Friday, March 13, 2015

Dignity vs Ego: Walt Disney's Cinderella (1950) & Progress Of the Soul

A friend of mine once asked me why Walt Disney hated women so much, a thought which struck me as incredibly odd because so many of his heroines were women (Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and all of the more modern "Disney Princesses" as well); my friend corrected me, however, and pointed out that the mother of heroines had always died: Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella, Sword In the Stone, etc). She was right: in the late 1940s, through the 1950s, Disney had a way of providing us with characters who either had no mother, or the mother had died; given that it's a family company making family films, it was an odd pattern, but--seen through the eyes of history--makes perfect sense.
When Walt Disney Studios released Cinderella in 1950, the United States had come out of World War II as a super-power, but had gone into the war in a state of economic depression and a bad reputation for individualism that wouldn't work so well with battle-hardened European allies. Films such as Breakfast At Tiffany's, Calamity Jane and even How the West Was Won, depict heroines with some pretty rough edges, coming into glamorous positions from "the backwoods" and having to adapt; those are all metaphors for the US herself coming onto the world stage and taking a place of prominence. Disney's fairy tales released during this time all echo these metaphors as manifestos of America coming into her own and casting off the "country cousin" image. The "absent mother figure," we can deduce then, is England, and the other "motherlands" early settlers left to cast in their new, national identity in this wild, growing country. This is a valid interpretation, but watching this film, the limited scope of the historical interpretation--while valid and interesting--fails to explain why, after so many years, it still touches our hearts, regardless of your age or station in life. It's because it is about the heart that we still watch it today and it still has such power over us.
We need to be aware of the historical interpretation because, as one of the first lessons in film criticism each student learns, each film comes out at the time that is right for that film: a film cannot have been made five years earlier, or five years later, they exist in their historical time frame for a reason, and finding that reason reveals what it was about the culture at that time which needed the expression the the film's artistry and issues. Cinderella came out in 1950, after World War II;  this week, Kenneth Branaugh's remake of Cinderella comes out in theaters and the question is, why has this classic been "recycled" for today's audiences? How is the tale of a young woman made a servant in her own household, her inheritance squandered for the advancement of others, applicable to the conscious of the US today?
Marxists, Feminists, Psychoanalysts, New Historicists and Deconstructionists can all provide interesting insights into the story, but none of them offer us a deeper engagement into the power of the narrative, as simple as it is. It doesn't have that many diverse elements to it, nor is there any real clever devices in use, and it's because of these very traits that, rather than an academic, secular approach to the story, we should take a more spiritual and moral approach to it and decode the singular traits of the narrative from this perspective: the talking mice, the pumpkin coach, the glass slipper and the fairy godmother, all make perfect sense when considered from a direct Christian approach, which at the moment, may sound incredibly odd.
How do we understand the "kind and devoted" father who gave his daughter every comfort and luxury? The Founding Fathers, who used their wisdom to secure for us, their children, a stately home with the luxuries of free will and industry; material goods, however, are not our sole purpose in life. We require more than just having a home, a bed, meals and work: why? Because we have souls, and our souls have their own, eternal needs. Marxists would look at the story of Cinderella and probably applaud the Step Mother for her silent coup revolution against the father of Cinderella--a white male power holder--and give it to the minority females (herself and two daughters) instead. That the Step Mother herself was of "good family" and had a title prior to marrying Cinderella's father wouldn't mean anything to them, because they would say that "marriage contracts" were a woman's menial labor and men's means of unilateral oppression of women, so that she got a title was her playing a man's game in a man's world. Likewise, a Marxist would applaud the lack of Christian principles in the Step Mother, and would also applaud the mediocrity of her daughters, so that they aren't putting themselves above anyone else, the way Cinderella--even though she has rightfully been reduced to a servant girl, because that's what is supposed to happen in a Marxist revolution--keeps putting herself above the step sisters by her arbitrary good looks and the social constructs that deem her "talented" in singing. Cinderella "dreaming" would certainly be put down and labeled harmful, not only to herself for wanting to rise above her station, but to the whole system that provides for more people than if she had inherited her father's property herself. Cinderella's dreaming is just a nice way of saying that she is "greedy." The disrepair and ruin that the chateau falls into, again, would be another social construct of what "ruin" is (like Detroit) because, Marxists would continue to argue, people are more important than things and the state of "ruin" for the chateau is better because it meant the Step Mother was spending the money on her and them, rather than on the house that is nothing but a sign of social status. Then, a Marxist would continue to argue, the Step Mother wanting one of her daughters to marry the Prince is a means of taking over the whole kingdom, and Cinderella "capturing" the Prince with her haute couture dress and glass slippers demonstrates what a capitalist system it is and that the Prince isn't really interested in the good and welfare of his people, just his own personal material gain and public image. They would site as a great injustice the "fall" of the Step Mother and her daughters because, after all, what more did Cinderella really need? She had her own room, companions in the animals, food, a job (which is the same as a purpose) and she was advancing the needs of the socialist revolution in the kingdom; she should have been perfectly content with that. The Step Mother and her daughters, on the other hand, were the helpless victims of Cinderella's, because then where would they go? No one would look after them the way they looked after the lazy, self-indulgent and skill-less Cinderella, so they are the victims of Cinderella, Cinderella is not their victim. The "justice" that may be served by the film is just a form of propaganda against socialism and the masses, promoting the 1% (in this case, royalty and those "eligible"--the landed gentry) and brainwashing people to believe that the 1% will ever allow them to come into their circle; Cinderella didn't "rise up" to become the princess, she was all ready one of their members, and she was just welcomed back by them because they don't like "new comers" and that is the great lie of capitalism. Again, those are the arguments that someone upholding the Marxist position would likely make, in one form or another, regarding the details of the story of Cinderella.  
Many of Disney's films from this time start out with a great, jewel-bound book being opened to a beautifully illustrated page, and a narrator stating the magical words, "Once upon a time," and that formula is the start of a magical spell for the audience. The book, from which the story is being taken, is a source of authority for the film makers: this is not a true story, but there is truth in it. While it didn't happen at a definite time in history, it has still happened, and continues to happen today, and will for as long as we walk the earth. There are two important elements in the start of the film which support a moral reading of the film; again, they are quite simple, but deceptively so.
"A dream is a wish" is straight out of Freud. Taking a psychoanalytic perspective now, they would probably attach the greatest importance of the plot to the moment when Cinderella's father dies and she is crying at his bedside. This is the dream of Cinderella's unconscious, a psychoanalyst would say, to be "re-united" with her father, and have sole possession of him sexually (not that there was a sexual relationship between them, but that Cinderella was jealous of the Step Mother, because the Step Mother had him in a way Cinderella couldn't). Remember, Cinderella's mother died, the only thing we see of her in the dress (more on this below); so when her mother died, the father re-directed his attention to Cinderella, and she became, in a sense, his second wife, but then Cinderella was replaced by the Step Mother, so that is the real hostility between the two. Except for the prince and the arch duke, we see all the main characters in their bed, and a bed means sex: the king, in his bed, is even fantasizing about the sex his son and daughter-in-law will have that will produce children for him, the way his own wife produced a son for him. Cinderella's dreams, therefore, are a complex response to her situation of bringing the father back from the dead in the form of the Prince; why the Prince? The one thing we know about the father is that he gave Cinderella everything she wanted; so, a Prince would be the one who, materially, could give Cinderella everything she wants. Remember, the king accuses his son of not wanting to get married; why? He probably suspects his son is gay (this is what a psychoanalyst would say) and so he has to force his son to get married. His son has "been away" because he can't live out his gay lifestyle in his own kingdom where the devastation of his exposure would mean ruin for his family. When he meets Cinderella, they agree that she doesn't want to have a sexual marriage, and he doesn't either, so the Prince is free to continue being gay, hiding behind a white marriage, and Cinderella gets to have the King for her surrogate father, which is why the King exposes his "foot fetish" in putting the fallen slipper on Cinderella's foot at the end, and she kisses him, because that's what the relationship is going to be in the future reality. Again, this is what a psychoanalyst would say.
The first element are windows, and the second element is death. When we first see the Step Mother and her daughters, they are on the other side of a window, looking out from the house; when we learn of the death of Cinderella's father, there is a storm, and we are taken into his chamber through a window; when we first see Cinderella, birds open back the curtains of her window. Windows, as we know, symbolize "reflection" and meditation upon the self: a house--in this case, the chateau--symbolizes the human body, because a house shelters a person the way the body houses the soul. The windows of a house, then, are like the eyes: both "reveal the soul" and because windows are something we either look out of or look into, either way, it symbolizes meditation, because we not only meditate upon our inner-selves, but also our self in the outer-world and what we find in the outer-world. What is it we are supposed to find?
Death.
The movie begins with a book being opened, and a number of Disney films from this time use the same device; why? It's a segment of Reader Response theory that recognizes that the members of the audience know something about the story  of Cinderella, because they are readers and have read books; they have also read books like the story of Cinderella. By invoking the literary tradition at the start of the film, and a narrator reading the opening phrases, it gives the film a sense of "author-ity," that it is being true to the original and it's the authentic tale you are about to watch in spite of the added music and animated animals, etc. Now that Branaugh's Cinderella is being released, this 1950 Disney version, to many, is the authoritative version. 
There are three types of death: there is the real death that each and everyone of us will experience at the end of our life; there is the death of the soul caused by an addiction to material goods and worldly pleasures and there is the (good) death that is a death to the world and a emphasis on the life of the soul. In the first few minutes, we see all three of these presented in the film: the earthly death of the father who has passed away; the beautiful dream in the heart of Cinderella that, as she wakes from sleep (always a symbol of death), she sings about (the dream and singing are both signs of her soul, more on this below) and then the death of the soul of the Step Mother in favor of worldly power and petty domination of the helpless Cinderella. Why does the film introduce death at such an early stage, or even, at all?
This is truly a difficult scene to stomach, when one of the sisters finds Gus under her tea cup and blames it on Cinderella for putting him there, to which the Step Mother assigns Cinderella additional chores. We shouldn't be surprised by this scene, because Cinderella suffering for the "crime" that she didn't commit is exactly what Christ did for us, suffered for the crime of Original Sin that He didn't commit, but we couldn't pay back on our own. Please notice the color scheme: purple and black, which invokes Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty and the other evil step mother of the Queen in Snow White. Here, we find the Step Mother in bed, and bed is a symbol of a coffin, death, because when we go to sleep, it foreshadows the eternal sleep of the body we will experience after death. Lucifer, her cat, who really is supposed to invoke Satan, just as Cruella De Vil is meant to invoke the devil; such a direct link to Christian theology considerably strengthens the moral interpretation beyond other possible readings. Now, as we know, blue symbolizes both depression and wisdom, because it is only through the sadness of life that we come to attain the greatest treasure there is, wisdom. We can't really say this of the Step Mother, can we, especially since she is so closely linked to Satan? What we can say, however, is that the sadness in her life has hardened her heart; rather than look forward in the future to hope for something, she looks back on the past and regrets; that has become a "form" of wisdom for her that she uses to make her decisions. For example, in this scene, she tells Cinderella to close the door so she can deal with her without her two daughters seeing. This isn't a mark of kindness in the Step Mother, rather, a "wisdom" in keeping her authority, even with her own daughters: everything that happens happens because the Step Mother wants it, not the daughters, and certainly not Cinderella. Because of the Step Mother's own weak character, she chooses to lord over her mediocre daughters, and crush Cinderella's spirit, because she believes a spirit can be crushed. The Step Mother, then, exists in a constant state of death, not because she is dying, but because the goodness of her soul has died and there is no faith, hope or charity alive within her. 
Again, the film came out just after World War II, and an over-whelming number of people had lost loved ones, so death was a dire reality; secondly, death is the only real reality that each of us share with each other, regardless of choice, religion, class, stature, ethnicity, etc. By introducing death at such an early stage in the film, the audience is instantly made vulnerable and easily identifies with the vulnerable Cinderella, even though her status in the household as a servant isn't a desirable character to identify with. As she gets ready to start her day, however, there is an important element of her wardrobe which is often overlooked that basically explains the whole film: her shoes.
This scene obviously takes place towards the end of the film, but there is another element included in this image which is easily overlooked in the symbolic strata of the film: the staircase. When she goes to the ball, Cinderella climbs a staircase; when the clock strikes midnight, she runs down the staircase; when she reveals that she has the other glass slipper, of all the places in the house where they could be trying on the slippers, it's in front of the staircase; why? Stairs, like ladders, symbolize movement towards higher and lower states of consciousness. When a character goes up a set of stairs/ladder, it means they are ascending to a higher state of consciousness, something more abstract or on a higher, intellectual plane than before; if they go down, or even fall down (especially into a basement), this symbolizes going into the deep, dark unconscious where things have been repressed. An easy way to remember it is, the angels live on high, and the demons hide below. Just as, in this moment, Cinderella will wear both the slippers at the same time--the plain black one, and the unique, one-of-a-kind glass slipper--so the two-realities of her life, the mundane duties of her daily drudgery and the sweet dreams she holds in her heart, come into one moment together, and at the same time. Throughout the film, it appears she is always losing one of her slippers: the first time being with the three trays of breakfast as Lucifer is trying to get Gus, and she leaves one of the black slippers behind her on the stair; why? She knows what is about to happen, because it happens every morning, and there is a part of her will (the black slipper) that does not want to go through it because Cinderella is like Gus and her step sisters are like Lucifer, ready to eat her, because that is the stake in the spiritual battle each of us is called to fight. 
Cinderella is known, of course, by her glass slipper, but it's the plain, black slipper we first see Cinderella step into as she begins her day that makes the story even possible. In the image above, we see the simple black shoe she wears everyday, just before slipping on the glass slipper: it is because she wore the black shoe, that she can now where the glass slipper; what does that mean? Feet symbolize our will, because our feet take us to where we want to go as our will takes us to where we want to go in life, so the type of shoes a character wears relates to the audience something about their will. Again, black is the color of death, but we know that Cinderella is alive in her spirit and soul, so her black slippers conveys that she kills her own will so that her soul can grow and thrive; as John the Baptist put it, He must become greater, I must become less (John 3:30).
How does Cinderella accomplish this?
The scene wherein Cinderella sings Sweet Nightingale is my favorite of the film. The nightingale is a common thrush, brown and white, with no particular beauty, but it has the sweetest of voices, so much so, that a a rich iconography around the bird has existed, including referring to poets who themselves make sweet "songs" of their rhymes. Cinderella came out at the end of World War II, in 1950, but a similar film, The Wizard Of Oz, came out at the start of the war in 1939. In Cinderella, we see her image in bubbles, rather like Glinda, the Good Witch Of the North in Oz. In my post on TWOO, I argue that it's not really a bubble that Glinda travels in, rather a Mandorla, like a halo, that depicts holiness in the person surrounded by it (as is seen in the image of Christ In Majesty in the lower, right hand corner). This isn't meant to say that Glinda or Cinderella are on par in holiness with Christ, rather, to illustrate that they are earthly types of holiness meant to make us think of Christ. Mopping the floor as sentence for a crime she didn't commit, Cinderella has an overflowing goodness in her heart that allows her to sing, instead of complain and wallow in self-pity about her state in life. When Lucifer messes up the floor, she expresses anger, but she's human and anger is a human emotion; we know that Cinderella's dignity--looking at herself in the bubble, and checking her hair, because hair symbolizes thoughts, and she is making sure that she is thinking holiness as well as acting it, which is why she has the white kerchief over her head (white is faith, hope and charity, as well as innocence) and that protects her thoughts from evil inclinations--is the reason the next event happens, she gets the invitation to the royal ball. Had Cinderella not properly behaved in this moment, then she would not be able to be rewarded and advancing towards her true calling in life, which her years of labor have been a preparation for. 
It's what is known as The Little Way Of the Cross: most of us will never become great saints, but we are all--each and everyone--called to become saints, according to our capacity for virtue. In every moment of our daily lives, we are sent trials that provide us with the opportunity to exercise virtue, to deny our own will and do the Will of God (that is, to be patient with someone, rather than telling them off, especially when they really deserve it). Cinderella is an exercise book in how we are meant to endure with great virtue every trial.
Why?
. For just a moment, let's go back to the psychoanalyst's interpretation and finish that up. Cinderella gets a dress, one of her mother's old dresses, to fix up to wear to the ball; why? If it pleased her father, she reasons, it will please a man like her father, and she will catch a husband. When the step-mother sees it, she's aghast because it's like seeing an old ghost, the image of her rival for the marriage of the widowed father of Cinderella. Having her daughters tear up Cinderella's gown is teaching them to tear up their rivals for a husband, so they won't get stuck with a second-rate husband their first time around. Now, from Cinderella's perspective, she takes her evil Step Mother, and turns her into her fairy godmother, or, rather, the dress is the first step towards creating a figment of her imagination that is based on resurrecting her biological mother. Note the similarities in the dress between the two women: Cinderella merely dreams up, in her state of despair, what she would want her real mother to do and say, and that is the origin of the fairy godmother. Now, with the moralist perspective, we have all ready established that the Step Mother is a Satan figure, so that makes the fairy godmother a Mary figure, the "God Mother" who was givent o us all to help us overcome the battles, temptations and trials inflicted upon us by Satan. Remember, the fairy godmother tells Cinderella, if you didn't have any faith left, I couldn't be here, and after the "spell" has worn off, and Cinderella realizes she still has one of the slippers, she looks up and says thank you, as if saying a prayer to heaven and expressing her gratitude.
By choosing virtue rather than immediate gratification of proving our selves right or superior to someone else, we are choosing our innate dignity of being the children of God, over our worldly egos and the examples of behavior the world glorifies, like Miley Cyrus or Charlie Sheen. When we choose our own dignity, we are also choosing to preserve the dignity of others; when we choose our ego, we not only destroy our ego with artificiality, but we destroy the egos of others, as well as their dignity, because we then feel threatened by other egos and we seek them out to destroy them for the sake of our own. Now, we can move on and understand what it is that the pumpkin coach symbolizes.
There are at least four reasons why the step sisters destroy the dress of Cinderella. The "event" begins with the Step Mother noticing the green necklace, and this is the first reason. Green, as we know, either symbolizes ruin and something rotten--as it does when Drizella wears it--but symbolizes hope and re-birth when Cinderella wears it. The neck, where the green necklace is, symbolizes what leads us in life: for good or for bad, it's like a leash; Cinderella, then, is lead in life by hope, and this is what terrifies the Step Mother, that Cinderella will be noticed at the ball and she will be married (or someone will ask the Step Mother why she has never brought Cinderella out into the public before, and she will have to account for her abuse of her step daughter) and the Step Mother will no longer have a servant, like Cinderella, but would probably also lose the chateau and possibly be thrown in jail. This is the first reason the girls tear up the dress. The second reason they tear up the dress is because it belonged to Cinderella's mother, and as such, when they see that dress, and hear it belonged to the woman who rightfully lived in the house, they feel they are seeing a ghost, and must "exorcise" it, this restores to them a sense (as shallow as they are) or once again being the rightful masters. The third reason they destroy the dress is because of its femininity. Both the step sisters wear gaudy dresses meant to attract attention to themselves, whereas Cinderella's pink and white gown is more like herself: soft-spoken and demure. Culturally, pink symbolizes femininity, and I won't argue with that; pink is also used in the popular phrase, "the pink of perfection," meaning the highest degree possible. The white shoulders and pink bow, wrapped around the bodice, emphasize this: our shoulders symbolize our burden in life, our torso usually stands for our whole being because that is where our vital organs are, so to be injured in the torso means to be injured in the whole being. Cinderella has shouldered her burdens with hope and innocence (the symbols of white), and her excelling in these acts have caused her whole being to reflect the perfect woman. The step sisters erroneously believe that, if you see something perfect, destroy it, and it will cease to be perfect; because they themselves have not been subjected to the rigors of the spiritual life, they don't realize that when you destroy something perfect, it becomes even more perfect (the Resurrection of Christ). The last and fourth reason why the dress is destroyed is so that if it weren't, Cinderella would not be able to pass to the next level of spiritual perfection, and her miracle, i.e., something even more perfect and done without her own will, would not be possible to bring into being. It's important that the elements of the gown the sisters claim Cinderella stole were actually thrown away and discarded; why? Remember that Christ was the "stone rejected" by the builders who became the cornerstone.
As we said above, it's the daily toils Cinderella endures that slowly transforms her into becoming perfect, and the same can be said of the magical pumpkin coach. The pumpkin, when we first see it, is way off in the distance, in the dark, but the magic rays find it and bring it to the front of the stage, which is exactly what the little servant girl Cinderella is going to experience herself that night. In and of themselves, pumpkins don't really symbolize anything, and even though they are technically a part of the squash family (as tomatoes are technically a fruit) people tend to think of them more as gourds than vegetables.
Why does the fairy godmother come to Cinderella when she is crying in the garden? The garden, of course, symbolizes two gardens: both the Garden of Eden where Original Sin was committed, and the Garden of Olives where Christ chose to accept His Cross and undo the Curse. Cinderella's running to the garden is a sign that the blessing she is about to receive is not only for her own good, but for the good of many others as well: she will become the next queen of the kingdom and insure that Christina principles will reign, rather than the secular and cruel attitudes of the Step Mother.  Likewise, it's the Holy Spirit who hears the crying of the heart, the Ineffable sorrows of our soul, which will be answered back with the Ineffable words God, as the fairy godmother will speak, that will make her dreams come true.
The most famous gourd is probably that which God planted to protect the prophet Jonah from the sun as the city of Nineveh repented; while this is a foreshadowing of Christ upon the Cross, Jonah's gourd was poisonous (because Jonah was mere mortal, not God, it's complicated, just trust me on this one) and the poison of the gourd foreshadows how we look at the Cross: the Cross is bad because it causes me to suffer and suffering is bad, rather than the Cross will be the medicine that helps me get over the sickness all ready inside of me. Likewise, the "poison" of the ill treatment of the Step Mother and daughters was poison, but it made Cinderella even more perfect, so that which was "holding her back" has now become the vehicle (the pumpkin coach) to make her dreams come true.
Perhaps this is a better way to explain the great "magic" that takes place at this part of the narrative: let's say you are driving down the highway, and there is a rude driver ahead of you that nearly causes you to wreck. You have three options: first, you can try to take some kind of revenge on that driver by yelling at them, flipping them off, or driving your car in a rude way to annoy them as they have annoyed you. Secondly, you can say a prayer and thank God that the person didn't cause you to wreck or, thirdly, you can even go beyond this and intercede before God on that person's behalf and pray for them (as Christ prayed for those crucifying Him). If you choose the second or third options, then you have turned the mundane into a spiritual battle in which you are the victor, and you have gone from being just a person formed from the dust, to acting upon the divine image after which you were fashioned. The horses, footman and coach, then, are materialized in the film as the reality of secondary virtues: little things done with kindness, little trials that Cinderella didn't give into and her perseverance through it all were the countless victories of spiritual warfare that she has accumulated; the horses, servants and coach, then, are her "spoils" of the spiritual battles that she has won countless times. 
What about the mice?
The same can be said of them, as well as the horse and dog. When we describe something as being "magical," we might mean that a different dimension of reality has opened up, or is participating in the daily reality of what we know to be true in life. What is "reality" though? Reality is God seeing Himself. When something magical happens, that which is above nature inserts itself into nature. The animals Cinderella befriends are realizing their higher nature when they are transformed into horses and humans (not that animals are actually human, they are animals) because that is how love is rewarded: love transforms the mundane into the image of the divine that the divine has invested of itself into that element of nature. In other words, we all need love because when another person recognizes the divine within us, it sets us apart from the mundane reality in which we live and causes us to remember the divine and our obligations to it, which leads us to one of the most famous songs to ever come out of Disney Studios,...
A Marxist would argue that the mice, birds and other little animals are enslaved to Cinderella because she is a capitalist and she makes them do work for her and forces an "unnatural" state of existing upon them (Marxists consider any system except for socialism to be unnatural). A psychoanalyst would interpret the mice and animals as a sign of Cinderella's "animal passions" and instincts, her desire for her father and revenge on her Step Mother, and she dresses them in clothes like herself because they are a part of her, perhaps even a delusional part of herself. I would like to propose something different: as we saw above, Cinderella runs into the garden after her dress is ruined; that she is above the petty temptations of bickering and self-pity, means that she has overcome the inclinations of the wounds upon her soul of Original Sin and so, she is "at one" with nature because it was through the wound of Original Sin that man became separated from nature and the animals. Cinderella's friends being animals, then, is another sign of her holiness and advancement in the progress of the soul.  
What does Biggity, Boggity, Boo mean?
It is an invocation of the Ineffable, that which cannot be spoken. In 1964, Manfred Mann released their hit song Doo Wah Diddy Diddy that features lyrics similar to the Cinderella song. As my film critic professor put it, the lyrics that seem so silly and nonsensical are actually conveying to those who understand them the great mystery that takes place when we see someone and begin to fall in love.
What does the glass slipper symbolize? Glass, as we know, symbolizes reflection and meditation; the feet symbolize our will. A glass slipper, then, is meditation on the will. Doesn't sound very fancy, does it? Well, remember, as we see in the bottom, left-corner of this image, Cinderella first had to wear the black slipper, which means "death" to her own will, so the glass slipper would be the meditation on the Will of God, and doing God's Will, not her own. How did she do that? By not giving into her base instincts, like treating her step sisters poorly, but with respect, instead; by not wallowing in self-pity, but trusting and having faith in the dignity God gave her, and knowing that holiness and perseverance is rewarded. Just like Dorothy's ruby red slippers in The Wizard of Oz being a sign of what she truly loves in life, rather than the fleeting desires of the moment, so Cinderella's glass slippers illustrate that she has put God before herself, and looked to the eternal rather than the temporal.
The song describes what may be a common occurrence and everyday event throughout human history, a man and woman finding their mate; spending the day together, planning their wedding, kissing, etc., are all things that happen in every relationship and the song would quickly lose the interest of the audience if something special wasn't introduced to the song to make people identify their own relationships with it the song would be nothing but a  cliche. In terms of Cinderella, if the fairy godmother didn't have some special attribute (a bond with the Ineffable) Cinderella wouldn't believe in her, and neither would we.
Again, we are in the garden when this scene takes place, and the godmother is preparing Cinderella's dress; of course, the dress is one that Cinderella and she alone can wear because this is a reflection of her unique destiny and fulfillment of virtue. Please note that it's in the water fountain, on the right, that affords her the only chance to see how she looks; that's because the dress is the "Baptismal Garment" of her eternal soul and why she sees herself in the water, a sign of her baptism and vows, but this also applies to us, that--in order to win back our soul, spotless of the crimes and sins we have committed--we, too, just follow such a path in order to wear our vestal garments and be presented before the King at Judgment. 
The real question that most people ask of the story is, "Why, when the clock strikes 12, doesn't Cinderella just stay with the Prince so they can be married? If they are so in love, won't it matter that she suddenly turns back into her tattered dress?" The answer is, because that's not how Salvation works. We first have to know who the Prince is, before we can understand why the "spell" will be broken at midnight.
An obvious question to ask is, if the King were so certain of his plan to get his son a wife, and so desperate to, then why didn't he give more notice for the ball? Because that is how it is in reality: we won't get notice when God calls us to Judgment. 
Everyone is being presented before him, so who will have everyone presented before him? Christ. The soul is often compared to the "bride" and Christ the "bridegroom" (especially in the Song of Songs). None of the others appearing before the Prince make an impression upon him because none of them have suffered as Cinderella has, and been transformed by it. When the Prince sees Cinderella, he knows her instantly, just as Christ knows us when He sees us because He, as our Creator, knows us as no one else and what it is we are meant to become, especially more so than we do, or even hope for. Now, we can understand why Cinderella doesn't stay past the stroke of midnight.
Why midnight? Because it is the end of one day, and the start of another day. The day of Cinderella's servitude has come to an end, and the new day of her becoming a bride has begun. In order for that to happen, she must wake up from the dream so the dream can become reality. As it is, Cinderella thinks the ball night IS what she has hoped for, one night of fun and bliss, of being beautiful and important in the eyes of someone else, and then back to waiting on her cruel relations. This is far from the truth, and we see the similar circumstances expressed in the Old Testament with the story of Joseph, who was given the dream of being surrounded by his brothers and them bowing down to him; he was then sold to slavery, but rose in the house of a servant of pharoah, because that was the "down payment," so to speak, of God fulfilling the promise to Joseph that He made him in his original dream. When Joseph was thrown back into prison, for a crime he didn't commit, like Cinderella being accused of putting the mouse under the tea cup, it was because God wanted to continue perfecting him until he was ready to be raised to the highest level. Now, many of us would probably have been content in the servant's house, rather than being in a dungeon for twenty years, and then being in pharaoh's court, but that is what God's Love for us is: it's the hard choice that He makes that we wouldn't make for ourselves so we can become as perfected as possible and attain the greatest possible virtue; not only does that bring us glory, but it gives glory to Him. So, in Cinderella, the "spell" will be broken, because it's not a magic spell, although that's easy to believe, rather, it's a "spell" of time, as in, "Come and sit with me a spell." Remember, when we first see Cinderella in her bed room, the clock strikes 8 in the morning, and Cinderella complains that even the clock bosses her around. On the contrary, the clock is actually a consolation that her time, her "sentence" of attaining perfection, is getting closer and  closer to ending, and she is getting closer to her dreams being fulfilled. 
It's not just that, if the Prince really loved her, he wouldn't care that she suddenly appeared ragged; there is also the issue that Cinderella really loves him and doesn't want him to see her like that. Shallow? Superficial? No, not really, because no unclean thing shall come before the Lord (Revelations 21:27) and, as of yet, she's almost perfected, but her last act of faith has not been made AND the Lord has not yet brought the fullness of His miracle to pass (remember, Cinderella itself uses the word "miracle").
What is the fullness of the miracle?
Justice.
Why does Cinderella lose a slipper, but then is "allowed" to keep one of the slippers? The slipper she keeps is meant, again, as a sign of the Promise that God is going to fulfill. The Prince is also part of Cinderella's life now, and the slipper is a sign to increase the desire in the Prince's heart for Cinderella, so he will desire to find her. God wants it made known that events and miracles happen by His doing, not luck or our own doing. 
An argument which atheists often use to "prove" that God doesn't exist, is the existence of evil, like Hitler, Stalin or cancer, etc. What they intentionally fail to recognize, however, is that, in spite of the evil, in this case, the selfish designs of the Step Mother, God not only brings the greatest possible good from the evil (Cinderella marrying the Prince) but justice as well (Cinderella not only being recompensed for her years of servitude by becoming the princess, but the "fall" of the Step Mother). What actually happens to the Step Mother, though? 
This is truly a great moment because, as Cinderella brushes her hair, and allows herself to be carried away by the thoughts that the Prince has fallen in love with her and she's going to be married, she sees herself, but then, she sees her Step Mother; why? There is rarely (at least on this side of heaven) an image of the good, without there also being the bad included somewhere in the picture, because the bad is very much the vehicle by means of which the good is perfected. The Step Mother closing and locking the door of Cinderella's room is her act of will to "close the door" on the opportunity of marrying the Prince. Just as God allows evil to befall good people, so the fullness of their goodness can be brought out, so God allows bad people to show the fullness of their evil intents (gives them enough rope to hang themselves with, as we say). This demonstrates that we have free will, not only to choose the path we will follow, but to know that bad choices lead to evil, and good choices lead to blessings and life.  
We know because of what happens to Lucifer, her cat. Because Lucifer carries out the same torments upon the mice that the Step Mother carries out on Cinderella, what happens to Lucifer happens to the Step Mother. When we see that Bruno the dog has caused Lucifer to jump out the window (a symbol of reflection meant to mirror the moment of horror on the Step Mother's face when Cinderella pulls out her glass slipper) the "fall" Lucifer takes is a sign of the fall the Step Mother takes as well (this isn't meant to take into account sequels that went straight to video; this is just how the 1950 Cinderella handled the subject). We don't actually see Lucifer die, and there are two good reasons for that: first, there is enough death in the film and the "justice served" would be questioned by the death of a dumb--but cruel--cat; secondly, until the end of the world, evil won't die, it is a part of this world meant to help us become better and worthy of our destiny in heaven. We can be completely assured, however, that the "fall" of Lucifer symbolizes the fall of the Step Mother and her daughters. What about the marriage of Cinderella?
Several things are happening in this scene. First, they are going down the stairs; why? Because the dream--a state of higher consciousness--has now been fulfilled and Cinderella will get to live out the rewards of her victory on a daily basis (going down the stairs). Secondly, the birds carry her veil: birds are usually a sign of the Holy Spirit, Who appeared at Christ's Baptism in the form of a Dove. The blue birds are the spirit of wisdom that has preserved her and now goes forth with her into her new life (remember, when the mice and birds surprise her with the dress they made, Gus says, "Happy birthday!" because he knew that the ball to which she would be going would herald a new "life" for her since she was, in essence, being reborn). If Cinderella's show is her will, and she's dropped her slipper again (she's divided in her will to go on) then why does she marry the Prince? Again, it's a question of worth. The King, as we know, runs and stoops down, putting her slipper back on her foot. Cinderella is hesitant to embark on her new life because of self-worth: she was just a lowly servant girl, who was poor and had nothing of her own, but now she is the princess; is she really worth it? The King stooping over means two things: first, he personally bows before her and her graciousness, happy that his son and kingdom have such a wonderful woman in Cinderella; secondly, the King stoops to Cinderella because she is lowly, she isn't of noble blood, and so there is a class distinction (think of what happened when the poor servant girl was brought in as being the owner of the glass slipper!). But the King, making the act of humility of putting on the slipper (equivalent to the New Testament when John the Baptist talks about "putting on His sandals") demonstrates that he understands how Cinderella's years of service have made her the beautiful person that she is, and that it's good for him to serve, too. The kiss she gives him is the kiss of peace, that the King accepts her, and so she will accept her new life with no more thoughts of the past.
Cinderella's marriage is the soul being united to God, the state to which each and everyone of us is called in advancing in virtue. There isn't that much to it really: in order to make a timeless film, timeless themes must be the focus, and those that are the oldest are also the truest. Whether it's advanced theology or an old Disney film, the dignity of the human and the soul inspires everyone with a greater sense of the divine which we carry within our hearts.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Original 1950 poster.