The timeless and enchanting Walt Disney film Cinderella, about a beautiful but unfortunate girl who's rescued by her fairy godmother, is part of many people's childhoods.

This week the film, one of Disney's most beloved masterpieces, was rereleased on Blu-ray high definition with enhanced picture and sound.

To celebrate it reaching a whole new generation of girls (and boys) who will no doubt soon be demanding blue puffy ball gowns and glass slippers from their parents, I spoke to Disney historian and author Paula Sigman Lowery about the evolution of key Disney female characters like Cinderella.

Asked how animation styles for Disney characters have evolved over the years, Lowery explained: "Things move a lot faster in animation in general today... the stories don’t unfold in the way Cinderella originally did in 1950."

And she added: "It's a little different now in that they’re starting to cast more well-known actors to do the voices whereas in the early days they very often cast radio actors who really knew how to act with their voices."

I pitched five of the best female Disney characters (a hotly-debated subject) to Lowery to find out in what way Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, Princess Jasmine and Pocahontas are a reflection of the era in which their films were made. Here's how she sees it:

Cinderella 1950

When you think about the movies of the 1950s, and also the television shows of the late-1950s and early-1960s, women were often portrayed in a role where they did what people told them to do. Unfortunately that’s the role that Cinderella has. She is not in control of her destiny; she’s got a stepmother who is telling her what to do and she has to obey. Perhaps that was a little bit easier for audiences to take in those days because very often a woman’s domain was the household; it wasn’t going out into the world of business.

cinderella

Ariel (The Little Mermaid) 1989

She’s a young teenager and a rebellious one. I think that’s universal, but the stories that were being told in the 1980s echoed Ariel’s search for independence and the relationship she has with her father.

little mermaid

Snow White 1937

She was really very young, a girl of 14 or 15. When Walt Disney was a young man he saw the 1916 version of Snow White and he remembered that story. When he wanted to do his first animated movie he thought it was perfect because, as he said, it had the girl, the prince and the villain. I think of it as being less about the character of Snow White herself as it is about the fairy tale story, but she was the first cartoon character that was believable for an audience and someone you could really care about.

snow white

Princess Jasmine 1992

She’s really the first one to go out and say “I’m not going to live my life with people telling me what to do”. She plans to go out and live her life having absolutely no idea what it takes. She doesn’t carry money with her and she’s like a girl going out into the mall saying “I’ll have this” and “I’ll take that” with no concept of the reality. But she’s also very self-sufficient; Aladdin is trying to protect her and she’s showing him in many ways that she can take care of herself, as many women in 1992 were doing.

princess jasmine

Pocahontas 1995

The very strong relationship Pocahontas has with nature and the world around is very reflective of the global awareness of the mid-1990s. Then there’s her sense of wanting to move forward without knowing what’s around the river bend. She’s not content with a safe, easy life; she wants something more, which is what she shares with all these Disney female characters. They’re not going to give up on that wish.

pocahontas

Cinderella Diamond Edition is available now on Disney Blu-ray™

Watch the slideshow below for our thoughts on what happened to Disney's princesses after 'happily ever after'. Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • The Prince and Snow White from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

    The prince seemed cool with Snow White's seven-man entourage when they first got together, but we're guessing that, once they were married, all those big personalities constantly hanging around got old fast. The prince probably bails on Snow White, but hey, at least she has no shortage of potential roommates.

  • Belle and the Beast from "Beauty And The Beast"

    When we last saw him, the Beast had <a href="http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/08/02/lunchtime-poll-beast-beast-or-human-beast/" target="_hplink">transformed into a Fabio look-a-like</a>, gotten a handle on his temper and won Belle's heart. But considering that even <em>we</em> would get annoyed by the nightly dinner theater put on by the couple's pots, pans and china (who were also transformed back to humans, as readers pointed out -- but who's to say they're not still singing?), we're guessing the prince's beast-like temper was set off again, sending daddy's girl Belle running back to the inventor's cottage. <em>This slide has been updated.</em>

  • Ariel and Eric from "The Little Mermaid"

    It's a bad sign when a woman feels she has to drastically change for her man the way Ariel did, swapping her fins for feet so she could win the heart of land-lubbing Eric. Because of that rocky start, we can't help but predict divorce for these two. We're just hoping Ariel gets the <a href="http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/classicdisney/partofyourworld.htm" target="_hplink">gadgets and gizmos a-plenty and whozits and whatzits galore</a> in the divorce settlement.

  • Prince Naveen and Tiana from "The Princess And The Frog"

    When we left the French Quarter, frog prince Naveen had transformed back into a man and married Tiana, and the couple had also opened a restaurant together. But if the bickering spouses on Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" have taught us anything, it's that love and restauranteering simply don't mix. In fact, it's likely a recipe for divorce.

  • Aladdin and Jasmine from "Aladdin"

    Aladdin may have showed Jasmine a whole new world, but if these two kids refuse to move out of the palace and continue to live on Jasmine's father's dime, it's bound to cause some money-related arguments -- and possibly divorce. After all, a 2009 study by Utah State University <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/money-fights-predict-divorce-rates/" target="_hplink">showed that finance-related tensions increase the risk of divorce.</a>

  • Mulan and Captain Li Shang From "Mulan"

    Captain Li Shang and Mulan's relationship should survive, as long as the army leader doesn't start to get annoyed with Mulan's cross-dressing ways.

  • Aurora and Prince Phillip from "Sleeping Beauty"

    Our prediction for this royal couple? Divorce. Maybe Sleeping Beauty should've taken the time to actually <em>date </em>and get to know her future hubby before they wed, but she was too busy getting some shut eye.

  • Pocahontas and John Smith from "Pocahontas"

    John Smith overcame his prejudices and got along with Pocahontas' pet raccoon, Meeko, but could the slightly smarmy explorer really sustain a lasting relationship with the free-spirited princess? Maybe not. A study conducted by the University of Iowa in 2005 suggested that similarities in <a href="http://www.livescience.com/5351-truth-opposites-attract.html'" target="_hplink">personality are more important than similarities in attitude, religion, and values</a> in married couples, and that like-minded marrieds tend to have fewer conflicts.


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