Before I begin writing about "Cinderella II: Dreams Come True," let's get a few things straight about what this direct-to-DVD title is NOT:
1) It is NOT a sequel to the popular 1950 animated feature, but rather a collection of three made-for-TV-style stories that model life-lessons.
2) It is NOT intended for adults. There's not enough depth here to fill Chip's "Beauty and the Beast" cup. Even if you are in need of a life-lesson on being true to yourself, you'll feel as ginormously out-of-place as Will Ferrell's "Buddy" was in "Elf" school.
That said, "Cinderella II: Dreams Come True" will appeal to the Disney princess in your household--if, that is, you've allowed your little girl to get swept up in one of the most successful marketing campaigns aimed at little girls since Barbie debuted in 1959.
At least the messages that come with Disney's princess blitz are healthy. It's almost like an anti-Barbie campaign, where the focus (though each and every one of these princesses is easy-on-the-eyes to look at) isn't on external beauty, conformity, or becoming popular with the "in" crowd, but rather on internal beauty and character.
These three tales are strung together using a framework of the mice wanting to hear another Cinderella story from the Fairy Godmother, and, upon learning that one story is all that exists, they decide to make a book of additional stories--with FG's bibbadi-bobbadi-boo help, of course.
So we get the first tale, supposedly recalled from one of the mice, about Cinderella's first day at the castle. All but bullied by the domineering Prudence (voiced by Holland Taylor), who tries to instruct Cinderella (Jennifer Hale) on how to be a princess--she was a commoner, you'll recall--Cinderella quickly discovers that just about every idea she has is unprincesslike, and therefore just plain wrong. But with a little help from her friends she comes to realize that she needs to be who she is--or in the language of this video, "true to herself"--in order to find happiness. Be honest. Don't put on airs. Be inclusive. Don't keep commoners from entering the castle. If they're her friends, by golly, then she should still be able to welcome them into her home. Bland colors? Forget it. Staid dances? Come on. Let's rock! Of course, Prince Charming (Christopher Daniel Barnes) comes home from a hard day at the office and decides that all of the changes are just lovely!
It's worth mentioning that all of this is done in a style of animation that splits the difference between cut-rate Saturday morning cartoons and big-budget full-length features. It's a step-up, visually, from the standard TV fare, but a step down from what you see on the big screen.
In the second tale, it's Jaq (Rob Paulsen) who's having the identity crisis. He wants to be a person, not a mouse, and it takes a spell from FG and a stint at trying to be something he's not--human--for him to reach the same conclusion as Cinderelly did in her segment. You have to be who you are, and appreciate that.
Yes, parents, there are far worse videos for your children to watch. The stories may be formulaic and TV-shallow (don't look for any interesting complications here--everything's on a pretty straightforward narrative and emotional arc) but they're pretty darned wholesome.
The third tale hits a theme that's become popular with the Disney Princess marketing campaign: everybody can be a princess. This sense of inclusiveness is applied here in a story about frumpy stepsister Anastasia (Tress MacNeille), who's in love with the baker (Paulsen, again) but is forbidden to see him by her mother because he's "beneath them." That's the thing about class snobbery: like trickle-down economics it starts at the top and works all the way down to the last poor schlep who has no one to look down on. In this story, Cinderella encourages her stepsister to follow her heart, which we learn in lesson after lesson is a part of "being true to yourself" and finding true happiness.
All in a day's work for the Disney princess squad.
"Cinderella II" is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, "enhanced" for 16x9 televisions. It looks very good for a direct-to-video release, with bright colors and sharp edge detail.
The audio is also surprisingly good, with an English DTS 5.1 Surround delivering a bigger sound than these stories really need. You hear it most, and it seems most appropriate, in moments of mouse-peril when the two cats are on the prowl. Additional sound options are Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish.
For the re-issue of "Cinderella II" they Disney folks added another game to sweeten the deal. "Race to the Royal Banquet Game" isn't as frenetic as it sounds. Rather, it's geared for the same age as the ones who will presumably enjoy this video the most: little girls young enough to enjoy playing dress-up. It's an easy, three-stage game that has you press enter to help mice get safely into a hole, or to help Gus (hiding under a teacup) by pressing "enter" every time he bumps into an obstacle on the table. The third stage is the most difficult, where your little princess is supposed to use the control arrows to help the mice navigate an interior wall. But even that's so geared for the young set that an arrow-key icon flashes on the screen when it's time to press a button--well in advance of a hazard.
The rest of the bonus features are a carry-over from the initial release. There's an okay video storybook that takes you through 24 frames and reinforces the lesson du jour, a music video by Brooke Allison that features the animated mice, a short music feature that's actually pitched at younger children to help them appreciate what a score is, and another game. This one, "Enchanted Castle Set-Top Game," your little princess has to help Cinderella prepare for a ball by cleaning up a room one item at a time (clues are offered as prompts), and choose the correct ensemble for Cinderella-which, ironically, goes against the very thing that this DVD tries to teach youngsters. Be yourself??
If you rate this by the same standards to the original "Cinderella," you'd have to give the 1950 charmer an 8 or 9, and this one a 4 or 5. But it's not aiming for the same family audience. "Cinderella II: Dreams Come True" is a children's video, nothing more. It's strictly for Disney princesses. And as children's programming goes, it merits a 6. Yes, it could have been more imaginative, yes, there could have been more depth, but the animation isn't bad, the production values are decent, and there are worse life-lessons for your children to be absorbing while they're entertained.