Who would’ve thought that today I’d be close to owning four versions on DVDs of the same classic fairy tale—three down, one to go? From the early 1950s, the Disney animated version was first. It was brilliantly drawn, and contained several timeless songs. Two comic tunes were “Cinderella, Cinderella” and “Bippety Boppety Boo.” In 1957 and 1964 there were two TV special versions. Both featured musical scores by Rogers and Hammerstein II, although some of the songs differed. Fourth, still being shown, the latest non-musical version of Cinderella has other aspects to recommend it.
The animated version did a great job in communicating the evil of the stepmother, Cinderella’s de facto slave-master. Her snarls and evil eye, directed at various beings, show vividly her vicious character. Her cat, Lucifer, is an animal kingdom version of the stepmother and does get its just desserts near the end.
Each of the four versions treats resolution and fitting of the glass slipper on the heroine’s foot a little differently. In the first, the stepmother has locked Cinderella in the attic, while her daughters attempt the unsuccessful fit. When Cinderella’s friends get her the key to release her, she runs downstairs. The observant stepmother trips the court attendant with the glass slipper. When he falls, the glass slipper hits the floor and is demolished. But to this vicious woman’s dismay, Cinderella produces the matching slipper in her possession.
There is general agreement that the two stepsisters are ugly and stupid. When their bare feet are shown in one sequence, animated drawing shows that even their bare feet are homely (and stupid).
A hit song for the Fairy Godmother is “Bippety Boppety Boo.” To me, this makes her more lovable than the godmothers of later versions.
In 1957, for the live TV special, Julie Andrews played the feature role. She was then the toast of Broadway, starring in My Fair Lady. One song written for her is “In My Own Little Corner of the Room.” Together with the prince at the ball, they sing, “Ten Minutes Ago.” Since Andrews was, after all, the main star of the show, in duets with the Prince, she seems to take a subtle lead.
For me, one minor drawback of this version is that after the Prince finds Cinderella and fits her with his glass slipper, the stepmother and her two daughters seem to get off quite easily—no condemnation, no putdown, much less banishment.
The 1964 TV special version had a score by the same Rogers and Hammerstein. But there were differences. A teenage newcomer, Leslie Anne Warren, starred as Cinderella. The Prince had Broadway credits. Leslie Anne had a strong voice, but not of Julie Andrews’ caliber. In duets, it seemed subtly, that the Prince took more of a lead than in 1957.
One new gimmick song was “Stepsisters’ Lament”. At the Ball, the two losers can’t understand why the Prince would prefer a “merely lovely” Cinderella to them. Pat Carroll and Alice Ghostly do a masterful job in handling the lyrics. One sings, “She’s a frothy little bubble…and without the slightest trouble, I could break her little arm.”
Warren had one advantage over Andrews in being an accomplished ballerina. She dances a solo, excellently.
When the Prince comes to Cinderella’s cottage on his quest, she sneaks out the back door. Earlier in the show, she had given the traveling Prince a cup of water. Despite her shyness, she decides that nothing can be lost now if she offers him another one. When her stepmother screams at her, and orders her back into the cottage, the Prince yells, “Silence!” He then takes his slipper and, of course, it fits on Cinderella’s foot.
The newest version is strictly non-musical. Cate Blanchett does a good job at playing the heavy, the stepmother. The heroine’s real name is Ella. Blanchett fastened the “Cinder” part to fit the slave-like duties. When Cinderella wears a dress she has made, in hopes of going to the Ball, the stepmother tears it, to make it unusable.
Later, the Prince and his team come to their house in search of the right foot. The stepmother tries to limit their search to her two daughters. But the Prince’s associate insists on trying literally every young woman. When Cinderella comes forth, the shoe fits perfectly, as expected.
When Blanchett tells the Prince she is her mother, Cinderella speaks up and retorts: “You’re no mother of mine.” But when the Prince and Cinderella marry, the trio of evil stepmother and two daughters receive no punishment. The argument could be made that this is accentuating the positive.
At least one other TV special version of Cinderella has been made, based on the Rogers and Hammerstein tunes. But I think I’ll stick to the four happy versions of the tale and, from time to time, enjoy them all.