DirectorWilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi
Release Date(s)1950 (March 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Productions/RKO (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
While most of Walt Disney’s animated features are considered classics today, it’s easy to forget that things weren’t always quite so clear when they were first released. That’s particularly true of Cinderella, which landed at a crossroads for Walt Disney Productions. Their first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had been a huge financial gamble, but one that paid off with unprecedented box office success. Pinocchio hadn’t repeated that kind of success, and Fantasia had been an even bigger failure. The films that followed didn’t fare much better, and when the United States entered World War II in 1941, Disney was forced to scale back production. Many of their animated releases from that time and in the immediate post-war era relied on a mixture of live-action and animation, and aside perhaps from Song of the South, they aren’t quite as well-remembered today. (Of course, Disney’s unfortunate decision to keep that title locked up in the vaults hasn’t helped it much, either.) So, when they finally brought the fully animated Cinderella to the screen in 1950, there was no guarantee of success, and had the film failed to generate much box office, the future of Walt Disney Productions might have been quite different. Thankfully, it was a major hit, quickly becoming their most successful effort since Snow White, and the rest is history.
Disney had actually spent years trying to bring Cinderella to animated life, with the story undergoing many changes during that period of time. While variations of the original folk tale date back for more than a millennium, the animated version drew its heaviest inspiration from Charles Perrault’s 1697 retelling Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre. Perrault added many of the elements that are familiar today, including the glass slipper and the Fairy Godmother. Yet one of the most crucial decisions that Disney made was to provide anthropomorphized animal friends for Cinderella, and it’s the contrast between the realistic and fantastic elements that gives Cinderella its unique character and charm.
As a cost-saving measure, much of the film was shot in live-action on soundstages first, and then the animation was rotoscoped over that reference material. Not all of the animators were happy with the process, but it did give the key human characters a much more realistic look, most notably for Cinderella, Prince Charming, and Cinderella’s odious stepmother Lady Tremaine. The other human characters were still done in a much more openly caricatured style, as with Cinderella’s stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia, but also for the King and his milquetoast aide the Grand Duke. Yet it’s still the animal characters that are the most memorable of the bunch, especially Cinderella’s loyal mouse friends led by Jaq and Gus, as well as Lady Tremaine’s appropriately named pet cat Lucifer. The clash between realism and fantasy shouldn’t work as well as it does in Cinderella, but it works perfectly nonetheless, thanks in no small part to the legions of artists that Disney had at its disposal during that era.
There’s no doubt that Walt Disney himself was one of the biggest driving forces behind Cinderella, but it’s a mistake to overlook the contributions of the rest of those artists. As was often the case, the story was essentially developed by committee, with eight different people receiving story credit in the final film, and there were other uncredited writers as well. There were three different directors credited, too: Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Clyde Geronimi. The various voice talents made indelible contributions as well, most notably Ilene Woods as Cinderella, Eleanor Audley as the Lady Tremaine, and Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother. (All that, plus the great June Foray as Lucifer!) The musical direction by Oliver Wallace and Paul Smith was crucial, as were the memorable songs by Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman. It took a village to make Cinderella.
Still, the single biggest artistic contributions to Cinderella came from the crew of animators that Walt had affectionately coined the Nine Old Men: Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Woolie Reitherman, Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Milt Kahl. They were as responsible as anyone for creating the Disney house style, and Cinderella marked the turning point where Walt would step back from the production side of the business, giving them greater control over the future of Disney feature animation. As a result, Cinderella represents both the culmination of classic Disney animation, and its first baby steps into that future. It may have been released at a crossroads for Walt Disney Productions, but they still took the right path going forward.
Cinderella was produced via traditional cel animation and photographed on 35 mm film by Bob Broughton, F. Bud Mautino, and William J. Tomkin, framed at the Academy aperture of 1.37:1 for its theatrical release. Disney has had a troublesome history with bringing their animated classics into the world of High Definition, with many titles having been scrubbed free of any original film grain, and much of the fine detail vanished in the process. Cinderella was one of the worst offenders in that regard, with all of the texturing and much of the fine detail having been completely erased. In some shots, the lines that represented the pleats in Cinderella’s gown were missing, and even some of the sparkles from the Fairy Godmother’s magic had been wiped out. This presentation is sourced from a brand new restoration, utilizing a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative stored at the Library of Congress, and with a new High Dynamic Range color grade in HDR10 only. The entire process was overseen by Director of Restoration for Walt Disney Studios Kevin Schaeffer, with the final approval of animators Michael Giaimo and Eric Goldberg. Only HDR10 is included on the disc, so if they did create a Dolby Vision grade as well, it will likely be confined to Disney+ (although as of this writing, the streaming version appears still to be using the old master).
Whatever mistakes that Disney may have made in the past, if this new 4K version of Cinderella is a sign of things to come, then all sins are forgiven. It’s immaculately clean, with nary a trace of damage aside from any defects that already existed in the original animation, but this time that cleanness isn’t at the expense of either the grain or the fine detail. It’s not a case like some Paramount titles where the original grain was scrubbed away and then replaced with a layer of fake grain, because that still wouldn’t have restored the missing detail as has been done here. Any doubts about that will vanish the moment that the opening credits finish and the storybook opens. The texture of the paper itself has been restored, as has the individual pencil strokes in the artwork. When it zooms in on the castle and then cuts to a closeup of it, freeze frame at that point to get the clearest demonstration of the improvements. It isn’t just that the textures of the paper are now visible; it’s that the depth to the textures of the paper can be seen as well, giving the paper a genuinely three-dimensional quality. The way that the pencil work interacted with that texture is also clearly delineated.
The improved texturing is true of the background paintings and the ink on the cels as well. With traditional hand-drawn cel animation, there are often subtle variations in the inking of the individual cels, which means that the colors can appear to waver or pulse faintly when everything is in motion. The digital scrubbing on the old master eliminated that effect, making the costumes in particular look too smooth and monochromatic. Now they look like they should, with those subtle imperfections in the inking making everything seem more organic and alive than it did previously.
The fine linework has been restored as well, with Cinderella’s dress now having all of its original detail, and every one of the Fairy Godmother’s sparkles is intact, too. There’s a fine sheen of grain visible throughout the film, and it looks natural at all times. It’s certainly possible that digital tools were still used to minimize the grain, but if so, it was done in such a way that it left all of the detail intact. On the other hand, it could simply be that the grain was extremely fine in the first place. There’s no information available regarding the film stocks that Disney used for Cinderella, but there’s no need for fast stocks when shooting animation, so they doubtless would have used the finest grain stocks that they had available to them at the time. There aren’t any compression artifacts to mar the grain and fine detail, either, as the UHD-66 disc runs at a healthy bitrate between about 85Mbps and 105Mbps, averaging in the mid-90s for most of the film.
Color grading has been an area of controversy for Cinderella on home video as well, with the previous Blu-ray master definitely having some issues in that regard. While different people may have their own preferences, it’s impossible to judge what’s truly the most accurate to the original intentions of the filmmakers. Still, it’s difficult to imagine anyone having issues with this new HDR grade. It’s suitably restrained, without reimagining anything in an obvious way, and it appears to have been used simply to allow the original colors to shine. In other words, there’s more depth to the colors, if not necessarily more breadth. Some of the most obviously altered colors from the old Blu-ray master have been definitely been restored to a more natural look here. The contrast range hasn’t been exaggerated, but there are some noticeable differences compared to older version. While it’s less bright overall, there’s now more variation in the contrast between the lighter and darker elements, sometimes from shot to shot, and sometimes even within the same frame. For example, in the shot of Cinderella walking down the hall and opening the curtains that starts at 9:45, the hallway is darker, and yet the sunlight through the open curtains is slightly brighter. When she opens the door to see her stepmother, the Lady Tremaine is now appropriately shrouded in darkness. The Blu-ray master brightened everything too much, shadows included, and ruined the nature of scenes like that.
Note that all of those comparisons to Blu-ray are indeed in reference to the old master. The Blu-ray included with this set offers a remastered picture based on the new transfer. When comparing the UHD to the new Blu-ray, the differences are less dramatic, but they’re still present. The UHD still has the edge in fine detail, grain management, color depth, and contrast, but for those who haven’t yet made the leap to 4K, the new Blu-ray still makes the set worth picking up, and the presence of the stellar UHD will make it a future-proofed purchase. This is the best that Cinderella has ever looked on home video, full stop.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The original theatrical mono hasn’t been included, nor has the 7.1 mix from the previous Blu-rays. There’s also an error on the disc label that says there’s a Dolby Atmos track when there isn’t one, but the rest of the packaging correctly lists it as 5.1 only. While the lack of the original mono mix is certainly disappointing, it’s a good 5.1 track, and it doesn’t stray too far from the original. Everything is still focused on the front channels in general and the center channel in particular, with the surrounds limited to light ambience and reverberant effects. The biggest difference is that the remix gives the music more presence, and that’s not a bad thing, although your own mileage may vary. Everything sounds clean, with no noise or significant distortion, although the fidelity is naturally limited by the dated quality of the original recordings. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio; French and German 5.1 DTS-HD HR; and Spanish and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese. (Note that the original mono track isn’t included on the Blu-ray in the set, either.)
Disney’s Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K Ultra HD release of Cinderella is currently available only as a Disney Movie Club exclusive, with a wide-release version planned for 8/1/23. The DMC version is actually a three-disc set that includes a UHD, a remastered Blu-ray, and a DVD, plus it also offers a Digital Code on a paper insert tucked inside. That makes this an honest-to-God quad format release, offering the film on physical media in 2160p, 1080p, and 480i, plus online as well—there’s something for everyone. (The later wide-release version will omit the DVD.) There’s also an embossed slipcover that duplicates the 100th anniversary artwork on the insert. There are no extras on the UHD or the DVD—don’t be fooled by Disney’s notorious “Fast Play” on the latter; it just includes some up-front ads, not actual bonus features. The extras on the Blu-ray duplicate the package from the 2019 Signature Collection release, which was missing a few items from the preceding 2012 Diamond Edition (more on that later):
- In Walt’s Words: The Envisioning of Cinderella
- Disney View
- Try This Trivia on for Size (HD – 4:48)
- Diane Disney Miller Cinderella Film Introduction (HD – 1:16)
- From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella (SD – 38:26)
- The Cinderella That Almost Was (SD – 12:34)
- The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story (HD – 10:03)
- The Real Fairy Godmother (HD – 11:50)
- Alternate Opening Sequence (HD – 1:13)
- Storyboard to Film Comparison: Opening Sequence (SD – 6:49)
- From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to The Nine Old Men (SD – 22:09)
- The Art of Mary Blair (SD – 14:58)
- Behind the Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland (HD – 8:17)
- 1922 Laugh-O-Grams: Cinderella (SD – 7:24)
- Except from The Mickey Mouse Club: with Helene Stanley (SD – 3:55)
- Radio Programs – Original Radio Shows from the 1940s/50s (SD – 12:26, 3 in all)
- 1950 Original Release Trailer (SD – :24)
- 1965 Reissue Trailer (SD – 2:31)
- 1973 Reissue Trailer (SD – 1:26)
- 1981 Reissue Trailer (SD – 1:32)
- 1987 Reissue Trailer #1 (SD – 1:57)
- 1987 Reissue Trailer #2 (SD – 1:25)
In Walt’s Words: The Envisioning of Cinderella and Disney View are both available only when selecting “Play” from the main menu of the Blu-ray, not via the “Bonus Features” option. In Walt’s World is effectively a picture-in-picture pseudo commentary track. It has the film play in a window that frequently reduces in size to surround it with relevant storyboards, production artwork, and behind-the-scenes photographs. The audio is a dramatic recreation of the pre-production story sessions with Walt and his staff, taken from the transcripts of the original sessions, but recreated by actors. Seeing the artwork in context with the appropriate moments from the film is certainly interesting, but the audio will be a matter of taste. Disney View was Disney’s attempt to satisfy both Original Aspect Ratio enthusiasts and those who wanted to keep their full screen filled at all times. The film plays in its correct 1.37:1 aspect ratio, but surrounded by stylized borders to fill the full 1.78:1 frame.
Try This Trivia on for Size features Ruth Righi and Ava Koelker from The Disney Channel’s 2019-2021 series Sydney to the Max. It continues the fine tradition of Disney using television programming to shill shamelessly for both its feature films and its theme parks. As proof of the fact that’s nothing new, there’s also an excerpt from the January 24, 1956 episode of The Mickey Mouse Club featuring Cinderella live model Helene Stanley, which manages to squeeze in a plug for Davey Crockett while promoting Cinderella at the same time. The three different Radio Program excerpts do much the same thing—they’re little more than glorified commercials. The Diane Disney Miller Cinderella Film Introduction continues the tradition, in this case plugging The Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio in San Francisco. Finally, Behind the Magic utilizes Ginnifer Goodwin from ABC’s series Once Upon a Time to hawk the expansion of Fantasyland in 2012.
Fortunately, the rest of the extras offer some real meat, even if they’re all produced in the far too reverential style that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched any Disney featurettes. From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella is the centerpiece, following the production from inception to release. It was originally produced for the 1995 Deluxe CAV Edition LaserDisc release of Cinderella, and it’s definitely the best place to start. The Cinderella That Almost Was reveals Walt Disney’s various attempts to bring the story to the screen, including an abandoned Silly Symphonies version, and the planned features that preceded the final one in 1950. The Real Fairy Godmother is a biography of Mary Alice O’Connor, who provided the inspiration for the design of the Fairy Godmother, and went on to become something of a real-life fairy godmother of her own. From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to The Nine Old Men examines the nine animators who had such a profound impact on the signature Disney style. The Art of Mary Blair looks beyond those nine men to one of the women who had an equally profound impact on that style, in this case Mary Blair, whose use of color will be instantly recognizable to Disney fans.
The extras are rounded out by the storyboards for an Alternate Opening Sequence, as well as a Storyboard to Film Comparison for the Opening Sequence as it was used in the final film. The 1922 Laugh-O-Gram is the very first silent version of Cinderella that Walt Disney produced at his Laugh-O-Gram Studio way back in 1922. The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story is a live-action short film that was produced for the 2012 Diamond Edition Blu-ray release, providing an imagined look at the creation of the famed glass slipper. Last but not least, the Trailers include everything from the original theatrical release in 1950 to every single re-release up until 1987, at which point the home video revolution took over. It’s a great reminder of the fact that the entertainment world was quite different prior to the advent of VHS.
Missing from that Diamond Edition Blu-ray is the interactive Personalized Digital Storybook: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You; three Deleted Scenes; audio-only recordings of seven Unused Songs; and the animated short Tangled Ever After. There’s also some missing material from the 2005 Platinum Edition DVD, though most of what’s gone from that disc was at best tangentially related to Cinderella. More importantly, the extensive still-frame supplements from the Deluxe CAV Edition LaserDisc still haven’t seen the light of day anywhere else (although some of the material from it did end up in the Stills Gallery on the DVD).
It’s telling that the meatiest of the extras included on this new 4K Ultra HD release of Cinderella are all ported over from either the previous DVD or LaserDisc versions. Those were created in a different era, when studios still cared about putting some real time, money, and effort into extras, as opposed to the cursory EPK fluff of today. Still, considering that Disney had largely written off the physical media market recently in favor of streaming, their 4K Ultra HD release of Cinderella is a cause for celebration, especially since it offers such a massive upgrade in picture quality over all previous releases. Management shakeups at Disney appear to have resulted in a pivot back to physical media, and this Cinderella UHD is a helluva opening salvo in that regard. New extras or not, some real love and care has been lavished on the new master for this disc, and that’s fantastic news. Hopefully this is a sign of the wonders to come with Snow White and other classic Disney animated titles on 4K in the future.
- Stephen Bjork