Cendrillon Review

AKA: Cinderella (1899), Georges Melies’ Cinderella, The Little Glass Slipper, La Petite Pantoufle de Verre
Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Surrealism
Year Released: 1899
Distributor: Unlicensed
Origin: France
Running Time: 6 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: G
Related Films/Series: Cinderella or the Glass Slipper, Cinderella, A Lowland Cinderella, A Kiss for Cinderella, Ella Cinders, Cinderella Blues, Poor Cinderella, The Magic Shoes, Cinderella Meets Fella, First Love, Princess Cinderella, Swing Shift Cinderella, Cinderella (1947), Cinderella (1950 Disney film), Ancient Fistory, The Glass Slipper, Cinderella (1955), Cinderfella, Stop! Look! and Laugh!, Senorella and the Glass Huarache, More than a Miracle, Tri Orisky pro Popelku, The Slipper and the Rose, Cinderella (1979), The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin, Cinderella ’80, Maid to Order, If the Shoe Fits, Cinderella Monogatari, Ever After, Cinderella (1997 Rogers and Hammerstein remake), Cinderella (2000), La Cenicienta, Ella Enchanted, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Cinderella (2006), Bawang Merah Bawang Putih, Floricenta, Froribella, Floribella (2006 Portuguese remake), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, A Cinderella Story, Another Cinderella Story, Once Upon a Song, If the Shoe Fits (2016 remake), Christmas Wish, Happily N’ever After, Year of the Fish, Grazilda, Rags, Aik Nayee Cinderella, Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale, Cinderella (2015 Disney live action remake), Cinderella the Cat, Cinderella (2021), Sneakerella
For Fans Of: Beauty and the Beast (1946), The Kingdom of the Faeries, The Spider and the Butterfly, Alice in Wonderland (silent film)
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-The Cinderella story is often credited to either Charles Perrault and/or The Brothers Grimm, but the archetype dates back to ancient Egypt somewhere between 7 BC to 23 AD at the latest in estimation. In the European version that everyone knows, Cinderella was originally supposed to wear fur slippers, but there was a misspelling in French from “forrure” to “verre”/“verriere” which means glass. Yes, the glass slipper plot point was built on a freak spelling accident.-Cendrillon is the first film adaptation of the Cinderella story in history. This predates the Disney version by 51 years. This was also the first film ever to use the dissolve transition.

-The director is none other than French cinematic pioneer Georges Melies. He created over 200 films prior to this one and is also famous for films such as The Impossible Voyage, The Kingdom of the Faeries, and A Trip to the Moon. You know that one short film with the iconic scene of the rocket lodged into the moon’s eye that’s been referenced and parodied to this day? Yeah, he directed that. Also, Walt Disney was heavily influenced by this creator.

-The Fairy Godmother was played by Bluette Bernon who was also in A Trip to the Moon and Melies’s Joan of Arc film. She was considered to be one of the first character actors who was a regular with Melies’s filmography.

Here’s another entry in my Alternate Disney August! Much like Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, we’re dealing with an inaugural take of a famous fairy tale from France (so much alteration). Cinderella is one of the most famous fairy tales that has been referenced even if no one adapts or remakes the story, so this should be something familiar with everyone. What’s different is how I get to deal with a silent film and FINALLY covering a work from Georges Melies. For those who aren’t familiar with ancient cinema, this is a big deal. This Frenchman invented various special effects and was one of the earliest filmmakers who tried his hand at sci-fi and fantasy. He invented various transitions like the dissolve effect and even jump cuts which are basic now, but back in the late 19th century and very early 20th century, this was a very big deal. As I mentioned in the Fun Facts section, Walt Disney admired Melies’s work. It really begs the question whether there even would be a Disney corporation if Melies never existed. One could see the connections with the magical atmosphere, fairy tale adaptations, and colorful screen palettes in the presentation. This particular entry in my reviewing portfolio also has a new record because this is now officially the oldest film I’ve reviewed and the first one to have been released before the 20th century. I know this sounds silly, but it feels great beating my own records while also delving more into the very early history of cinema.

1, 2, 3! Sing this Prince parody with me! [cue music] So, nineteen zero zero party over, it’s out of time. So tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1899! I have absolutely no shame using that musical reference after seeing when this came out. :3

For those who have never seen or heard of any adaptation of this famous fairy tale, let me fill you in on the story. Cendrillon is about a poor woman who is forced to work like an indentured servant due to her stepsisters. She feels miserable until a fairy godmother pops up in her quarters to use her magic to dress her up in fancy dresses while random mice and pumpkins become coachmen and a carriage respectively. She goes to the royal ball where she falls in love with a prince, but at the stroke of midnight, her fancy outfits and entourage will disappear. Unfortunately, she accidentally left one of her glass slippers at the ball after she leaves. What will she do as the prince finds out who he danced with.

While I’m not knee-deep into Melies’s works compared to other film historians, his trademark magical feel is certainly there even with the age of this film. There’s a sense of surrealism and a tiny bit of experimentation (especially in the context of 1899 technology and cinematography) with the set designs, props, and lots of special effects. The jump cuts and dissolves really showed how innovative he was as no one else was doing this at the time, so this was very fascinating from a historical standpoint. The filming was intricate and I couldn’t believe how there were dozens of people who were filmed altogether in just a six minute timespan with the main characters, extras, dancers, etc. Another thing I noticed was how this story is told in media res which was even more surprising because of how straightforward storytelling was in that point in history (assuming if a silent film even had a story, let’s keep it real). This form of plotting was way ahead of its’ time, possibly for even decades, so I can see the innovation at work especially given when this was made. Think about it. Cendrillon came out literally a century before films such as The Sixth Sense, The Matrix and Disney’s adaptation of Tarzan, so you can really see how far movie-making has come in regards to visual production. I will also give props for the piano soundtrack for having a charming feel that works with this particular short film.

Cendrillon could be cleaned up a bit. Even though Melies was a cinematic vanguard, this is still a VERY dated movie. The effects are just standard operating procedure as even total novices on YouTube know how to do the same things in their videos and looking better doing so with basic effects or transitions. The short run time does hinder things as the pacing is at breakneck speed with everything. Despite my severe issues with Disney, even I have to admit that their version was much better with pacing and establishing the characters. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing the evil stepmother, and it was mainly the stepsisters who are barely even in this movie other than the first few seconds and the glass slipper test scene. The film does get weird with the dancing clocks and ballet celebration that almost comes off as a random moment. Let’s also keep it real with Cendrillon as well as future adaptations of the Cinderella story: She gets married to a prince that she literally only knows for maybe a day. That plot point has been exposed, deconstructed, and even parodied in this modern age. As much as I give Frozen a ton of crap for having overrated characters, an even MORE overrated soundtrack, feeling self-important, and for the teaser trailer legitimately plagiarizing The Snowman short, at least the “don’t marry someone you just met” dialogue is practical and needed to be said even though it kicked off Disney’s recent trend of explicitly self-critiquing their older movies (wish they had this self-awareness when it came to the racist garbage in their movies, but that’s a story for another day). That was easily more dated than the effects although most studios wouldn’t get the memo until nearly a century later, so I wouldn’t entirely put all the blame on Melies in that regard. One can really see how cinema has progressed despite some lingering issues in modern times.

This whimsical short was a fine entry into cinema history regardless if they’re based on fairy tales or not. The effects may be old, but this was still innovative seeing how everything was edited together. George Melies certainly earned his place in movie history with his special effects and for his artsier takes on different stories. However, some of the problems of other adaptations show up here especially with that light speed romance going on. Cendrillon has historical significance even though it’s not as well known as A Trip to the Moon as far as his catalog is concerned. It has an archetypal value with the Cinderella story as well as fantasy movies, so there is some use there.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like Georges Melies’s works.
-Add 1 point if you like surrealism in your fairy tales.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you prefer modern special effects.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you’re tired of princesses instantly falling in love with princes.

Pros:
-Innovative cinematography for the times
-Nice magical aesthetics
-Good piano soundtrack

Cons:
-Dated visuals
-Rushed storytelling
-Cinderella instantly falling in love with the prince is prehistoric and problematic

Final Score: 6/10 points

Content Advisory: Other than the implications of Cinderella getting married WAY too soon to the prince, there’s nothing really offensive about Cendrillon. I’d even argue that this makes the Disney version look like Game of Thrones in comparison from an objectionable content standpoint. Okay, this could weird out modern viewers unfamiliar with older silent films, but the surreal style isn’t objectionable.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Cendrillon is property of Georges Melies. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Georges Melies.

4 comments

  1. Wow, I didn’t know that Georges Melies did a Cinderella film, cool!

    Interesting how the fantastical & fairy tales have been such drivers in cinema and also changes in the medium – I hadn’t realised that about jump cuts, awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that until recently either! This was a good addition to this month-long project.

      Very much so. It’s like they directly and indirectly influence cinema. One could make an argument that Hollywood somehow makes their own fairy tales and lore like Star Wars or the MCU. Yeah, there are so many film editing techniques that modern viewers take for granted and it’s something I definitely realized back in my university days when I took those film history courses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! ‘Star Wars’ is a great example too.

        I always think of it (aside from the Hero’s Journey stuff) as using a lot of blockbuster-style cinematic language in terms of its production elements, things that make me think of say ‘Jaws’ and things which then became commonly recreated by subsequent directors (hoping I expressed myself clearly there :D).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks!

        I see what you mean there with common production and storytelling elements. You can also add editing techniques, cinematography, and overall atmosphere going on. That’s not even getting into films made with the Hollywood method vs. the Auteur method.

        Liked by 1 person

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