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"Cinderella III" Makes Real Movie Magic

Cinderella III box artEven before seeing it, Disney fans are citing many reasons to dislike Cinderella III. It’s another direct-to-video sequel from the Disney studios, joining a crowded field of sequels that range from the pretty good to the nearly unwatchable. It’s also a sequel to one of the studio’s most beloved animated classics, even though the original’s conclusion left little room for a follow-up, let alone a second one. By relying on one of its most solid franchises, the studio opens itself to accusations that it is simply milking its cash cows rather than doing something truly innovative. The third movie also seems to take no notice of its predecessor, which will confuse the continuity-minded. And, if on-line hyperbole is to be believed, the mere existence of this movie opens up holes in the space-time continuum through which precious childhood experiences will be savaged.

These reasons to dismiss Cinderella III out of hand are all overbalanced by one single, decisive counterargument: Cinderella III is a terrific movie that is fun, sweet, funny, and charming, and that even manages to surpass the original in some aspects.

Cinderella III starts one year after the end of the first film. The title character and her prince live a life of delirious happiness at the palace, while her evil stepmother and stepsisters live in poverty and squalor. The status quo changes in a flash when the stepmother manages to obtain the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand. She uses it to go back in time to change history so the glass slipper fits stepsister Anastasia instead of Cinderella. The remainder of the film is an extended answer to the question of which is more powerful: Magic or True Love?

What do you mean, 'People hate the film when they haven't even seen it?'The answer will not surprise even the most naive viewer. If nothing else, Disney’s Princess merchandising stands to lose tremendously should Cinderella lose her royal status. However, despite an all-but-inevitable ending, the movie invents numerous ways to keep you guessing throughout its 74-minute running time. The story and the way it is told produces a tantalizing combination of expectation and uncertainty that makes for truly fine film-making and an incredibly satisfying movie-watching experience.

One of the best creative decisions was to pull the Fairy Godmother out of the picture early. Cinderella was always one of the most appealing of Disney’s princesses because she has to endure the most before her “happily ever after.” However, once the first movie gets started, Cinderella gets everything handed to her, either by her animal friends or the Fairy Godmother. By pushing the power to her antagonists, this movie forces Cinderella to take a much more active role in her fate. Letting her earn her happy ending through her own efforts makes her a much more winning and modern heroine without losing the sunny sense of optimism that won our hearts in the first place. It helps that her romantic co-star has been granted an equally charming personality implant. The Prince proves to be a surprisingly resilient and resourceful individual, stretching far beyond the blandly perfect Ken doll presented in the original movie. His charm and sense of humor combine with Cinderella’s sweetness and determination to make them a delightful screen couple. Not only do we expect these two crazy kids to end up together, we actively want it to happen.

No, Anastasia, I'm sure they don't all hate you.However, the real winner in the personality lottery is the stepsister Anastasia, who gains a worthy character arc of her own. She very nearly claims Cinderella III as her own, since she is the one who grows and changes the most as the story unfolds. If Cinderella and the Prince produce the film’s sense of anticipation, it is Anastasia who gives it its sense of uncertainty. It is a credit to the film’s creators that they manage to make her as sympathetic as they do while ensuring that she remains quite selfish for the most part. Even though our sympathies naturally fall to Cinderella, we end up feeling truly bad for Anastasia when she doesn’t get what she wants. The movie unfolds in a way that packs a surprising emotional wallop and delivers a surprisingly tender moral.

If nothing else, the movie is absolutely beautiful from a technical standpoint. Disney’s Australian studio (now sadly shuttered) really outdid themselves with the animation, which is fluid, bright, and flawless. The film skillfully duplicates the classic look of the original movie, while integrating some of the more impressive effects and gloss that we’ve come to expect from modern animation. Cinderella III‘s animation is truly feature-film quality and among the best produced by Disney in years. It is also paired with marvelous voice acting. Jennifer Hale’s Cinderella and C. D. Barnes’ Prince win us over easily, while Susan Blakeslee laces her performance as Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother, with understated menace. Tress MacNeille’s performance as Anastasia contributes greatly to the weight of the character.

One more time!Of course, it’s not a Disney kids’ film without the obligatory cute animal sidekicks and songs. Luckily, the sidekicks are among the best that Disney ever produced, with the plucky mice Jaq and Gus in Cinderella’s corner and the rotundly evil cat Lucifer in the stepmother’s. Surprisingly, Lucifer’s moment to shine comes during an evil perversion of the original movie’s magic coach ride—a pulse-pounding chase sequence that is highly-effective, if somewhat incongruous. The songs are solid and functional, with the sound and feel of Broadway show tunes, but they are also almost completely forgettable. The one exception is the show-stopping “At the Ball,” when Jaq and Gus explain things to a slightly bewildered prince through a boisterous and funny song and dance. However, it’s worth pointing out that the movie’s score is wonderful; as an example, the musical cues during the Prince and Anastasia’s first dance turn an amusing scene into a hilarious one.

The single disc DVD presents the film in beautiful anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks along with French and Spanish versions. The only extras are a music video of the closing theme song, an assortment of DVD games, and a handful of trailers and DVD-ROM features. Oddly, the behind-the-scenes featurette is about the Cinderella stage show on the Disney Cruises rather than the making of this movie. Its inclusion will do little to dispel the persistent rumors that the show influenced the movie (according to Disney, the two projects are entirely independent, sharing only the songwriters in common). The release may be thin on extras, but there is certainly nothing to complain about in the movie itself.

Friends don't let evil cats drive the stagecoachIt is particularly frustrating to write a review in the full knowledge that it will probably do little to change people’s preconceptions about the film. There are Disney fans who will simply refuse to believe that anything good could come out of a film titled Cinderella III and will not give it a chance no matter how many good reviews it receives. This is truly a shame, since the movie displays nearly all the qualities that these same fans claim they want in Disney’s movie projects. If all the Disney direct-to-video sequels were this good, Disney fans would have precious little reason to complain about them.

All images in this review © Disney. All rights reserved.

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