***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
directed by Clyde Geronomi & Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
by Bill Chambers Despite its streamlining of the particulars, Walt Disney's feature-length Cinderella ultimately takes fewer liberties with the source material (chiefly, Charles Perrault's "Cinderella, or The Glass Slipper") than almost any of his other animated fairytales. Consequently, there remains the problem of a heroine who'd still be sweeping the floors were it not for her Fairy Godmother, the deus ex machina to end deus ex machinas. The Cinderella myth, as Perrault interpreted it, is at best anachronistic--we learn that beauty is a virtue but that grace is a gift...whatever that means. Disney's contemporization turns it into a karma fable of sorts, with martyrdom paying off like a jackpot and the comeuppance of Cinderella's tormentors the real happily-ever-after of the piece. Cinderella's a less-than-ideal role model for the millions exposed to the movie in childhood, really, because she accepts victimhood until external forces intervene on her behalf.
The fact that there was a Cinderella Man arguably attests to not only the Disney film's enduring popularity, but also its gender-neutral appeal--Russell Crowe's Jim Braddock is romanticized but not feminized by the appellation. The genius of Walt Disney--who, desperate for a hit after pro bono work for the war effort left him in hock, gazed deep into the heart of the zeitgeist--was in scaling back the Prince Charming character (here actually called Prince Charming for once) until he was less a heartthrob than a MacGuffin, thus broadening the opportunity for identification with her. Cinderella is such a perfect distillation of the American Dream, though, that it might finally owe its success to domestic audiences being more narcissistic than they are introspective. It's that vacuous revenge fantasy of attending your high-school reunion in furs, played out as moral victory.
But there's an emphasis on dreaming in Cinderella that can't be discounted. The picture opens with a sleeping Cinderella (voice of Ilene Woods) shooing away some bluebirds who've provided a wake-up call; "I know it's a lovely morning," she chides, "but it was a lovely dream, too." She proceeds to serenade her critter companions with "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes." Her task is then to wake the others in her household, including the cat, Lucifer, who acts most displeased to be first in Cinderella's morning rotation. The king (Luis Van Rooten)--King Charming?--becomes determined to track down the owner of the glass slipper after having a dream of giving piggyback rides to the grandkids he's so far been denied. Cinderella almost seals her fate by going into an irrepressible reverie at the thought of marrying the prince, causing wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley) to cotton on to her alter ego. The Grand Duke (Van Rooten again) drifts in and out of consciousness as Cinderella's stepsisters try to shoehorn themselves into the telltale slipper. It's a film in which the characters are perpetually in a fugue state, which becomes a formal pretense for the molasses movements of the heavily-rotoscoped animation; for Cinderella's Doctor Dolittle-style communion with animals; for the inexplicable presence of magic; and for a moment where Cinderella's image is carried off in soap bubbles as she absently sings "Sing Sweet Nightingale" whilst scrubbing the floor. No having to get drunk before the pink elephants go on parade here.
It's Lynchian--the "Sing Sweet Nightingale" sequence is proto-Julee Cruise, if you will, and let it be said that Disney's decision to transcribe the purposefully-unintelligible mouse dialogue for the Blu-ray's optional subtitles adds another layer of "Twin Peaks" weirdness to the thing--and it's Buñuelian, a dadaistic story of female suffering and mutable identities. To that end, the production design is incorrigibly vulvic--simply the presence of a dressing divider in Cinderella's room forces us to see her, unlike the majority of Disney maidens, as a sexual being with lady-bits to hide, while the film has a lot of fun with curtains. (It seems no accident that Lady Tremaine throws open a pair of giant purple drapes when it appears her daughters will at last have a gentleman caller.) And Cinderella's essential passivity, however aggravating, proves a vital part of the film's deceptive surface.
Although everything is Disney status quo in Cinderella, what with its anthropomorphic creatures, beautiful princess-in-the-making, and witchy villains jealous of the heroine's beauty, the picture is tantalizingly light on exposition. What is this young, healthy, vibrant woman's damage that she submits to this oppression, cooking and cleaning for ingrates all day, and is it unrelated that her first instinct upon freeing a rodent from its trap is to dress him up in tiny clothes--a shirt and hat she already had fabricated just in case? You have to ask why she's fearful of Prince Charming seeing her midnight reversion--what reality is she afraid of presenting? While I feel revulsion towards Lady Tremaine, a dead ringer for the vile woman who taught me in sixth grade (I suspect she's a veritable inkblot-hag), it crossed my mind that by locking Cinderella in an attic like Rochester's first wife when the Grand Duke comes calling, on some level she's trying to contain madness. Even if Lady Tremaine cultivated that madness, it's an almost merciful gesture, considering what kind of buyer's remorse the prince is bound to have from marrying this crazy cat lady with a sorceress on cosmic speed-dial.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Disney has refurbished Cinderella for Blu-ray in their typical wizardly fashion. The picture docks on the format in a 1.34:1, 1080p transfer with lush yet surprisingly reserved colours and a base level of detail reflective of the hand-drawn artwork. In other words, it hasn't been oversharpened, and although grain is generally absent, the image avoids looking sterile. (Interestingly, there appears to be a greater density of picture information than meets the eye, as uncompressed captures of the most spartan frames take up as much as 8mb.) This is the first Diamond title, I note, without a single interlacing artifact; either Cinderella didn't have any damaged frames, the preservationist-restorationist team finally beat the devil, or the production failed to make use of the multiplane camera. The latter, at least, seems unlikely. Sound comes in both a 7.1 remix and the original mono, each offered up as a DTS-HD MA track. The former is pretty tasteful--I can't verify this, but I believe it sweetens fewer effects than is standard for these things, instead concentrating on opening up the songs. "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" goes plink-plonk in the subwoofer and "Sing Sweet Nightingale" wafts across the soundstage, but sometimes what should sound full merely sounds muddy. The mono option is comparatively crisp, if thin.
The most substantial extras are recycled from the 2005 Platinum Edition DVD, but there is some new material, starting with "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You," a "personalized digital storybook" that works exactly like Disney's Second Screen feature to turn Cinderella into an interactive experience for computer-savvy kids. Next comes the cover-touted Tangled Ever After (**/****, 6 mins., HD/5.1 DTS-HD MA), which played theatrically before the 3-D reissue of Beauty and the Beast earlier this year. (It's 2-D here, with no 3-D viewing option.) The premise--the white horse and the chameleon (I don't remember their names, or really anything about Tangled) are the ring-bearers at Rapunzel's wedding, and fuck that up--is engineered to avoid pricey vocal talent but yields a few laughs, not so much from the escalating Rube Goldberg gags as from the horse's deadpan exasperation with his own bad luck. Surprisingly, Tangled helmers Nathan Greno and Byron Howard returned to the director's chair, so it's got that going for it.
"The Real Fairy Godmother" (12 mins., HD) pays tribute to the late Mary Alice O'Connor, on whom animator husband A. Kendall O'Connor based the eponymous character. A lifelong philanthropist, Mary Alice was eventually named "The Fairy Godmother of Burbank" for her tireless fundraising efforts and contributions to various causes. Nothing attests to her busy schedule better than a brief slideshow of gorgeous Christmas cards O'Connor illustrated for his wife, almost all of which incorporate the telephone that was evidently glued to her ear. Hosted by a hardhat-wearing Ginnifer Goodwin, "Behind the Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland" (8 mins., HD) pimps a new, under-construction extension at the Orlando theme park that will incorporate iconic scenery from girl Disney movies--most especially Beauty and the Beast, if the preponderance of clips from that crapfest are any indication. M. David Melvin's The Magic of the Glass Slipper (10 mins., HD), meanwhile, is a baffling, Hugo-esque short commissioned to tie in with Christian Louboutin's commemorative glass slipper. Louboutin stars as an old-timey version of himself who takes inspiration for his new shoe from cartoon mice and a big-eyed, mute waif (French model Claire Lang) scrubbing the pavement outside his workshop. In bookends, a menagerie of Jean-Pierre Jeunet grotesques alleging to be Louboutin's assistants hound the artisan about meeting his deadline; turns out these are Louboutin's actual assistants, playing themselves.
Lastly, an "Alternate Opening Title Sequence" (1 min., HD) reconstructs via thumbnail sketches a discarded introduction to Cinderella that would've brought Lady Tremaine into the action sooner. I'm glad they went with the revised approach. At this, we move on to "Classic DVD Bonus Features," none of which get an HD bump but all of which are comically appended with the prefix "Classic."
Uh-oh, it's unctuous Don Hahn, whose presence is a tip-off that these special features will skim the surface. Hahn provides a 2-minute video intro for a pair of songs ("The Cinderella Work Song"--not the same one that ended up in the picture--and "Dancing on a Cloud") that were dropped before they reached the animation stage but for which enough artwork survived to facilitate these animatics.
MUSIC & MORE
Cinderella and Perry Como (6 mins.)
Stumping for the film, Ilene Woods, the voice of Cinderella, performs a medley with the high-pitched Fontaine Sisters on Como's variety show. A hysterical last-minute cameo by a certain Mouse House icon blessedly mollifies the Fifties sap that builds up over the course of this well-preserved kinescope.
Cinderella Title Song (2 mins.)
The original demo recording, audio-only. A floral backdrop accompanies this and seven Unused Songs: "Sing a Little, Dream a Little," "I'm in the Middle of a Muddle," "The Mouse Song," "The Dress My Mother Wore," "Dancing on a Cloud," "I Lost My Heart at the Ball," and "The Face That I See in the Night."
The world learns that Woods will be lending her pipes to Disney's upcoming Cinderella in a "Village Store" excerpt from March 25, 1948; she subsequently performs "When You Wish Upon a Star" for listeners. Also on board: Gulf Oil Presents and Scouting the Stars excerpts from the year of the movie's release.
GAMES & ACTIVITIES
House of Royalty
Another unnaturally enthusiastic teenybopper emerges from the Disney petri dish to host this three-part guide to "looking like," "living like," and "acting like" a princess. Anecdotes from "real-life princess" Catherine Oxenberg are solicited in the final instalment, but of course you never hear that belonging to royalty has its disadvantages as well.
Princess Pajama Jam
Learn the moves from an assortment of Disney princesses.
The Royal Life
A ROM-enabled, interactive fashion studio.
From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes (7 mins.)
Your basic preamble, delivered by the eclectic likes of the always-welcome animator/animation historian John Canemaker, Disney animator Andreas Deja, Garry Marshall (because he traffics in Cinderella remakes), and many others. If you possess little knowledge of Disney's participation in the "Good Neighbor" policy or excursions into propaganda, it should connect a few dots.
Of Mice and Nine Old Men (13 mins.)
The first of two featurettes focusing on Disney's top-flight animation team, who took their sobriquet from Roosevelt's nickname for the Supreme Court. It's useful for learning who drew what and how, in some cases, Cinderella eschewed "typecasting" (e.g., Bambi/seven dwarfs designer Frank Thomas taking on the harsh-looking Lady Tremaine) to brilliant effect. An interview with the late Milt Kahl from 1995 engenders sympathy for the Nine Old Men's disdain towards rotoscoping, a technique liberally applied throughout Cinderella.
A Perfect Fit: The Voices of Cinderella (7 mins.)
Surviving vocal talent Woods, Mike Douglas! (the singing voice of Prince Charming--his Chicago accent precluded his getting the speaking part), and Lucille Bliss (ugly stepsister Anastasia) reminisce alongside mini-hagiographies of Verna Felton (the Fairy Godmother, who died the same day Walt did) and Audley (who bore the closest resemblance to her cartoon counterpart, Lady Tremaine).
Musically Ever After (11 mins.)
Daniel Goldman, PhD and Richard Sherman of The Sherman Brothers--who didn't have anything to do with Cinderella but were of course vital to Uncle Walt's Sixties output--take turns discussing the Tin Pan Alley tunes written for Cinderella. Shrewd Disney had accidental hits with so many of his Silly Symphonies ditties that he not only actively pursued a number-one record this time around, he published the music himself, too. Was the soundtrack a hit? Does a fairy have wings?
The Cinderella That Almost Was (14 mins.)
Don't know whether host Hahn is responsible for the titular misnomer, but this is actually a look at the numerous revisions that were made over the years to the treatment Walt commissioned for Cinderella, replete with ridiculous voiceover 're-enactments' of production-meeting transcripts. (Whoever's playing Disney is doing a better Mr. Ed.) That being said, it's a fascinating segment, especially when Disney starts arbitrarily deciding which animals can speak English and which can only communicate via Mattel See 'n Say.
Walt's Table: A Tribute to Disney's Nine Old Men (22 mins.)
Joel Siegel moderates this roundtable with successful Nine Old Men protégés Mark Henn, John Musker, Brad Bird, Ron Clements, Hahn, Deja, and Glen Keane. However vacuous, Siegel's questions rupture a dam of nostalgia; Hahn, of course, has to have the last word, veiling a passive-aggressive plug for The Lion King in a toast to the animation giants of yesteryear. All in all, a nice tribute--but why two celebrations of the Nine Old Men (and one salute to honorary "old woman" Mary Blair (see below), conceptual artist extraordinaire) and not a single mention of Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske, or Wilfred Jackson, Cinderella's co-directors?
The Art of Mary Blair (15 mins.)
Keane succinctly observes that there are "Mary Blair-like colours" in childhood dreams, while Canemaker takes the definitive approach, signalling us to specific examples of Blair's influence on the Disney canon. Short-changed but thankfully not dismissed is the rarity of someone like Blair in a male-dominated field circa the Atomic age--but be warned: Afterwards, you'll have an intense craving to visit the Blair-designed "It's a Small World" ride.
Storyboard to Film Comparison: Opening Sequence (7 mins.)
Self-explanatory; includes Photostats from the rotoscoping sessions.
Galleries highlighting the "visual development," "Mary Blair art," "character design," "cast," "storyboard art," "layouts and backgrounds," "live-action reference," "production photos," and "publicity," viewable as either still frames or in a prepared slideshow.
1922 Laugh-o-Gram: Cinderella (7 mins.)
Derided by Hahn as unsophisticated elsewhere on the disc, this bizarre, Walt Disney-helmed artifact tells a Cinderella story so removed from the beloved feature film that one can hardly call it primordial. The R. Crumb-style artwork is plenty intriguing, though.
Excerpt from "The Mickey Mouse Club" - January 24, 1955 (4 mins.)
Helene Stanley, the naughty housewife-hot physical model for Cinderella, materializes when a little boy starts slobbering over Polly Crockett. (Stanley played Davy's wife on TV's "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier".) Then she ushers off the Mouseketeers in a nifty scale model of the Cinderella 'pumpkin' carriage.