financially, and put them in a position which would allow such growth, for me this is not Cinderella’s legacy. Cinderella is a film about dreams coming true, love and friendship, and how we can do anything with just a bit of magic. It wasn’t the film’s financial success or industry acclaim that drew me to it as a child, it was the ability to connect with the warm love that pulsates through it, and the longing to experience such magic again and again and again. Its addictive wonder is what holds Cinderella above other Disney films, and that’s why, 70 years on, it continues to inspire.