Disney Diaries – 1950s


There are a lot of films to cover this decade – some which surprised me, some which disappointed me, and some that left me scratching my head. Let’s dive in.

Cinderella (1950, directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, Ben Sharpsteen (production supervisor))

I know I’m predisposed to have a positive experience revisiting this as it was one of my childhood favourites, and I’m sorry for my bias, but boy this is a breath of fresh air after the 1940s films!

Starting off – it has a plot. Yes, a predictable and well-worn one, but a plot nevertheless. Narratively, the film isn’t afraid to push itself. Locking Cinderella in the tower, having the stepsisters destroy her gown, and the amount of physical and emotional abuse Cinderella endures are narrative themes that show depth and consideration to this story. It’s not something as surface level as Dumbo – we’re actually engaging with dark themes and exploring them. Although Maurice Rapf’s original version of the film would have been ahead of itself by a number of years (his version involved a more rebellious Cinderella who was tired of the abuse and revolted, his reasoning that she had to ‘earn’ her freedom), this version is still great, and honestly surprised me as I revisited it.

A lot of the feeling around this film is that people rank it towards the bottom of the ‘Disney classics’ list, and I think that potentially comes from the universal recognition – and therefore complacency – of the story. I think what that mindset fails to capture, though, is the genuine drama between Lucifer and the mice, the animation of Cinderella getting her ballgown, the animals coming together to make her dress – in short, the magic. ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ is one of the most imaginative, joyful sequences I’ve ever seen on film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this re-watch and would go so far as to say it’s perhaps the most overlooked Disney film. I know it seems unreasonable to say that, given the film’s critical acclaim, but I think there’s more to this film than just ‘one of the princess ones’. Gus Gus, for example, is one of the best characters in all of the Disney universe.

This decade is the biggest we’ve had so far, and it’s interesting to note that Cinderella was competing with the Alice in Wonderland production to see which finished first. You can tell we’re right at the start of the golden era, and that feeling of possibility is palpable in this film.


Alice in Wonderland (1951, directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske)

Argh this movie is utterly infuriating! I wanted to grab the TV and shake it with how frustrated I was. I had such a visceral reaction when watching this film that I don’t know if I can ever watch it again – seriously.

The purposely nonsensical narrative is tolerable, but perhaps my main frustration of this film – and I acknowledge that this may be my own prejudices, and entirely deliberate by the filmmakers – is that the film keeps you on the edge of anxiety the entire time. No one answers Alice’s questions about what’s going on – not the White Rabbit or the Mad Hatter or the caterpillar. Of course, this delayed gratification can be engaging in film, even enthralling, but this film gives so little time to its ‘all a dream’ resolution that the catharsis can’t truly be felt.

Further – they’re all so mean to her! The rabbit, at the tea party, the red queen, the caterpillar. Literally no one Alice encounters is nice or helpful. It’ll make you want to do Alice’s signature clasped fists and foot stamp.

Animation-wise, it’s fine – good, even. But it’s not a remarkable leap up from Cinderella.

It’s interesting to note that this film was in the works for a long time, but production was delayed due to World War Two and the sheer cost associated with animating it. There were also some legal troubles with a French stop-animation film with the same name, due to be released around the same time. Perhaps Disney’s inability to see the forest for the trees is why this one just doesn’t have the same magical feeling as the rest.

I’m going to take a definitive stance and say that this is my least favourite Disney film. I just can’t stand the emotional experience watching it.


Peter Pan (1953, directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske)

Yikes! This one is definitely the most problematic of the bunch, and perhaps the most outdated Disney film I’ve watched so far. The characterisation of Native Americans as ‘savages’ and ‘redskins’, the musical number ‘What Made the Red Man Red?’, and the mocking of the ‘Indian’ war cry are just so offensive. It’s honestly hard to watch for me, a white person, that I can’t imagine how offensive it would be to Native American people.

Looking at the film’s production is quite interesting. Pre-production work was halted on the film following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as the US military commissioned Disney to produce war propaganda films (I kid you not), but the studio was able to pick it back up after the war. Fascinatingly, J.M. Barrie gave the rights to his Peter Pan stories to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which gave the institution control of the rights and meant they could receive royalties from it. They’re even credited in the opening cards.

Peter Pan opening credits, Disney 1953

While this film does make me long for the lost opportunity to have Cary Grant voice Captain Hook, or a story told through Nana’s eyes (which they genuinely considered), it does have enjoyable parts. Nana is, of course, the highlight. Her taking care of the Darling children, stacking blocks and tucking them into their beds, is pure delight. I love her very much and would like her to tuck me into bed please and thank you.

I’d forgotten how unlikeable Peter is! The original fuckboy – he’s got Tinkerbell, Wendy, and Tiger Lily on the go, faces no repercussions for his actions, and just gets to live being a boy forever. Of course, that’s part of the film’s point – Peter can’t match the maturity of any of his counterparts, especially not Wendy. (Oh, and if the voice of Wendy is familiar to you, it’s Kathryn Beaumont, who also voiced Alice.)

The story is predictably great. Michael and his teddy bear are adorable, Nana is the heart of the film, and the ending ties up everything nicely. There are some genuinely funny moments between Captain Hook and Smee which showcases the best of slapstick comedy.

Overall, the film has some magical moments, but the racism really can’t be overlooked. For my rating, I’m rating the film without those sections, just for the record.


Lady and the Tramp (1955, directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske)

It’s no secret that I love pets of any kind, so you can imagine how I feel about this film, and I ended up enjoying it even more than I remembered! There’s a moment towards the end with Trusty where my memory failed me and I thought we were in for an entry on doesthedogdie.com, however, there was nothing to fear.

A fun fact is that the opening scene, where Jim Dear gifts Lady to Darling is inspired by Disney’s real life, where after forgetting a dinner date with his wife, he surprised her with a puppy in a hat box. All I’m saying is, I don’t care about the dinners – give me puppies.

Some interesting background about the film is that this is the first animated feature ever made in CinemaScope, which required a completely different approach to animation, as layout artists had to move characters across a background instead of the background passing behind them. CinemaScope technology wasn’t even available at all cinemas at the time, so Disney had to release two versions of the film, requiring restructuring of the animation so characters weren’t cut off the edges of the screen.

Unfortunately, this film has a questionable inclusion of a racist Siamese song, which was solely my aversion to Siamese cats as a child. It’s truly awful. The way the eyes are drawn, the cats being called Si and Am, the song that evokes vaguely Asian music with gongs and cymbals… it’s horrible. I can’t believe this got through. It’s on par with the yellow face used in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and sullies what would be a near perfect film.

If you can remove this one scene from the film, you have an engaging narrative. I was fuelled with hatred for Aunt Sarah, and completely on board with Tramp and Lady’s love story (even though Tramp is a bit of a fuckboy. Seriously, what is it with Disney?).

Fun fact: Lady was based on a real-life Lady, story artist Joe Grant’s dog, so that’s another thing to love.

I also love the use of Lady’s point of view calling her owners “Jim Dear” and “Darling”. It’s a charmer of a film, and to be honest, the only Disney live action remake I’m interested in watching.


Maleficent’s dragon transformation, Sleeping Beauty, Disney: The Magic of Animation, ACMI, 2021.
Achieved through layering foreground, background, and mid-ground illustrations.

Sleeping Beauty (1959, Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark)

Without a doubt, this one has the most plot holes. Why send Aurora away as a baby? Why not have her live until she’s 14, and then send her away? Why can’t the fairies just blast through the forest of thorns? Why does Maleficent have to specify such a specific way for Aurora to die? Why are they moving Aurora from the cottage to the palace on her birthday? Wouldn’t it be safer to lock her in a room just for the day and move her tomorrow when the coast is clear?!

I’m not sure it actually holds up, which is surprising because if you asked me, I’d say it was pretty high up on my list. It’s certainly the most I quote from:

Fauna: “One tsp. Tsp?”

Merryweather: “One teaspoon, dear.”

Fauna: “Oh, yes one teaspoon, of course.” [proceeds to dump in spoonfulls of sugar]

The magic is beautifully animated. Much like in Cinderella, the spells look like glitter on the screen.

But it’s hard to not see the similarities between this and Snow White, and if you dig even lightly into the background it’s probably because the story elements for this film originated from discarded ideas for Snow White. We’re only in the third decade, and we’re already recycling ideas? Speaking of recycling, Maleficent even says, ‘You idiots! You fools! You imbeciles!’ to her henchmen – a quote most often associated with Cruella de Vil.

Maleficent is certainly the best villain we’re seen so far. She’s perfectly creepy, powerful, and even shapeshifts. I’m not surprised she got her own spin-off film, and even though the film was disappointing, Angelina Jolie was perfectly cast.

Prince Philip is the first of our princes to have a personality, which is refreshing, and also the first to have a name (Snow White’s was called ‘The Prince’; Cinderella’s – “Prince Charming”).

It’s sad to note this film wasn’t received well, and was hugely expensive for the studio. Its box office results meant many animators lost their jobs as Disney made a net loss. Re-releases helped gain the film new audiences, and now the film is relatively well-received.

Interestingly, Aurora was modelled off the same actress – Helene Stanley – who was used for Cinderella. Most of the criticisms come from comparisons of Aurora to Snow White, but I think Cinderella is more similar.

Also, a small gripe, but why is Aurora most often associated with the pink dress, when she spends the majority of the film in a blue one? Hilariously, I remember my sister and I pausing and ‘slow-fast-forwarding’ frame by frame on the VHS to find out which colour the film ended on (it’s pink) so we would know the true colour. I guess the VHS/DVD cover designers thought the same.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did when I was little, now because I can see all the infuriating plot holes within the script. Though I will admit that ‘Once Upon a Dream’ is still as romantic as ever.

4/5 (I can’t shake the nostalgia, ok?!)

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