Ella and her parents live happily in a large house with a few servants, until her mother falls ill. Ella promises to follow her mother’s dying wish: to have courage and be kind. Years later, Ella’s father marries the recently widowed Lady Tremaine, who has two unpleasant daughters, Drisella and Anastasia. Ella’s father leaves on business, and Lady Tremaine reveals her cruel and jealous nature, forcing Ella to give up her bedroom to the stepsisters and move into the attic. When Ella’s father unexpectedly dies, Lady Tremaine dismisses the household staff to save money, and forces all their chores upon Ella. Seeing Ella’s face covered in cinders after sleeping by the fireplace, her step-family mockingly dubs her “Cinderella”.
Distraught over her step-family’s treatment of her, Ella rides off into the woods, where she encounters Kit, the crown prince, out hunting. He hides that he is a prince and instead introduces himself as a palace apprentice. Ella and Kit take a liking to each other, but they part without him learning her name. The King discovers he has little time left to live, and urges Kit to take a princess as his bride at the upcoming royal ball. Kit persuades his father to invite every eligible maiden in the kingdom, hoping to see Ella again.
On the night of the ball, Ella tries to join her step-family, wearing her mother’s old gown that she has refashioned, but Lady Tremaine and Drisella tear it to shreds and leave without her. Ella runs into the garden in tears, and meets an old beggar woman, who reveals herself to be Ella’s Fairy Godmother. She magically transforms a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses, lizards into footmen, and a goose into the coachman. She then transforms Ella’s ripped gown into a beautiful ball gown, and gifts her a pair of glass slippers. As Ella departs, the Fairy Godmother warns her the magic will end at the last stroke of midnight, and casts a final spell to prevent Ella’s step-family from recognizing her.
At the ball, the entire court is entranced by Ella. She dances with Kit, much to the chagrin of the Grand Duke, who has already promised Kit to Princess Chelina of Zaragoza (which Lady Tremaine overhears). Though surprised at Kit’s true identity, Ella bonds with the Prince. Before she can tell Kit her name, the clock chimes midnight and she flees the palace, losing one of her slippers. The Grand Duke pursues her; however, when the magic dissipates, Cinderella is able to hide in the woods. She returns home and hides the remaining glass slipper under the floorboards.
The King dies, but not before giving his son permission to marry Ella. Now the new king, Kit issues a royal proclamation professing his love for the “mystery princess” and requests she present herself. Ella hurries to retrieve the glass slipper to prove her identity; however, having deduced that Ella is the mystery princess, Lady Tremaine declares she will only allow Ella to marry Kit on the condition that Ella make Lady Tremaine head of the royal household and find respectable husbands for the stepsisters. Ella refuses, and Lady Tremaine smashes the slipper and locks Ella in the attic. She brings the remains of the slipper to the Grand Duke, who agrees to her terms in exchange for her keeping Ella hidden.
The Grand Duke and the Captain of the Guard lead the search for the mystery princess, trying the slipper on every woman in the kingdom, but it refuses to fit anyone. At Ella’s house, the shoe fits neither stepsister; the company prepares to depart, but hear Ella singing “Lavender’s Blue“. The Grand Duke urges them to leave, but Kit, who has secretly accompanied them, commands the Captain to investigate. The slipper fits Ella, and she and Kit promise to accept one another for who they truly are. As they leave, Ella forgives her stepmother. Soon after, Lady Tremaine, her daughters and the Grand Duke leave the kingdom, never to return. Ella and Kit marry and become the kingdom’s most beloved monarchs, ruling with the same courage and kindness that Ella had promised her mother.