Mary Walsh arrived in Washington, D.C., this week not only as the head of Disney's immense animation research library. She also attended the ball at the Library of Congress as an ambassador for "Cinderella."
On Thursday evening, Walsh received the honor from Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in an official ceremony to celebrate that "Cinderella," the animated classic from 1950, was recently named to the National Film Registry.
More than a dozen Disney feature films have been added to the registry, including "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Bambi," "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio." Among more recent Mouse House movies, 1994's "The Lion King" (which is receiving an adaptation this summer) entered the registry in 2013, and "Toy Story" (which just received its third sequel this week) joined in 2005.
Upon the ceremony for "Cinderella," Walsh said the movie remains ever relevant as its 70th anniversary nears.
"She lives in a reality that has a lot of challenges, which she (faces) with courage and perseverance while staying true to herself, believing in her dreams," Walsh said of the title character.
"She is an eternal optimist, and that's a very human quality that we all strive for. I think that it was the same in the 1950s as it is today, and we all need some of that resiliency and perseverance and optimism in our lives today."
Walt Disney was inspired to adapt the classic Charles Perrault fairy tale, but he encouraged his writers and animators to take creative liberties, Walsh said.
Hayden said she believes that "Cinderella" still moves modern audiences because of the high level at which the filmmakers combined story and craft. The movie was nominated for three Oscars, for music and sound.
"There's the magic of it, with the fairy dust and the costumes and the music and the color," Hayden said. "There's the art and the care, the details and the (oil-painted) backgrounds."
That attention to artistry speaks to Walsh's sense of mission at Disney's animation research library, where she estimates that she oversees more than 65 million archived items.
"Audience members can sit in a film that resonates emotionally and visually and musically — that hits on all levels," she said. "I want people to peel back the surface a little bit and think about the hundreds of artists it took to create this film — and how they make a character (like Cinderella) move and evolve."
So what's the next animated Disney classic she would like to see make the registry? Walsh points to "The Jungle Book" and "Mulan," and perhaps the most overlooked, she says: 1973's "Robin Hood."
But for now, on the night of the ball, her focus is on "Cinderella."
"It's had such a major cultural impact," Walsh said, "that we're still talking about the film almost 70 years later."