Poor Cinderella: A Betty Boop Cartoon Review
The Cinderella fairy tale’s popularity has been long and vast. Though I always thought of the 1950s Disney Cinderella as one of the earliest Cinderella cartoons, there were at least a few cartoon shorts that predate Disney’s classic. This Betty Boop short was put out in 1934 in Cinecolor (Technicolor existed back then but was owned by Disney for several years) with several unique processes during the time including Fleischer’s studio’s rotograph (that gave the feeling of dimension and varying speeds) and Fleischer’s rotoscoping (where the drawings are literally traced over human/animal subjects on film, instead of just using the subjects for reference).
The story starts out with palace guards marching through the street with a royal decree on a banner – the king’s throwing a ball! And no cover charge. That’s very generous of him.
Betty Boop, or Cinderella as I’ll call her, hears the news from her window and decides to sing to herself in front of her mirror. Her song reveals to us that she has incredibly prophetic dreams – for Prince Charming romances her in her dream world, and she seems quite certain she’s destined to be a princess.
Unfortunately, the horrible screams of her step-sisters interrupt her song. Oh my, the step-sisters… well, I’m not quite certain their designs are human. They shake her and hound her with orders – fix my hair, get my dress. We’re shown a clock as Cinderella slaves away for hours ironing and scrubbing and shoe-shining.
Not surprisingly, she gets no thanks for her hard work. She tells the step-sisters she hopes they enjoy the ball, but the door is slammed in her face. Wow, harsh. She reprises a line of her song nobody loves me and proceeds to sob in a corner.
Apparently her fairy godmother has been living in the candle because she pops right out of the flame. Fairy godmother sings a song explaining who she is and tells Cinderella to bring a pumpkin, six mice, two lizards and bring them right here. She also likes to talk in rhymes.
Cinderella runs as fast as her little legs can carry her and returns with the items. The fairy godmother lets the mice loose (is that really a good plan?) but incredibly they don’t run away. Instead they run circles around the pumpkin and then proceed to sing (along with the lizards and the pumpkin) of their joy about being released – and the pumpkin not being eaten for pumpkin pie. I don’t know how they figured out the godmother’s plan, but the mice roll the pumpkin outside themselves and line up in a row.
They’re transformed into a beautiful carriage with horses and servants. The fairy godmother zaps Cinderella with her wand and the magic proceeds to shrink Cinderella’s dress so that she’s… in her undergarments? Fairy godmother, she’s outside! Someone might see! She zaps her again and the undergarments start shrinking… umm…. But luckily it stops before it gets shocking and instead turns into a stylish, strapless gown. Nice job, fairy godmother.
Cinderella continues to make adorable oohing, ahhing and squeals as she gets in her carriage. The fairy godmother warns her though: remember about midnight. Did Cinderella know about midnight already? The godmother fades away chanting remember. I think Cinderella got the message.
Cinderella reprises her song; certain she’s going to meet Prince Charming and be a princess. A horse chimes in with the song, while all the horse hoof-beats march in perfect rhythm to the music.
At the ball, the prince enters at the top of a huge staircase. He sees Cinderella enter and furious rubs his eyes. Strangely enough… the prince is wearing blue eyeshadow. Huh...
Cupid makes an appearance, tossing his bow aside for a hammer which he slams on the prince’s head. The prince literally slides down the staircase head first and then pops right up onto his feet in front of Cinderella. Suave entrance there, Princey.
They start a lovely dance. A man sings Cinderella’s theme song through a megaphone on a balcony – and is he wearing short shorts?? That or his tights are skin colored. Not the best choice dude.
As Cinderella and the Prince dance they go into their own little dream world. Just as they kiss, the clock strikes! Not mid-kiss, clock! The Prince grabs Cinderella’s hand as she makes a run for it, but she breaks free (and loses a shoe). She runs down a staircase and then slides down the bannister of the next. Nice!
The Prince calls loudly at the ball, asking to know who the beautiful maiden is. No one answers, so he, of course, plans to marry whoever can wear the slipper.
The girls line up and try the shoe one by one. This Prince has a great system going here, speed, order, efficiency. Not to mention, he makes all the ladies come to him. No wandering through the countryside for him. Not sure why he put the shoe on top of a monolith, though, forcing all the women to climb up that gigantic staircase.
One of Cinderella’s step-sisters try the shoe on and beats the air with her fists repeatedly because her foot won’t fit. Finally, her toe has had enough. The toe, busting out of the torn sock, shakes its head – silently saying: it’s not gonna work, give it up. It’s a little disturbing that her toe has a face though and apparently a mind…
But wait, Cinderella shows up!? She simply puts the shoe on! That’s it people! No being locked in a tower or crazy escapades. It was never that difficult was it Cinderella? The crowd rejoices! They found her!
Cinderella and her Prince ride in a carriage that looks… exactly like her old one. Together they sing her theme song, which I suppose she taught him as soon as they were reunited. A just married sign hangs on the back of their carriage as they return to the palace.
The step-sisters get the last moment though, as they bicker outside the palace blaming each other for, I’m not certain what. Maybe the fact that they mistreated Cinderella, but most likely that they didn’t figure out she was the girl at the ball and stop her from getting her happy ending.
What an adorable and funny little cartoon! If I had watched this as a child, I’m certain I would’ve been captured by the prettiness and cuteness. I’ve always known about Betty Boop, but this is actually my first time to watch one of her shorts. I can see why she was popular – she’s pretty cute and I find her little squeals hilarious, if not cutesy.
The quality of art here is wonderful. The backgrounds, aided by Fleischer’s studio’s rotograph, makes it feel so much larger and elaborate. The palace itself is beautifully painted. Because it’s Cinescope, the primary colors are blue and red and they work quite well. Also, because this is apparently the only colorized Betty Boop short, they decided to capitalize on it and make her hair red (it’s usually black).
Fleischer Studios was put together by two brothers, Max and Dave Fleischer. They apparently created their own rotoscoping technique. Not only did the bring us Betty Boop but other cartoon favorites like Popeye the Sailor (I loooved that one as a kid) and a 1940s Superman cartoon (you really have to see it; it’s extremely well-done, very stylized). Sadly, the Fleischer Studios, owned by Paramount, wasn’t doing well financially by the ‘40s. Dave and Max weren’t getting along either and after Paramount took over and changed the studio up, renaming it Famous Studios. Dave left and Paramount made Max leave the studios. Famous Studios continued on with Popeye the sailor, Superman, and new cartoons. Betty Boop’s last cartoon was in 1939, before the takeover. Still she lives on today through her cartoons that even modern audiences still remember and enjoy.
If you want to see this cute short, here’s a link to a youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjpCaEhBNJU . The quality is fantastic and also where I got my screen captures.