Cinderella (1950)

Inside the Magic and Impact of ‘Cinderella’ on The Disney Studio

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

From Rags to Glass Slippers

Today, Cinderella is known among the many Disney princesses, and like everything, it has a beginning. From a time, successive the Great Depression, Cinderella was born ten years later. We fell in love with the magic, and so did Walt Disney. When asked about his favorite moment in animation history, Walt replied: “I think it would be when Cinderella got her ball gown.”

Thus, an instant classic, the studio’s undertaking of this story oddly, turned out to be a Cinderella story itself as it rescued Disney from ruin after several box-office disappointments. Besides the unsuccessful releases, Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio, another factor hurting Disney was losing the lucrative European market during World War II. If Cinderella did not triumph at the box office, Disney would have likely gone out of business. Fortunately, it was a huge hit, and in 1955, Walt opened Disneyland.

Walt Disney from his early days.

Behind the Scenes Magic of Cinderella

But before anyone knew of how successful Cinderella would be, its animators were hard at work, creating what would become one of the most iconic princesses. Not only that, for the first time, Disney artists shot the entire film in live-action before they began animating. While dealing with the added pressure of a tight budget, there was no room for error. None of the footage was traced by the artist; only the actors’ gestures, expressions, and movements afforded a starting point with their illustrations.

Several models acted out the entire film in costume in front of cameras so the animators could study the footage when drawing the animated characters. This technique was not a new one, but it was one that was integral to the making of Cinderella in a way it never had been for any Disney film before, or really ever would be again.

A quote from one of the animators of the title character “Cinderella.” Marc Davis speaks of his experience here: “You can approach a sequence two ways: You can do it the hard way, which is to start from scratch, animate it out of your head and end up with a first rough. Or you can use the live-action to give you that first rough. It also helps to keep the character consistent throughout the film, as one person generally doesn’t animate all of a character’s scenes.”

Disney animators also chose to go the live-action footage route since they felt it would make their characters most believable to the audience. If they could not accomplish that, they strongly felt the story would fall apart. We could see why they felt that way since the live-action footage made it possible for the animators to construct convincingly realistic movements for the two characters, Cinderella and her stepmother.

Therefore, this effectively contrasted the two main characters with the more cartoonish shenanigans of the ugly Stepsisters and the various animals. But to make this happen, it required the artists to frame every part including the film’s leading lady and villain in a way that could be performed and photographed by real people.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo

Take the scene where Cinderella meets with her Fairy Godmother, for instance. There is noticeably a contrast between the realistic Cinderella and the purely animated fantasy of her meeting with her Fairy Godmother. We then get from this scene’s concurrence of magic and reality a sequence with a dream-come-true quality. Once her Godmother enters the picture, she appears unearthly, transforming the princess’s everyday life into something enchanted. Magic, wonder, and possibilities are now a part of Cinderella’s world. To the point that even the cynics will catch the feels watching her dress transform from rags into a shimmering ball gown. This scene’s conveyance is all possible due to its ability to beautifully juxtapose the mundanity of life with soaring fantasy.

Consequently, Cinderella marked a time for Disney that was filled with more downs than ups, but in the end, success. It grossed more than $4 million on its initial release and continues to be among the most famous animated features in the Disney canon. Besides popularity, the craftsmanship, execution, and talent exuded in Cinderella is the kind of art creatives today can revisit for inspiration. All that put together supports the theory that Cinderella stands the test of time. And we cannot forget, it also opened up doors for a fairytale land we can visit any time of the year to experience enchantment, too.

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