Ella is born to loving parents on a beautiful estate in a peaceful kingdom. Since childhood, she is taught by her mother to believe in magic, allowing her to befriend the animals on the estate, especially the mice. Everything is perfect until Ella’s mother falls terminally ill. On her deathbed, she asks Ella to always face life’s difficulties with courage and kindness. Some years later, seeking to recapture happier times, Ella’s father remarries Lady Tremaine, the widow of an old acquaintance, who has two daughters of her own: Drisella and Anastasia. Ella welcomes her new stepfamily, despite the stepsisters’ unpleasant attitudes.
When Ella’s father goes abroad for business, Lady Tremaine slowly reveals her cruel and jealous nature, as she pushes Ella to give up her bedroom to the stepsisters for the attic. Ella’s life takes a turn for the worst when her father dies during the trip, causing Lady Tremaine to dismiss the household to save money and forcing all the chores on Ella. One morning, when her stepfamily see Ella’s face covered in cinders due to Ella sleeping by the fireplace for warmth, they mock Ella as “Cinderella” and forbid her from eating with them.
Crushed by their cruelty, Ella rides off into the woods, where she meets Kit, who is part of a hunting party chasing a stag, and mistakes Kit for an apprentice from the palace. Not knowing Kit is actually the crown prince to the kingdom, Ella admonishes him for hunting the stag, and pleads for the stag’s freedom, to which Kit agrees. Touched by his kindness, Ella takes a liking of Kit. Kit is likewise enchanted by Ella’s charm, kindness, and unique outlook on life. The two part without Kit learning Ella’s name, but not before both express their wishes to see each other again. The King, upon learning he has little time left, insists Kit take a bride, who should be a princess for the advantage of the kingdom, at the upcoming royal ball. Kit persuades his father to invite every eligible maiden in the land to the ball, in hope of seeing Ella.