On this day in 1950, Walt Disney’s animated feature Cinderella opens in theaters across the United States.
The Chicago-born Disney began his career as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City. After arriving in Hollywood in 1923, he and his older brother Roy set up shop in the back of a real-estate office and began making a series of animated short films called Alice in Cartoonland, featuring various animated characters. In 1928, he introduced the now-immortal character of Mickey Mouse in two silent movies. That November, Mickey debuted on the big screen in Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon ever made. Walt Disney provided Mickey’s squeaky voice himself. The company went on to produce a series of sound cartoons, such as the “Silly Symphony” series, which included The Three Little Pigs (1933) and introduced characters like Donald Duck and Goofy.
Disney made a risky bet in 1937 when he championed–and put $1.5 million of his own money into–Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first-ever full-length animated feature film. The risk paid off in spades after the film grossed $8 million at the box office, an incredible sum during the Great Depression. Four more animated hits followed in the growing Disney canon–Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942)–before full-scale production was stalled by wartime economic problems. By the end of the decade, audiences were eagerly awaiting the next great Disney offering, having had to satisfy themselves with so-called “package films” like Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948).
Cinderella, based on another Brothers Grimm fairy tale, was chosen for its similarity to the Snow White story. The film’s immediate source was Charles Perrault’s French version of the fairy tale, which tells the story of a young girl whose father dies, leaving her at the mercy of her oppressive stepmother and two unsympathetic stepsisters. As in Snow White, Cinderella gets the help of a few friends–in this case singing mice and birds as well as a Fairy Godmother–to escape the prison of her servitude and win the heart of Prince Charming. Along the way to its happy ending–a Disney trademark–the film featured lively animation sequences and enduring songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and the Oscar-nominated “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”
Six years in the making, Cinderella became one of Disney’s best-loved films and one of the highest-grossing features of 1950. As with Snow White and other classic animated features, the studio held periodic re-releases of Cinderella in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981 and 1987, keeping its popularity alive among new generations of moviegoers.