Chief Counsel Michael Stailey doesn't foresee a market for glass slippers anytime soon.
What if the glass slipper fit another foot?
It's no surprise that most critics have lambasted Disney's direct-to-DVD sequels. In most cases, the derision is well deserved. Undercooked stories and slipshod animation add nothing to the legend of these classic Disney characters, and their existence is little more than a pathetic attempt to bolster the company's profit margins. But every once in a great while that old Disney magic rubs off on a production. Lion King 1 1/2 was a hilarious POV twist on the original film, showing us what Timon and Pumbaa were up to when not on screen. And it almost happens again with Cinderella III: A Twist in Time…almost.
Facts of the Case
Our tale begins in song, on the first anniversary of Cinderella and her still nameless Prince. Life is blissful for the happily ever-aftering couple. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Cinderella's step-sisters, Anastasia and Drizella. Lady Tremaine is working the girls like dogs, having apparently bled dry what remained of the estate left behind by her late husband (Cinderella's father). Anastasia is particularly crestfallen, for under than obnoxious, self-focused exterior is a girl longing to be loved.
Admiring her sister and new brother-in-law from afar, she's surprised to find that Cinderella's happiness is not all natural. In fact, she owes much of it to her Fairy Godmother's magic. Wishing for her own magical intervention, Anastasia is shocked when the universe delivers the Fairy Godmother's wand right into her hands.
Rushing home, eagerly anticipated the start of her own happy ending, Anastasia momentarily loses sight of the biggest roadblock to happiness…her mother. With control of the wand and unimaginable power, Lady Tremaine turns back time to the moment before the Duke's arrival at their home, shrinks Anastasia's foot to fit the slipper, bewitches the Prince into thinking Anastasia is the girl of his dreams, and leaves Cinderella shell-shocked…questioning whether true love is the most powerful force in the universe.
Cinderella III has a lot going for it.
First and foremost, Disney has a new powerhouse princess. Breaking the mold cast by the original 1950 Cinderella—the weepy, submissive, helpless maiden who requires the help of talking animals and fairy magic to save her life—this Cinderella (voiced by Jennifer Hale) takes her world by the balls and will stop at nothing to reclaim her man. Smart, resourceful, fearless, and agile, she quickly leaps to the head of the pack—step aside Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle—and may well be able to take out both Meg (Hercules) and Mulan in a princess battle royale. She's the Sydney Bristow of the Disney universe and a fantastic new role model for young ladies of the 21st century.
Second and more interesting, Lady Tremaine (Susanne Blaskeslee) elevates herself to the upper echelon of Disney villains. Infusing an already unholy personality with the power of black magic, Tremaine stands toe to toe with Maleficent, Ursula, and the Wicked Queen in estrogen soaked evil. Keep in mind, this is all accomplished on the fly with little or no practice. Imagine the destruction Tremaine could cause, if she actually had the knowledge and experience of her contemporaries.
Finally, we get to know the real Anastasia (Tress MacNeille). Far from a carbon copy of her idiotic sister, she's a kind soul who has spent too many years as the whipping girl for her mother. When put in a position to do the right thing, Anastasia does so without hesitation. She's yet another great role model for girls, especially those who might be mistakenly labeled or viewed as troublemakers. Family dynamics are tough and we often live down to the perceptions and expectations of those around us. However, given the inspiration and opportunity, Anastasia proves we can easily rise above those misperceptions and become the person we were meant to be.
Okay, so I hear you asking for the "but…" and here it is.
Cinderella III was produced by Toon Disney, their Australian-based television animation unit. While they've gone to great lengths to recreate the world of directors Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and art director Mary Blair, the quality is not anywhere close to feature animation. The film lacks artistic depth, which betrays the great character and story elements at work within. It's a shame, really. Had this been the first traditional animation project of John Lasseter's regime, it could have been a great achievement. Unfortunately, the influence of art director Robert Kline's years with Filmation and Ruby-Spears are too obvious to overcome.
The next pitfall is the music. Based off their Cinderella stage musical for the Disney Cruise Line—Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story—Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner's music and lyrics are several leagues beneath Howard Ashman & Alan Menken, Elton John & Tim Rice, and even Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz. That's not meant to unfairly slam these artists; it's just that the musical bar has been set quite high for Disney films, and they don't come close to reaching it. The opening number, "Perfectly Perfect," is forced and hokey, a watered down version of Belle's entrance in Beauty and the Beast, and Anastasia's "Two Simple Words" is a generic Disney mini-love ballad. The only musical bright spot is Jaq and Gus-Gus's "At the Ball," delivered in true Timon and Pumbaa style. Truth is, you won't have any of these songs running through you head, even after 50 plus viewings by the kids.
The biggest character missteps are Prince and King No-Name. These two were pulled from the "Stock Secondary Characters" drawer in the Disney vault. The Prince is a two-dimensional Ken Doll whose personality is even less interesting than his physical characteristics. The producers went so far as to enlist the voice of Christopher Daniel Barnes (Ariel's Prince Eric) but it doesn't help. He's an unintelligent, easily manipulated, meat puppet, trained in horsemanship by Prince Phillip (Sleeping Beauty), and stage combat by Peter Pan. His father does have a few more redeeming qualities, but it can't save him from being a stereotypical Disney dad in the mold of Maurice (The Little Mermaid), the Sultan (Aladdin), King Triton, or any of the seven dwarves. He does have one defining moment, which drives the development of Anastasia into the role of princess in waiting. It's one of several emotional gems in the film. There just aren't enough of them to make Cinderella III a Disney classic.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is an exceptional digital print, with vibrant colors and crisp, clean detail that looks fantastic when upgraded to 1080p. The CGI effects are limited and easy to spot, but effective nonetheless. The pumpkin imprisonment scene would have looked phenomenal in feature animation. In terms of audio, Disney offers two 5.1 tracks, the first being a DTS mix which plays exceptional well on the home theater, emphasizing the robust underscore of composer Joel McNeely (Young Indiana Jones). The standard Dolby 5.1 is good, but not nearly and enjoyable as the DTS version. That's quite a surprise, given that the two are often indistinguishable, but credit sound designers Dominick Certo (whose handled nearly all of Disney's sequels) and Nancy MacLeod (The Guardian) for pulling out all the stops on the DTS track.
In terms of bonus features, it's pretty much promotional filler. There's a Hayden Panettiere (Claire from Heroes) music video for the film's end credit tune, "I Still Believe"; an interactive game, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Choose, that will occupy kids for about 15 minutes; a behind the scenes look at the stage musical Twice Charmed; a sneak preview at the new line of Princess Tales coming this fall; and DVD ROM features which Mac users have to install an InterActual player to access. Blah.
Cinderella 3 is one of Disney's finest sequels, adding an entirely new level to the mythology and upgrading Cinderella and Lady Tremaine to premiere Disney princess and villainess for the new millennium. Kids will love it, parents will enjoy it, and it will be required viewing for Disney enthusiasts. But the film is just that…a direct-to-DVD sequel. Nothing more.
The court finds Cinderella III: A Twist in Time not guilty on charges of blatant, hollow commercialism. However, if company marketing execs go so far as to passing this or any subsequent sequels off as the next renaissance in Disney animation, you will be right back here to answer for your crimes. In the meantime, John Lasseter, we anxiously await the return of traditional Disney feature animation.
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