Things started out so well for Cinderella (voiced by Ilene Woods): she was born into a rich household with a kindly father who doted on her, but it all went horribly wrong when he died when she was young, leaving her at the mercy of her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley) and her two stepsisters. They put Cinderella to work as their slave, carrying out every chore at their beck and call, and there was nothing she could do about it. Her only friends were the mice and birds who helped her, but what if this life of drudgery had a sprinkle of magic dust over it for once?
Cinderella just might be the most famous fairytale of all, and certainly when you think of the phrase "fairytale romance" this is the story that springs to mind. It was also a hugely important for the Walt Disney company for this is the production they gambled on to be a big moneymaker for them when their cash flow was low; luckily, it went on to be one of their biggest ever hits, both on its first release and its subsequent re-issues. It's easy to see why as there's nothing here to offend anybody, and the highly professional Disney gloss is evident in every frame.
But were they really interested in the somewhat bland heroine, or were the animators more enamoured of the cartoon animals that populate the film? The birds and mice - especially those mice - have almost as much attention lavished on them as Cinders does, and for the first third it seems we're watching not her tale but the one about the rodents and the wicked cat. That cat is Lucifer, a fat, self-satisfied and sly moggy who is very much on the side of the wicked stepmother who does his best to sabotage any plans that might work in Cinderella's favour.
There's a definite Tom and Jerry feel to these scenes where the mice outwit the cat, as if Disney had taken note of what was popular in cartoons at the time and acted accordingly; it also gave something for the boys in the audience to be entertained by as they wouldn't be interested in the love story. However, that part is rather perfunctorily handled, and the Prince is barely onscreen for five minutes, more plot device than actual, living, breathing character. Better to concentrate on the heroine and her struggles against subjugation - we're given many reasons to despise Lady Tremaine and her daughters.
Not least because when the chance for Cinders to go to the Prince's ball arises, the stepmother won't let her, giving her chores to do instead. But wait, the mice and birds have made her a gown to wear, great, you think, until the stepsisters tear it up in a fit of jealousy. Boo, hiss! How lucky for the downtrodden girl that she has a fairy godmother (Verna Felton) with a few magic spells up her sleeve to ensure that she does indeed attend. Even though you know the story, much of the pleasure arises from seeing the way it is presented, with at least one great song - "Bibbety Bobbity Boo" - and some delightful sequences such as Cinderella appearing in the bubbles or the whole transformation scene. In spite of its warm welcome in many quarters, this was not the best Disney had to offer, as they tend to go for the obvious here and they don't tackle the most pressing question the fairytale brings up: was Cinderella the only one with that size of feet in the whole kingdom?