Monday, September 23, 2013

Reel Connections: Disney's "Cinderella" (1950) from the Hapsburg perspective

The other night, I saw Disney's classic Cinderella (1950) for the first time in many, many years. Probably, too many. I of course enjoyed it tremendously. How could you not? It features some of the best music that even appeared in a Disney film (in my opinion) by Mack David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman. It has an incredible voice cast, topped by the lovely Ilene Woods. The story is, of course, to die for. And with its beautiful animation drawn by Marc Davis, Eric Larson, and Milt Kahl among others, Cinderella has a certain elegant grace that makes it a timeless film.
It was the animation that really struck me when I saw Cinderella. There was a certain element of sophistication that I simply loved. And because I loved it, I began doing some outside research in an attempt to find the inspiration for the design. And then it hit me- there was a profoundly Hapsburg influence!
Stick with me for a while and give me a chance to explain. I know it sounds absolutely ludicrous, but, as usual, I'll have the visual evidence to back me up. In case you're not up on your European History, the Hapsburgs were the imperial dynasty that ruled the Austrian Empire for centuries. I usually think of the Hapsburgs in their later years, before the utterly destructive World War I, in the later 19th century. I think of Franz Josef, of beautiful Vienna, and Strauss' timeless waltzes.
 A young Franz Josef I
Portrait ca. 1851 by Johan Ranzi
It was the thoughts of Emperor Franz Josef that really got me thinking. And when I began looking up some 19th century Austrian imperial portraiture I realized why. Prince Charming and the King are both based highly on this style.
Prince Charming appears highly influenced upon the younger portraits of Franz Josef and even some of his sons. Just look at the uniform, the hair, the bearing. I think that cream-colored tunic with gold trim and red and gold pants look a little suspect. Not to mention the fairly obvious imitation of the style of clothing. If Disney had included a red and white sash for the prince, the subtle allusion would become much more obvious, don't you think.

When you think of it from this angle, the King also shares these similarities. And from similarities, I mainly am alluding to Franz Josef's prominent mutton chops that he wore later in his life, as well as the uniform. While I doubt that the noble emperor had the temper of the king in Cinderella... who knows?

As an aside, I also noticed this time a fleeting look at some animated Dresden Shepherd china figures. The Dresden Shepherds (and Shepherdesses) were a popular China design that appeared throughout Europe starting at the end of the 18th century and they have generally remained pretty popular because of their cute, elegant appeal. Dresden, as you may know, was an important and noted china manufacturer in Germany prior to its devastating destruction in World War II. The king uses the lovely figurines to show how he's going to set the prince and his soon-to-be bride together. His improbable (but actually successful) plan seems as fragile as the china figurines he's using as a demonstration.
Whether Mary Blair, a Disney pioneer who is often considered one of the driving forces in the iconic look and design of Cinderella, did this purposely will probably be forever unknown. Charles Perrault's fairy tale which served as the version of the story that Disney adapted, took place in 17th century France, while Disney's Cinderella is almost certainly 19th century Continental European. I like to think that the animators, seeking to encapsulate an elegant world of fleeting beauty, looked to the bygone Austrian Empire and the graceful sophistication that its monarchs embodied, as their inspiration. As you know, when it comes to art and film, I rarely believe in coincidences and I strongly support the idea that art and film are so interconnected it is hard to believe. Regardless of the inspiration behind the characters, the end result is undoubtedly fantastic and as timeless as ever.


  1. I love you! Just got caught up on all those summer blogs. I'm definitely going to be assigning some reading for the new APAH group. Get ready for a new bunch of followers!

    1. I'm thinking of doing a couple Disney-themed pieces because they go over very well. Were able to check out my Snow White post? I have to honest, you were the one who inspired me for that one!

  2. Interesting article. But I dont think the film's style is influenced by the Hapsburgs in particular. Prince Charming's outfit was standard among men of european high society of the time. The King's mutton chops were also very common among older men at the time. And as you say yourself, Dresden Shepherd china figures were popular throughout Europe.

  3. Indeed, the Dresden china doll part of the post was just a matter of personal interest. And, I'll grant you that the mutton chops are probably just coincidence. But, surely you find the similarities between the Hapsburgs and Prince Charming fascinating. Somehow, I find it unlikely that the prince would simply, by coincidence, be dressed in the same style and color scheme as the Hapsburgs. From that observation, I base the validity on my elder Franz Josef association with the king.


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