What is a dream? Science tells us that perhaps dreams are our brain’s way of processing information, images, and narratives as we sleep. In the Bible, dreams are often visions or messages from God. For the leading lady in Walt Disney’s Cinderella, dreams are vitally important. They are what gets her through the day, as she spends her hours as a servant in her own home. We all know the story. Cinderella’s father had remarried and then promptly died, leaving her in the hands of an uncaring stepmother, who spoils her own two daughters and sees Cinderella only as free help. “A dream is a wish your heart makes,” sings Cinderella. For her, a dream is a representation of a deepest desire, and she greatly desires to be some place happier.
Of course, ‘wishing’ is largely what Cinderella does in this film, as she very rarely actually does anything proactively to get herself out of her situation. Certainly, it would not be impossible. I’ve seen iterations of the Cinderella story in which she is much more proactive. In the future, we’ll see how Disney Princesses evolve, but the heroines of the 1950s were more complacent, shall we say, then I would like, content to mostly sing about their troubles and gaze wistfully out the window at the castle in the distance instead of actually standing up for themselves. Here, Cinderella is no exception, and that’s too bad, because, on the whole, I kinda like this movie.
It has a relatively simple narrative with a simple charm. A lot of the story is admittedly filler involving Cinderella’s mice friends, who spend most of their time trying to help her in various activities, be it housecleaning to actually sewing an entire dress, and all the while evading the claws of the stepmother’s cat. The cat, aptly named Lucifer, is a fairly normal, if not bad-tempered, cat, who occasionally does extremely spiteful things towards Cinderella, for no apparent reason, given that she is nothing but kind towards him, if not too kind. He’s really the secondary villain of the piece and even meets a traditional Disney villain death. His hijinks with the mice have all the hallmarks of classic Tom and Jerry slapstick tradition and result in some truly hilarious moments.
Equally funny, but no less filler, are the interactions between the King and the Grand Duke as they conspire to force the Prince to find a queen at the ball. The King is the first in a long line of well-intentioned, good-natured but bumbling and ultimately ineffective Disney fathers.
Nevertheless, his back-and-forth with the timid Grand Duke do have some genuinely funny moments. Less funny is the austere stepmother, Lady Tremaine, voiced with quiet authority by Eleanor Audley, who would later bring more bombast to a more famous Disney villain, Maleficent. Her’s is a subtle cruelty, where she often twists her own words like a knife to stab Cinderella where it hurts the most. Her daughters are more obnoxious than cruel, but they are effective foils against Cinderella’s graceful presence.
As for Cinderella herself, as I said before, she is less active in moving along the plot of her own story and thus she isn’t all that interesting, compared to the rest of the cast. Just because she isn’t a well-written character, though, doesn’t mean that she isn’t a good role model. She tries to be kind and compassionate towards everyone, even towards her enemies. She always seeks to find the positives in her situation, even while lamenting it.
Although her dreams never extend past falling in love with a prince and living in a castle, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Nowadays, girls are encouraged to aspire to be scientists, doctors and pretty much anything they want to be. This can be seen everywhere, in the most recent Barbie doll incarnations to the most current LEGO sets. This is all for the better. But I feel there is an innocence to Cinderella’s fantasies. I think something is lost when we compel children to grow up too fast. Let them dream of being princesses and maybe if they do look for a special someone, they will understand the need to find one who treats them like a princess, or even better, a queen. Even so, childish fantasies belong with children and must be left behind as interests and desires change and mature. Eventually, they will find the “shoe” that fits, just as Cinderella did.
Alternate: there are many, many different variations on the Cinderella theme, including Disney’s own 2015 remake, which isn’t half bad, but my personal favorite is 1998’s Ever After, with Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston. Its content is more on a PG-13 level, but it is a lot more progressive in its storytelling and very entertaining. Also its Fairy Godmother replacement is Leonardo Da Vinci.