Cinderella (Ilene Woods) is the much-loved only child of a widowed aristocrat. After deciding that his beloved daughter needs a mother's care, Cinderella's father marries a proud and haughty woman named Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley). She too has been married before, and has two daughters from her first marriage, Anastasia (Lucille Bliss) and Drizella (Rhoda Williams). Plain and socially awkward, these stepsisters are bitterly envious of the beautiful and charming Cinderella.
The family lives in happiness for several years, until the death of Cinderella's father. After that, Lady Tremaine's true nature is revealed, and she and her spiteful daughters take over the estate, and begin to abuse and mistreat Cinderella, envious of her beauty. She is forced into becoming a scullery maid and made to wait upon her jealous stepsisters and even their sadistic cat, Lucifer. As Cinderella blossoms into a beautiful young woman who is kind despite her hardships, she befriends the animals living in the barn and many of the mice and birds who live in and around the chateau.
At the royal palace, the King is distressed that his son does not intend to marry. The King is determined to see grandchildren, so he and the Duke organize a ball for Prince Charming (William Phipps) in an effort to enable his son to fall in love and marry, with every eligible maiden in the kingdom requested to attend.
When the invitation to the ball arrives, Cinderella asks her stepmother if she can attend. Her stepmother promises her that she may attend to the ball, as long as she finishes her work and can find a suitable gown in time. To consume her time, her stepmother sets Cinderella with a mountain of chores. Her mouse friends Jaq and Gus (Jimmy Macdonald) use Cinderella's stepsister's discarded sash and beads to fix an old gown that belonged to Cinderella's mother. When Cinderella wears her dress just before departing, Lady Tremaine sarcastically complements Cinderella's gown, subtly pointing out Drizella's beads and Anastasia's sash. The angered stepsisters catch on to their mother's implications and tear the gown to shreds before she stops them, leaving Cinderella to run to the back of the garden in tears while her stepfamily leaves for the royal ball without her.
Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton) appears to her in the garden. She bestows upon Cinderella a beautiful blue dress with glass slippers, and transforms a pumpkin and various animals into a carriage with horses. Cinderella departs for the ball after the godmother warns her that the spell will break at the stroke of midnight, meaning that her dress and everything else will change back to the way they were.
At the ball, the Prince rejects every girl, until he sees Cinderella, with whom he is immediately captivated by. The two dance alone throughout the castle grounds until the clock starts to chime midnight. Cinderella flees to her coach and away from the castle, accidentally dropping one of her glass slippers. After the Duke tells the King of the disaster, they plan to find Cinderella with the slipper they recovered during her exit.
The next morning, a royal proclamation is issued, stating the Grand Duke will visit every house in the kingdom to find the girl who fits the glass slipper, so that she can be married to the Prince. When this news reaches Cinderella's household, her stepmother and stepsisters begin hurriedly preparing for the Grand Duke's arrival. Cinderella, overhearing, begins dreamily humming the song from the palace ball the previous night. Upon realizing that Cinderella is the girl who danced with the Prince, Lady Tremaine follows Cinderella up to her attic bedroom and locks her inside.
When the Grand Duke arrives, the mice steal the key to Cinderella's room from Lady Tremaine's pocket and laboriously drag the key up the stairs to her room. They are ambushed by Lucifer, but are then rescued by Bruno, Cinderella's bloodhound, who scares Lucifer out of the house. As the Duke prepares to leave after the stepsisters unsuccessfully try on the slipper, Cinderella appears and requests to try it on. Knowing that the slipper will fit and that Cinderella will marry the Prince, her stepmother trips the footman over while he is carrying the slipper, causing it to drop and shatter into hundreds of pieces. The Duke laments over the broken slipper, but Cinderella then reveals she has kept the other glass slipper, much to her stepmother's horror. Delighted at this indisputable proof of the maiden's identity, the Duke slides the slipper onto her foot, which fits perfectly.
At the wedding, Cinderella and the Prince descend the church's staircase, surrounded by confetti tossed by the King, the Grand Duke and the mice, now in uniform apparently as part of the Royal Guard. The film ends on a scene of the two newly-weds kissing.
Made on the cusp between the classic "golden age" Disney animations of the 1930s and 1940s and the less critically acclaimed productions of the 1950s, Cinderella is representative of both eras.
Cinderella was the first full-bodied feature produced by the studio since Bambi in 1942; World War II and low box office returns had forced Walt Disney to produce a series of inexpensive package films such as Make Mine Music and Fun and Fancy Free for the 1940s. Live action reference was used extensively to keep animation costs down. According to Laryn Dowel, one of the directing animators of the film, roughly 90% of the film was done in live action model before animation, using basic sets as references for actors and animators alike.
Both Helene Stanley (Cinderella's live action model) and Ilene Woods (Cinderella's voice actor, selected from 400 other candidates) heavily influenced Cinderellas' styling and mannerisms. Actress Helene Stanley was the live-action model for the title role and would be so again for Sleeping Beauty and Anita Radcliff in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Mike Douglas was the Prince's singing voice while William Phipps acted the part.
In earlier drafts of the screenplay, the Prince originally played a larger role and had more character development than what he ultimately received in the final version of the film. In one abandoned opening, the Prince was shown hunting a deer, but at the end of the sequence, it was to be revealed that the Prince and the deer were actually friends playing a game. In an abandoned alternate ending, after the Duke discovered Cinderella's identity, she was shown being brought to the castle to be reintroduced to the Prince, who is surprised to learn that Cinderella was actually a modest servant girl instead of the princess he thought she was, but the Prince's feelings for her were too strong to be bothered by this and he embraced her; the Fairy Godmother was to reappear and restore Cinderella's ball gown for the closing shot. Walt Disney himself reportedly cut the alternate ending because he felt it was overlong and did not give the audience its "pay off", but the scene would later be incorporated in the video game, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
Other deleted material included an abandoned song that was tentatively titled the "Cinderella Worksong", which was part of a fantasy sequence that was set to take place after Lady Tremaine told Cinderella that she could only attend the ball if she finished her chores and found a suitable dress. In this abandoned sequence, Cinderella imagined herself multiplying into an army of maids in order to deal with her massive workload, all the while pondering what the ball itself would be like; the sequence was cut, but the title was applied to the song the mice sing when they work on Cinderella's dress. Additionally, there was a scene that took place after the ball in which Cinderella was seen returning to her home and eavesdropped on her step family, who were ranting about the mystery girl at the ball, and Cinderella was shown to be amused by this because they were talking about her without realizing it. Walt Disney reportedly cut the scene because he thought it made Cinderella look "spiteful" and felt the audience would lose sympathy for her.
For the first time, Walt turned to Tin Pan Alley song writers to write the songs. The music of Tin Pan Alley would later become a recurring theme in Disney animation. Cinderella was the first Disney film to have its songs published and copyrighted by the newly created Walt Disney Music Company. Before movie soundtracks became marketable, movie songs had little residual value to the film studio that owned them and were often sold off to established music companies for sheet music publication.
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" became a hit single four times, with notable versions by Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters. Ilene Woods beat exactly 309 girls for the part of Cinderella, after some demo recordings of her singing a few of the film's songs were presented to Walt Disney. However, she had no idea she was auditioning for the part until Disney contacted her; she initially made the recordings for a few friends who sent them to Disney without her knowledge. Reportedly, Disney thought Woods had the right "fairy tale" tone to her voice.
Interestingly, almost 30 years before "Cinderella" was made into a feature-length animated film, Walt Disney already made a short film of it as the last of the Laugh-O-Gram series, as a Roaring 20's version. This short is included as an extra on the Cinderella Platinum Edition DVD.
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic,, this includes "The Work Song" and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" on the first disc, "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" and "So This Is Love" on the second, and "Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale" on the fourth. On Disney Greatest Hits, "Disney Greatest Hits, "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" is included on the first volume and "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" on the second.
The profits from the film's release, with the additional profits from record sales, music publishing, publications and other merchandise gave Disney the cash flow to finance a slate of productions (animated and live action), establish his own distribution company, enter television production and begin building Disneyland during the decade.
Walt Disney had not had a huge hit since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The production of this film was regarded as a major gamble on his part. At a cost of nearly $3 million, Disney insiders claimed that if Cinderella failed at the box office, then the Disney studio would have closed (given that the studio was already heavily in debt). The film was a huge box office success and allowed Disney to carry on producing films throughout the 1950s.
Cinderella has been re-released theatrically in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981, and 1987. It was released on VHS video and laserdisc in 1988 as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection, becoming the first video to feature the "Sorcerer Mickey" Classics logo before the film. This release also had a promotion with a free lithograph reproduction for those who pre-ordered the video before its release date. In 1995, the film received a Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection video issue with a 1950s Buena Vista logo added. Disney then restored and remastered the movie for its October 4, 2005 release as the sixth installment of the Walt Disney Platinum edition series. According to Studio Briefing, Disney sold 3.2 million copies in its first week and earned over $64 million in sales. The Platinum Edition DVD of the original movie along with its sequels went on moratorium on January 31, 2008. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a "Royal Edition" of Cinderella was released on DVD on April 4, 2011. This release had a unique limited edition number on every slip case and an exclusive art card.
The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Sound (C. O. Slyfield), Original Music Score and Best Song for "Bibbidi Boppidi Boo". At the 1st Berlin International 1st Berlin International Film Festival it won the Golden Bear ( Mussic Film) award and the Big Bronze Plate award.
In June 2008, the American Film Institude revealed its "10 Top 10"— the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Cinderella was acknowledged as the 9th greatest film in the animation genre.