Thoughts On: Cinderella - Refocused


Cinderella - Refocused

Quick Thoughts: Cendrillon (1899)

The classical narrative we all know; a maid is given the chance to go to a royal ball by her Fairy Godmother.

Out of pure interest, I decided to watch the earliest adaptation of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella, originally published in the late 1600s - the 1950 Disney adaptation being one of my favourite films of all time and so a mark of incentive. This is only a 5 minute short and so a rather meagre projection of a story we’ve grown to know on a greater, deeper scale, however, in this short we see a very interesting point of comparison to the 50s classic. The short opens without any back story, without any characterisation given to Cinderella and no mention of evil step-mothers, sisters, kings or plans for a royal ball. Instantly we’re thrown into the narrative with iconic Méliès filmic magic as The Fairy Godmother appears, transforming rats and a pumpkin into a horse and carriage to whisk Cinderella to the ball. Here, again, no characterisation or particular plot points, Cinderella catches The Prince’s eye and the two dance. But, before the dance is over we get another iconic staple of a Méliès film - a demonic or insidious figure showing up out of nowhere. Just like The Selenites in A Trip To The Moon or the ghosts in The Haunted Castle, Time shows up in the middle of the ball - a man holding a huge clock. This is an interesting cinematic projection of Cinderella’s story, one that somewhat overshadows that seen in the Disney adaptation. In the animated 50s version, Cinderella is just told that when the clock strikes midnight, the magic will be reversed. And when the clock strikes, Cinderella of course starts running, leaving behind a glass slipper. In this short, when Time shows up, he cues The Fairy Godmother again who transforms Cinderella, taking away her dress. The subtext beneath this is much more complex than that provided in the Disney version because The Fairy Godmother’s magical power is directly attached to her. Instead of the magic just wearing away, she has to turn it up and reverse it. This adds a depth and complication to her character with the symbolic figure of Time further providing a Shakespearean sense of tragedy and futility, under the guise of time, to the story. This is something incredibly intriguing - especially with speculation on how this could elevate the Disney classic. However, there’s a further detail given with this segment in the short. When Cinderella is revealed to be little more than a raggedy maid, those attending the royal ball start pushing her around, laughing at her, forcing her out of the palace. Again, another element that would add greater depth to the Disney classic. This is mostly because of the reaction of The Prince. He still pursues the girl. What’s more, the glass slipper is left behind, further complicating The Fairy Godmother.

The next scene is what shines most from this short. Arriving home devastated Cinderella is not left to her sorrows, but bombarded with visions of clocks, giant ones that dance, that seem to mock her as they shift shape to and from young girls as Cinderella watches, distraught. This psychological element of the film serves as a pivotal piece of characterisation for Cinderella and adds quite a bit of depth to this 400 second (aprox.) story. With archetype of Time attached with young girls and the fact that Cinderella is dreaming, we have a much darker projection of Cinderella’s otherwise melancholy opening song, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”.

There isn’t hope and optimism in Cinderella’s dream within the short, there is fear - one that adds great poignancy to a scene that is reactionary to the royal ball sequence. Again, this conceptually overshadows what we see in the Disney adaptation. However, from this high point, the film rushes to an end with Cinderella being woken by her step-sisters before (who I think is) The Prince shows up. He tries the slipper on the sisters, then Cinderella - finding his match in a rather flat manner. Before The Prince can take Cinderella away, however, she makes a call to her Fairy Godmother, who shows up again, bestowing upon her a dress. (I’ll leave the subtext of this to your analysis). After this Cinderella is married, people dance, the end.

The main take away I then got from this film was a surge of questions for the Disney adaptation. Would it not make sense for The Fairy Godmother to be a greater part of this narrative? Could the ball scene have had greater emotional depth and stakes? Could this have been a more directly psychological or surrealist film?

These are questions I’ll leave you to ponder and maybe discuss below. If not, why not check out the short here...

Or, better still, check out my posts covering the 50s Disney classic here...

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