Years before Walt Disney made his classic Cinderella…in fact, three years before he unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his competitor Max Fleischer produced an elaborate musical cartoon
short called Poor Cinderella starring the great Betty Boop. Encouraged, no doubt, by his distributor (Paramount Pictures), Fleischer embarked on a series of “Color Classics” that were intended to rival Disney’s award-winning Silly Symphonies. Because Disney secured exclusive use of the new three-strip Technicolor process for three years, in return for taking a chance on it, Fleischer had to make do with the older two-color process, but Poor Cinderella is still pretty lavish by Max’s standards.
It’s an odd, hybrid cartoon: on the one hand, it tells the classic fairy tale, with all the expected ingredients (in just ten minutes’ time), and spotlights an original song that was even published in sheet-music form. Oddly, the powers-that-were decided not to use Betty’s normal voice (Mae Questel) but replace it with a mellower singer. And while the skills of the studio animators weren’t up to Disney’s, they tried their best to dress up this short. Yet director Dave Fleischer wasn’t willing to abandon his off-the-wall sense of comedy, as you’ll see in a variety of throwaway gags. (I actually prefer the 1932 Betty Boop Snow White, which is one of the most bizarre cartoons ever made.)
Where Poor Cinderella does stand out is its use of Fleischer’s revolutionary use of live-action
three-dimensional sets, a technique that predated Disney’s celebrated multiplane camera. Clear cels featuring cartoon characters were suspended in the midst of cardboard and paper-mache backdrops, placing them in a multi-plane environment.
Lest this go unnoticed, Paramount added these words at the very start of the piece under its mountain logo: “Patent pending for Special Processes used in this production.” The unusual technique was later revealed in an issue of Popular Mechanics. Click Link 1 and Link 2 to see original article. The process was also featured in an episode of Paramount’s Popular Science short-subject series in 1939, which you can see HERE .
When I was a kid and first saw Poor Cinderella on television, I was annoyed that it was essentially serious; I wanted the usual funny Fleischer fare I’d come to expect. Today, I appreciate what the studio was trying to do…even if it isn’t a complete success.
You can enjoy all the Color Classics on a DVD set from VCI Entertainment called Somewhere in
Dreamland. Or you can watch Poor Cinderella in its entirety on YouTube.