This was the first single-story feature made by the Disney studios after the long hiatus caused by the war and financial straits from the failure of some big films Walt was counting on to keep him in business. If this one had flopped, Disneyland probably would never have happened, as the studio would have gone belly-up. But it was a big success, and Walt started thinking about television and an amusement park. The rest is history.
It’s a great one. I probably saw it during its 1957 initial re-release. It went on to be released again to theaters half a dozen times before video arrived. I don’t recall, but at 10 I was probably still receptive to a film aimed primarily at girls. The animation doesn’t have the rich detail of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, but the artists manage to make that into an asset instead of a liability. It looks great. The acrobatics and pratfalls are provided by the two mice, Gus and Jaq, along with the evil cat, Lucifer (voiced by the great June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel). I remember having a record of the song the mice and birds sing as they “make a lovely dress for Cinderelly.” The stepmother is as evil as any Disney evil woman (there certainly were a lot of them, weren’t there?), she just doesn’t make a big production of it. Cinderella is a good character, though I kept wishing she’d stand up for herself a little more. Medieval times; I guess a woman didn’t have many choices unless she found and married her Prince Charming, royal or not.
Ilene Woods was a lot easier on the ears than soprano Adriana Caselotti’s Snow White. Musical tastes had changed a lot in 13 years, for the better, in my opinion. There were two hit songs: “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” Perry Como covered the latter song. It was a more innocent age, wasn’t it?
This seems like a good time to bring up the Disney Princesses, which has turned out to be a gold mine for Disney, as if they needed another. Go to Disneyland any day and you will see hundreds of little girls dressed up as their favorite princess … and wearing clothes they bought at the huge Disney store just outside the gate. Girls can get practically anything with a princess tie-in on it, from pencils to cell phones. Cinderella was the second princess. There are now nine of them officially: Snow White, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine from Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, and now Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. There will be ten when Rapunzel is released in November, 2010. I wondered why Alice and Wendy and Lilo weren’t included, then realized that the nine were all adults, and those three are still children. I think they might want to reconsider Lilo, though. They now have Native Americans, Asians, African-Americans, French people, Arabs and fish represented. Lilo would capture one more ethnic group: Pacific Islanders. They are now desperately in need of an Hispanic princess, but no such project has been announced. Get with it, Disney! There are a million brown girls out there looking for a Spanish-speaking princess in Los Angeles alone!
I’d like to make a suggestion while we’re on the subject of princesses. Disney people, you are welcome to use it for a small piece of the profits, say, fifteen percent? Everybody knows and loves the Disney princesses, but how about those villainesses? Lots of little kids have been rocked by the sheer awfulness of these women. Even myself! One of my most vivid memories of visiting the Disney resort was encountering Cruella De Vil on the street on the Hollywood Pictures Backlot at California Adventure. I posed for a picture with her, me all lit up with adoration, her with lip curled in her trademark sneer. I told her she was my favorite Disney animated character, and she said she was her favorite Disney animated character, too. Then she told me to beat it! My heart went pitter-pat. I’d been insulted by the magnificent Cruella!
There must be some girls out there who would enjoy dressing up as a Disney Villainess. I mean, the costumes are great, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I’m thinking of those future Goth girls, the ones who even now are considering what parts to pierce, where to put the tattoos, girls who are experimenting with black lipstick and nail polish and dead white facial makeup and torn black clothing. Don’t you think they’d relish dressing up as the malignant Cruella and ganging up on all those princesses in pretty pink gowns?
I’ve identified no less than 6 Disney Villainesses. That’s two-thirds of the current number of princesses. They are: The Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Lady Tremaine from Cinderella; the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland; Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (another personal favorite of mine); Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians; and Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid. I considered Madame Medusa from The Rescuers, but I don’t remember much about her. I’ll wait until we view the movie to decide if she’s bad enough. I think we—the Disney management and myself—could make a tidy sum selling those costumes. Don’t you?
Oh, and be sure to hang on to your VHS or DVD, if you have one and care for historical authenticity. The King smokes a cigar here, and the next time they release a DVD of it they will probably have digitally removed it.