The World War that had put a stopgap in Disney’s pipeline of feature-length animated fables was long over, and the studio’s financial outlook was bleak. The throng of V-Day babies were approaching Kindergarten age, and the studio’s most recent entertainment offering, Bambi, was nearly a decade old. (Not to mention that the film’s unmistakably antiseptic, anti-procreation ecosystem contrasted sharply with the era’s fuck-like-bunnies population explosion.) What to do? Pour every last resource at hand into a fresh, new domestic manifesto—a film that would pick up the namby-pamby baton from where Bambi left off but strip away anything that didn’t reaffirm the studio’s commitment to crowning itself as the copywrit genesis of pastoral-in-pastel fairy-tale dreams.
Cinderella was that manifesto, a trim hour and change worth of Gerber life lessons on purity, wickedness, and, above all, the heteronormatic balance to be found within a homestead housing both vaginas and penises. Note that, during the prologue setting up Cinderella’s complicated familial history and how she came to be a captive whipping girl to her evil stepmother and stepsisters, the film’s opening scenery showcases the gleaming, sparklingly lubricated turrets of Prince Charming’s castle rising in full view of Cinderella’s window like phalluses. (Anyone still have the original VHS cover for The Little Mermaid? Editor’s note, or rather, Ed’s note: My sister does!) And Cinderella’s jail-cell bedchamber sits at the top of her chateau’s own pathetic turret, limp and moldy against the main room’s sharp, behemoth uterine trigonometry, a sad reminder of the absence of the male presence that would circumvent her future among raging, unchecked cuntery.
Meanwhile at Cock Castle, the widower King can’t stop bitching and throwing dishes at his henpecked, whipped Duke over the fact that his square-jawed, presumably virile only son Charming spends all his time away and hasn’t settled down to produce some pitter-patting grandchildren. His solution is to throw the biggest ballroom meat market ever mounted, summoning every last maid in his kingdom in hopes that Charming might settle down. That Charming is a dead ringer for Rock Hudson and the nature of his outings is left ambiguous is something of a fringe benefit, nothing that can be allowed to transcend the realm of subtext (though fags be needing their fantasies, too). But Cinderella’s—and, to a closet-case extent, Charming’s—rescue at the hands of the androgynous “Fairy” Godmother is not only part of the text, it’s the central turning point of the entire film. How odd is it that the thematic birth of Disney’s renaissance as an illustrated Masters and Johnson comes from the spangled lace and husky-throated aphorisms of what is essentially a drag queen? (When looking for her temporarily misplaced “wand,” she looks toward her crotch, hikes up her skirt, and jumps in place in hopes that it might drop out of its hiding place.)
So, is Cinderella one of Disney’s worst films? Not at all—the sensible directorial guidance of Clyde Geronimi (who co-oversaw the Disney projects in their fertile, pun intended, 1950s period up to 101 Dalmatians) is the ultimate antidote to the octane-guzzling, latter-day Disney ballbusters, where every minor kid’s parable gets inflated to the scale of Homer, or at least Tolkien. Geronimi knew enough to keep his stories just that: stories. (If Alice in Wonderland lost its social satire in the bargain, then that’s the price to pay in producing cartoons.) So it’s no wonder that nearly half the film’s scant running time is devoted to games of cat and mouse between, well, Lucifer the cat and Jaq and Gus the mice. Disney’s animators were clearly game for saving Disney’s legacy, and Cinderella’s art is simple but effective, especially when the intimacy of the mice’s world is juxtaposed against the impossible dimensions of Charming’s castle ballroom, or whenever the perfectly conceptualized visage of Eleanor Audley’s ferocious stepmother draws her heart-shaped lips back in a terrifying sneer. In truth, from an aesthetic standpoint, Cinderella might stand alongside the mythic yet unpretentious power of Dumbo or 101 Dalmations as definitive Disney. But, despite its prodigious charms, it has probably destroyed more lives than any other Disney film, forcing a specific, unrealistic romantic archetype that truly does only exist in fairy tales onto generations of impressionable children, who would grow up desperate, needy, and crushed.