Cinderella is a story that seems endlessly retold and reimagined — some well and some not so well. But for me, none hold a candle to this 1950s classic. It’s pure movie magic from the moment the title character rescues poor Gus from a trap, to the mice banding together to finish Cinderella’s dress for the ball, all the way to Cinderella’s fairy godmother coming to the rescue and the prince searching his kingdom for her with nothing to go on but an abandoned shoe.
It’s a simple tale; a girl who, after the death of her father, is forced to serve her new stepmother and sisters, attends a ball, meets a prince and falls in love. While many assume Cinderella is the story of a girl who can’t stop dreaming of a prince coming to her rescue, it’s really not. What struck me most during this particular viewing is how much it is simply the story of a girl whose greatest dream is to be happy. That famous lyric — “A dream is a wish your heart makes” — never once mentions a prince or a husband. For a film maker who was utterly obsessed with the American Dream (see: Disney World’s Carousel of Progress for further proof) and for a film released amidst the rising prevalence of the term ‘nuclear family,’ this is actually quite a breath of progressive fresh air. Walt (and those who would run the company after him) never had a problem altering a classic story to fit their own definition of family entertainment (Ariel lives at the end of The Little Mermaid; Bambi’s species was changed from a roe deer to a white-tailed deer), making this plot point all the more extraordinary. And while she does meet and fall in love with a prince, it’s a prince who remains nameless because this isn’t a man’s story. It’s a refreshing contrast to Walt’s first princess, someday-my-prince-will-come Snow White.