CINDERELLA – DVD review

For years after I first saw Disney’s “Cinderella” (1950) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) back in my childhood, I kept getting them mixed up. They were both about beautiful princesses and handsome princes and fairy-tale castles, and it wasn’t until I was well out of college before I realized how much better “Cinderella” was than its younger cousin.

True, both animated films have gorgeous artwork, “Sleeping Beauty” having the edge with a more strikingly original design concept, and both films have engaging music, the newer one using excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, while the older one has an Oscar-nominated score and song (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”). But in terms of plot and characters and all-around delight, I find “Cinderella” the clear winner over the darker, more ominous, and frankly more tedious “Sleeping Beauty.”

Put it this way: “Sleeping Beauty” is a fine piece of Disney animation, while “Cinderella” is a Disney classic.

Looking back, I have no idea why I should have ever confused the two, but I guess it was simply my age. Practically everyone knows the “Cinderella” story, and I’m sure they know it from the Disney movie more so than from the Charles Perrault, “Mother Goose” tale on which the film is based. You know the story by heart, right?

In some far away, long ago kingdom, Cinderella (voiced by Ilene Woods) is living peacefully with her mother and father until her mother dies. Cinderella’s father remarries a nasty crone, the Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley), who has two daughters, Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters Drizella (Rhoda Williams) and Anastasia (Lucille Bliss). When the father dies, the wicked stepmother makes Cinderella (Ilene Woods) a virtual servant in her own house. Meanwhile, across town in the castle, the King (Luis Van Rooten) determines that his son the Prince (William Phipps) should find a suitable bride and provide him with a requisite number of grandchildren. So the King invites every available girl in the kingdom to a fancy dress ball, where his son will have the pick of society.

Cinderella has no gown, but her friends the mice, lead by Jack and Gus (both voiced by Clint McCauley), and the birds lend a hand in making her one, a gown the evil stepsisters immediately tear apart on the eve of the party. At this point, enter the Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton, with singing by Claire Du Brey), the pumpkin carriage, the royal ball, the glass slipper, the stroke of midnight, and the rest is history.

The story has great charm, wit, humor, and zip, everything to entertain kids and adults alike. And, certainly, it has music, and plenty of it. There’s the opening tune, “Cinderella”; “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”; “Sing Sweet Nightingale”; “The Work Song”; “So This Is Love”; and the showstopping “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”

The mice steal the show insofar as characters go; no one else, surely not Cinderella or the Prince, who are rather bland folk, matches them for fun and adorableness. It’s kind of like “Aladdin,” where the studio realized that Aladdin and Jasmine were more than a little vapid and added the Genie, who turned out to be the star. Likewise, the mice are the real stars here. According to the bonus documentary, Disney considered a number of other animals for inclusion, and the mice won out. But I hadn’t remembered how very much of them there was. The mice’s adventures take up maybe a third of the film, and they’re in it from beginning to end. So it’s no wonder they steal the show; they’re most of it.

The 1950 2-D animation is a combination of Disney’s older style of detailed watercolor backgrounds and a simpler and more economical style of plain line drawings. Still, it’s lovely, there is an abundance of bright hues, and every character is vividly drawn.

Whether it’s the story, the characters, the music, or the artwork, “Cinderella” is hard not to like or, in some cases I daresay, love.

Video:
The Disney people have restored the picture beautifully, frame by frame. The colors glow brilliantly, now corrected to their original shades; the definition is sharp; and there isn’t a mar, a scratch, a fade, or a speck of grain in sight. Naturally, the disc offers the movie in its original fullscreen dimensions as well, modified only a hair from its 1.37:1 ratio to a standard television’s 1.33:1 size.

Audio:
The sound comes in a restored mono or a new Dolby Digital 5.1 theater mix. The remix is extremely well balanced and much better sounding than I thought it would be. There isn’t much action in the surrounds except a bit of musical ambience enhancement, but the front-channel information is nicely spread out. What’s more, there is very little of the exaggeration we find in, say, “Aladdin,” so the audio is a pleasure to the ear.

Extras:
As always, the Disney studios cram as much bonus material onto two discs as possible. I can’t say I found all of it illuminating, but the sheer quantity of the stuff must count for something. Disc one includes the feature film presentation; twenty-four scene selections; French and Spanish spoken languages; English captions for the hearing impaired; Sneak Peeks at other Disney titles; a preview of the extras on disc two; and an index.

In addition, disc one contains “Cinderella Stories,” a thirty-three minute presentation of ESPN hosted by Joe Namath, which looks back on Cinderella stories in sports, things like the ’69 New York Jets, the 1980 Olympic ice hockey team, and soccer superstar Pele. Then, there’s a newly made, live-action music video, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” sung by the Disney Channel “Circle of Stars.” Its updated musical style seemed to me totally out of character for the movie, and I hated it. To make matters worse, there’s a three-minute making-of featurette of the music video that goes with it. Finally, there’s yet another newly made music video, this one a compilation of animated Disney princesses in “Everybody Can Be a Princess.”

Disc two includes a multitude of additional bonus items, divided into four categories. The first group contains two deleted scenes totaling about nine minutes, including an introduction. They are titled “The Cinderella Work Song” and “Dancing on a Cloud,” both with songs and music done to rough sketches and drawings. The second category is “Music and More,” wherein we find a six-minute excerpt from an early TV show hosted by Perry Como, where some of the music is premiered; then, there’s the “Cinderella” title song done in an original demo recording; seventeen minutes of unused songs, also in original demo form (including “Sing a Little, Dream a Little,” “I’m in the Middle of a Muddle,” “The Mice Song,” “The Dress My Mother Wore,” “Dancing on a Cloud,” “I Lost My Heart at the Ball,” and “The Face That I See at Night”); and three excerpts from 1948 and 1950 radio programs that feature music and voices from “Cinderella.” The third category is “Games,” which contains “House of Royalty” and “Princess Pajama Jam,” plus a DVD-ROM design studio, “The Royal Life.” They are mainly directed at young girls.

For adults, the fourth category, “Backstage Disney,” may be of the greatest interest. Here we find the centerpiece of the bonus items, the documentary “From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella.” It’s thirty-eight minutes long and divided into four chapters that cover the history of the movie, the animation, the voices, and the music. Interestingly, in 1950 Disney hadn’t had a feature hit movie since “Snow White”; not even “Pinocchio” or “Fantasia” had shown a profit in their initial releases, so “Cinderella” was something of a gamble for the studio. If it didn’t succeed, Uncle Walt was ready to throw in the towel on feature films. In addition, we find “The Cinderella That Almost Was,” fourteen more minutes of background on the making of the film (Walt Disney had been developing the “Cinderella” idea for almost thirty years before he brought it to the screen); a storyboard-to-film comparison of the opening sequence; “A Tribute to Disney’s Nine Old Men,” the original animation team; “The Art of Mary Blair,” the studio’s art director; “Laugh-O-Gram: Cinderella,” from 1922, a very different, very early Disney view of the story; a Mickey Mouse Club excerpt from 1958 with Helen Stanley; still frame and slide-show galleries of artwork; six original and reissue trailers; and a request for involvement in various charitable organizations in “Dreams Come True: See How You Can Get Involved.” In case you get lost in all of this material, there’s an index on the menu screen, too.

Both discs, plus a handy DVD guide of chapters and contents, come housed in a slim-line keep case, further contained in a handsome cardboard slipcover with a foldout front cover. It’s another of Disney’s elite Platinum-Edition packages. And this time the guidebook is easier to follow than some previous Disney inserts. Also, let me assure everyone that the words “First Time on DVD” and “Limited Time Only” you see on our own cover art do not appear on the actual product. The Disney publicity department only made the cover art that you see available to the press, which is why it’s all over the Net, I suppose in an effort to encourage people to buy now and avoid regretting it later. The Disney studios have always put their major films into limited release, a fact that some potential buyers have never grasped, let alone agreed with.

For more on “Cinderella,” see “Cinderella Story: A Teleconference with Ilene Woods and Don Hahn.”

Parting Thoughts:
I find it difficult to understand the relative neglect the Disney people have shown this picture; we’re eight years into the DVD era, and “Cinderella” is only just now showing up on disc. But maybe that’s the plight of many overlooked, underappreciated works of art that only a few fans consider “classics” until the rest of the world catches up. When such works do get rediscovered, though, a whole new generation awakens to the pleasure. Let’s hope the DVD incarnation of “Cinderella” helps the movie maintain its public image for a while longer, at least until the Disney PR department pulls it from the shelves for eventual rerelease.

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