Friday, January 9, 2009

Cinderella (1922 Laugh-O-Gram)

The final Laugh O Gram film completed by Walt Disney’s fledgling company was Cinderella, a modern take on the old fairy tale. You’ll remember the characters from the previous fairy tale short, Puss in Boots. They play similar roles here.

We open on a title card telling us about a girl who lives on her own with her friend the cat. Yes, my friends, the cat has returned again. The same little black cat from all of the Laugh O Gram films so far is back again for Cinderella. I know, there was no cat in the original story, but you can probably get the sense already that Disney has a thing for animals.

Cinderella is the same girl from Puss in Boots that was the object of the young boy’s affections. The roles are reversed this time. We open with Cinderella and the cat doing dishes – Cindy scrubs, the cat dries – while her stepsisters lounge in the backyard. The stepsisters are an interesting design – one fat, one thin. This is an interesting contrast to the later animated film, that we can discuss when we get there in about 30 years of Disney time.

The scene cuts over to the prince, who is played by the boy from Puss in Boots. He is chasing a bear while riding a horse and shooting, which takes quite a bit of talent. Riding a horse alone would be a feat for me, but this guy is shooting a gun and hitting a bear in the rear end while riding the horse. No wonder the card that introduced him as the prince called him “a wonderful fellow.” The dog from Puss in Boots is running along behind him as they chase the bear.

Ahead of them, several bears are having a little dance party, with one in particular dancing around in the middle while the others play music. That sequence involves some fun animation, with the main bear removing his tail to play as well. But when the bears see the prince coming, they flee into a nearby cavern to escape. It doesn’t work. The prince follows them into the cave, horse and all, and ends up dragging all the bears out with a rope.

In celebration, the prince has an invitation made for a ball, to be held “Tuesday, Friday the 13th.” I really don’t know what that gag means, but I’ll admit that it made me laugh. The prince loads the dog up with his invitations and sends the dog out to disperse them. This leads to my favorite sequence in the short, where the dog hops on a bike to deliver the invitations like a paper boy. He hits a rock and tumbles down a hill, emerging from a cloud of dust with a bandaged head and a crutch. A bystander comes by and says via word balloon “Are you hurt?” The dog simply looks at him, then bashes the man over the head with his crutch. I laughed out loud. It’s just the sort of thing that you don’t expect from a Disney cartoon, but it’s totally what would happen.

From there, you probably can guess the story. The stepsisters go to the ball, Cinderella wishes that she could, her fairy godmother shows up and bestows a flapper dress and a Model T on her, then she heads to the ball. Cinderella is the bell of the ball, which is a very contemporary (for the 20s) affair, with flapper dancing all over the place. The prince and she get together, but, as expected, at midnight she flees and her clothes turn to rags, but she leaves behind a shoe. The prince follows the shoe tracks the next morning, down on all fours sniffing the ground, only to find that the other shoe had fallen off as well and was now on a duck. However, he soon finds Cinderella, fits her foot to the shoe, and they live happily ever after.

This short was good, but compared to Puss in Boots or the Four Musicians of Bremen, it’s not nearly as inventive. This short is fairly straightforward in its storytelling, not offering new or different perspectives or innovative sequences like you see in the earlier shorts. It’s very interesting to me that this story is the only one from the Laugh O Grams that Walt chose to come back to later. Did he feel this was not done properly? Or did he just want to do a big grandiose fairy tale and didn’t care what the specific tale was?

Being the last of the Laugh O Grams seems to have hurt this short, because the cool little inside gags like the Cinderella poster in Puss in Boots are not here, nor are the extended sequences like the house being barraged with fire in the Musicians short. It is definitely entertaining, and the dog hitting the guy with his crutch is laugh out loud funny, but overall, this is the weakest of the shorts besides Little Red Riding Hood.



Note: I'm having a problem with getting my pictures to work, but you can watch the whole short here. Have a great weekend!

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