When I was in high school, I wanted to become a Disney animator. Surprisingly, it was lack of ROTC scholarships to CalArts rather than lack of confidence in my ability that put an end to that dream (for the record, I never would’ve made it – Hanna Barbera-grade animation was as good as I was capable of producing). Despite my ambition, however, I had remarkably little respect for the Disney canon, and Cinderella was no exception.
I’m not exactly sure why, other than the fact I saw it when I was an eight-year-old boy and did not think it was a movie for eight-year-old boys. Watching it again, however, I’m struck with how out of place it feels with the rest of Disney’s classic animation. (While I always associate it with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty, the three are separated by around ten years each and are wildly different stylistically, as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty’s concept art shows.) Thus, Cinderella lacks both the painterly qualities of Snow White and the minimalism of Sleeping Beauty. And my fifteen-year-old self couldn’t see that it most closely resembles the anime style – simple lines and colors, minimal shading, a bold palette – I was increasingly into. It’s also very much of its time, having been animated in the late 1940s, as Cinderella is basically a G-rated Vargas girl and her ripped dress (pictured above) is more reminiscent of pulp fiction covers than anything else.
It’s clear to me now that I should have given Cinderalla another chance. It’s hard to escape what Disney has become: the endless range of anthropomorphic animals and the commodification and aggressive marketing of the princesses. But it wasn’t always this bad. Despite their ubiquity now, Cinderella was the first Disney film to feature animal helpers. (And my daughter, arguably more the target audience than thirty-something parents, can attest to the fact that they’re great. I have to admit that I still laugh at Gus-Gus’ “duh . . . happy birfday!” line each time, and I’ve seen the film 8 times in three weeks). And for those opposed to Disney princesses on general principle, a recent study has found that Cinderella fares better than most for speaking roles and roles for women in general. So it’s got that going for it.
Now I just have to wait until she’s old enough to try My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service . . .