Disney Film History: Cinderella
World War II was a roller coaster of a time for America. It was a period of great tragedy and triumph. Not to just rip off Dickens and the most famous first line of a book ever but it really was the worst of times and the best of times. The war provided several opportunities for many demographics including women, African-Americans, and many businesses that the government enlisted to help serve America. One of those studios was the Disney Company. After a slew of horrible box office films including Pinocchio, Bambi, and Fantasia, the studio was given a second chance with government aid. Out of World War II, Disney got the chance to make money with live action films, a group of package films, and some propaganda art and film for U.S. soldiers and citizens. By raising spirits and hope for Americans, Walt Disney raised his own spirit and at the beginning of the 1950s had money in his pocket to make his first full length animated film since 1942’s Bambi. Walt Disney decided to double down and put his newly made money on the line for a big production. To this point his biggest success was also his first, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. He felt that he needed to recapture the magic of his original underdog princess story. He turned to a story he thought could sell, a tale that was older than all of the ones he had turned into films previously, Cinderella.
Origins of the Cinderella story date back to Ancient Greece and versions can be found in Ancient China, Vietnam, the Middle East, Britain, Germany, and many other areas of the World. Walt Disney decided to choose Tales of Mother Goose author Charles Perrault instead of the classic Grimm version due to the overly dark tones in the Grimm version. Perrault’s version involves the classic characters of the Fairy Godmother, Prince, Step-Mother, and our heroine that we have grown to love. (In the Grimm tale, Cinderella casts her wish on a tree growing from her Mother’s grave.) After picking the film to animate, Disney went to work on what became a $3 million expense for the film. Using everything he had, they developed new ways of making their films as well as putting much of the films money into advertising and using Tin Pan Alley stars to sing the songs for the soundtrack under the new Walt Disney Records, which gave the company their own distribution for their music and was more cost effective by cutting out the middle man.
One of the expenses Walt Disney was willing to go for was the use of live actors for his animators to reference. They actually filmed the whole movie on a sound stage with actors all before animators started to work on the film. It was a different method of animation that would hope to add more realism to the human characters in the film. Live references had been used for previous films like Bambi, but humans hadn’t really come into play on this grand of a scale yet. This method of animation references proved it’s worth as the characters in the film move flawlessly and truly feel like humans. Animation of Snow White and Prince Charming had been somewhat life like, but in Cinderella, these people were real.
Disney had always been revolutionizing the music industry as well, whether it was the first soundtrack to a movie with Pinocchio or the surround sound system with Fantasia, he had always been there. Cinderella brought on another new music revolution. In the song “Sweet Sweet Nightengale” Walt Disney asked Ilene Woods, the actress voicing Cinderella, if she could sing harmony over her own voice. This was the first time someone had sang over themselves in any recording and today it is done by almost every musician out there. Truly a revolutionizing thing.
The film premiered on February 15. 1950 to raving reviews and great box office numbers. It was Disney’s first overwhelming success since Snow White. He had made all of his money back and then some. With the money from Cinderella, Disney ditched RKO as their distributor and started distributing themselves which cut costs on later productions. Money from the film as well as record sales and merchandising also opened the doors for new films, including new live action films, television specials, and a little thing called Disneyland.
Cinderella is regarded as one of Walt Disney’s greatest achievements. That might be true, but the things he would do with the profits from Cinderella would be his lasting impression on the world. Now that the company was out of debt, Walt had some very grandiose and exciting ideas to fund.
What are your thoughts on Cinderella? Do you love it or hate it? What are some of your favorite scenes or songs from the film? Leave your comments and keep the conversation going!
Posted on October 10, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged Bambi, Charles Perrault, Cinderella, Disney, Fairy Godmother, Film, Fun, History, Josh Taylor, Modern Mouse Radio, movies, music, Prince, Review, snow white, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.