DisneyToon Studios (February 26 2002), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (December 18 2007), single disc, 73 mins plus supplements, 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99
Cinderella returns just over 50 years after her fairytale ending came true for a trio of cutesy “life in the palace” adventures that do little to explain what happened “after happily ever after”.
The Sweatbox Review:
After the relatively pleasant surprise that Cinderella III: A Twist In Time turned out to be, I was rather eager to look back on the DisneyToon division’s previous attempt to provide a follow up to Walt Disney’s 1950 classic Cinderella. Cinders III, while admittedly suffering some of the same direct-to-video problems in the first half that most of these knock-off films do, spun things around for its final act to provide an exciting climax to its actually pretty nifty “what if?” concept, whereupon the Wicked Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, gained control of the Fairy Godmother’s wand and undid the “happily ever after” the original story ended with.
Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, in comparison, has always been seen as one of the very worst of what the Disney “cheapquels” could offer. I’d seen moments from a – ahem – copy of The Disney Channel’s showing, and though I’d not sat through all of it, what I saw was enough to mark it as “one to avoid”, and certainly not worth adding to my DVD collection. But, I’m a stickler for not having any gaps in my franchise collections and, even though I’ll stop following a series if later films don’t live up to expectations, I just don’t like having a “one” and a “three” and not having the “two” that goes with them in the middle. So when Disney announced a new, ultimately not-so Special Edition release, part of me wanted to finally see just what caused so much negative reaction, and part of me simply wanted to complete my Cinders sets!
Unfortunately, I found very little to like about Cinderella II, and there’s certainly nothing of the magic that A Twist In Time seemed to draw upon from Walt’s original movie. The guys and gals at DisneyToon really worked up the quality level on their films over the years, going from what I call the “black marker pen” style of the Aladdin follow-ups, through a quasi-budget feature animation approach that took in the sequels to The Lion King, Lady And The Tramp and One Hundred And One Dalmatians, and finally to a very polished almost-feature film quality that meant scenes from The Lion King, Tarzan and Bambi could be intercut with their original outings and not cause a discernable difference for the majority of kid audiences that these films were ultimately aimed at. Cinderella III even revised scenes from the original film that had aficionados think they were watching stock footage!
But Cinders II: Electric Boogaloo falls into that crossover period between the first and middle styles, where cheaper animation was being outsourced to Japan but colored with individual character lines, which lent things a value that the actual personality acting painfully lacked in matching. That’s not to say it’s bad: there was a lot worse animation and tremendously hamfisted work going on in the likes of Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World, which otherwise marred a perfectly robust storyline, and (shudder) The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II, which just makes me cringe to think that someone actually thought you could get away with an actual title like that and still come off looking like you were serious about such things.
The whole Dreams Come True enterprise, effectively, falls down from the opening Disney logo. While the idea of the famous blue and white castle dissolving into the Prince’s lavish abode may sound – and actually looks – pretty neat, as any Disney fan worth half their salt knows, the logo is and has always been since the earliest days of Disneyland, Sleeping Beauty’s palatial residence. Strike one, right there! Hardly better, once that’s out of the way, the supposedly flashy, sparkly reveal of the main title is so cheaply animated as to be slightly embarrassing. Points are made up by composer Michael Tavera, who uses the music as a rescue attempt to breathe some semblance of heart and soul into this otherwise soulless, commercial endeavor. Here he melds in some of Jerry Livingston, Al Hoffman and Mack David’s original songs and score to good effect – indeed the opening strains of A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes is what lends the opening (castle faux pas aside) the needed enticing factor to watch more.
Regrettably, there isn’t actually much more worth watching, as this isn’t really even a movie as such and more a linking – as with Belle’s Magical World, Tarzan And Jane and the Atlantis releases – of three television episodes strung together to make up just over an hour of animated screen time (and a six-minute credit scroll). The production background on Dreams Come True is hard to pin down, but it’s likely that, as with Belle, Cinders was either to be the star of her own Ariel’s Undersea Adventures type program that got cancelled three shows in, or that the company just likes making these one off Princess stories (witness the recent Enchanted Tales) and didn’t know what else to do with these three. There’s certainly nothing that suggests any chronology between the tales, nor even the original film and its eventual threequel, and it’s quite fortunate that one can enjoy A Twist In Time as a direct follow up to Cinderella without having had to have sat through this unfocused mess of a “movie”.
The attention to background design is pretty apparent, and there’s a fair line continued from following the 1950 original, but it’s all a little too beholden to the earlier film: there are several elements lifted lock, stock and barrel that smack of laziness. Even though they’re now living in the palace, the skirting board shortcuts are still handily there for the mice, and now they have a new cat – Pom-Pom – to deal with, who would be a carbon copy of Lucifer if she wasn’t white. Clever switch, eh? And as much as this shares with Walt’s film, it seems happy to break convention too: the Fairy Godmother has given up her mythical status – here’s she’s walking around the palace and talking to the mice like an old dear – all well and good but not in keeping with the mystical aspects of the original fairytale and losing the secret ingredient that makes her magical. She chiefly appears in the linking material – the creation of a “second” Cinderella storybook filled with the mice’s recollections of when Cinders helped them out in the past. Cue the three flashback episodes…
The simple, shallow writing, with sign posted dialogue, inexpressive faces and rotten soundalikes (Jennifer Hale’s too-innocent princess has been directed so as to erase any nuance, while only the always-great Corey Burton nails his take on Gus) struggle to bring any life to proceedings. The first story, Aim To Please, is all about Cinders adjusting to life in the palace; a lesson about being individual with a very 2000s spin on things, not least the overlaid power ballads. Up next is Tall Tail, in which Jaq, feeling insignificant, is transformed into a human so as to better help Cinderella, but finds being bigger only leads to more trouble! Finally, Cinderella’s stepsister Anastasia falls in love with a local Baker in An Uncommon Romance, much to the chagrin of Lady Tremaine. However, Cinders plays matchmaker and encourages the relationship by inviting both to a royal ball, and meanwhile Jaq and Gus set up a similar arrangement to get Lucifer and Pom-Pom together.
Taken on their own as three individual television episodes, the stories would probably play well enough to the excitable girls they’re no doubt intended for. But with the three tagged together, it’s all a bit too much sweetness and an abundance of nothing, with three sets of life lessons and “delightful” payoffs proving enough to put off even this usually easy to please eager young audience. Of the three stories, the “best” one (as in, least offensive!) is the last one, probably because it doesn’t dwell on Cinderella’s quite frankly boring royal situation and her now very bland, overly sunny, one dimensional personality, and it even works as a lesson for standing up for yourself. The Baker himself is a bit of a drip, it has to be said, but nonetheless the segment made enough of an impact to be the one and only (minor) plot element to be carried over into the third film.
Capping things off – after a cringe worthy camera pullback from the palace and final “TV movie” feel fade out – is an funked up version, by Brooke Allison, of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, here renamed “Put It Together” and thereby supposedly referring to the mice’s storybook. Bearing little relation to the classic original, this seems nothing less than an opportunity to run a track from a DisneyMania pop album for a little added exposure (as seen in the extras’ music video).
Despite my negative attitude, I won’t say this is the absolute nadir of Disney’s “cheapquels”, but it certainly didn’t help stave off that phrase at the time. The further adventures of Aladdin always get a lot of fan support, even though they’re very poorly animated, and Pocahontas II just about manages to scrape by, as mentioned, on a story that actually does progress the characters’ legend from where the theatrical movie left off. 2002 seemed to be a bit of a dip in quality year for DisneyToon – apart from Cinderella II, we were also offered the Tarzan And Jane compilation and Hunchback II, truly plummeting to the depths of despair with both a lacklustre story and muddled animation that a child could have probably better handled. And although Cinderella II: Dreams Come True lacks any magic of its own kind, it’s never as bad as that!
Is This Thing Loaded?
Originally coming to disc some six years ago, Dreams Come True gets a revisiting on disc before it disappears back into the vault (hopefully for good) as a “Special Edition” title. An early FastPlay release, the disc spins into a selection of Sneak Peeks for other Disney product, all of which have been updated to promote new and upcoming 2008 releases. With additional previews available from their own menu, the full line up includes One Hundred And One Dalmatians, Underdog, Tinker Bell, Phineas And Ferb, The AristoCats, Snow Buddies, WALL-E and generic Blu-Ray and Movie Rewards spots.
The much touted big extra to this edition is a new game, Race To The Royal Banquet. The packaging announces words such as “exciting”, and “multi-level play”, except this is anything but, being a badly explained, confusing and ultimately frustrating activity. The premise is that you have to help the mice get to the banquet, “navigating” them through shortcuts and past the prowling cats Lucifer and Pom-Pom. It sounds cool, and to be honest the re-use of animation from the feature is imaginatively done, but there’s little to no game play and in this age of much faster screen sports, it’s too slow for experienced gamers and too fiddly for the very young.
The rest of the supplements appear to be carbon copy lifts from the 2002 edition: a Cinderella Storybook: A Little Misunderstanding, in read-along or self-reading versions, seems to run like another (unfinished?) episode of the intended series, or at least like an alternate subplot from the Jaq segment Tall Tail, while another set-top game, Cinderella’s Enchanted Castle has quite nicely been put together, but offers absolutely zero quantities of interactive fun.
A welcome surprise was the actually quite factual behind the scenes featurette Musical Magic, divided into two halves and looking at the contributions of composer Mike Tavera and teen popstrel Brooke Allison. In a nutshell, the almost six minute piece is again aimed at younger audiences (“a music score is created by a person called a composer”), who are unlikely to find much interest here other than seeing Brooke (if she’s even that big a star now) in the recording studio gushing about how much she’s thrilled to be a part of the movie. It’s no great insight into what the filmmakers thought they were achieving, but unexpected as this comes on such a release it’s the best bonus here.
Finally, Brooke is back – nearly – in a Put It Together music video, which eschews showing the young girl singing the song and goes with a simple video montage of movie clips to illustrate the almost four minute track. Presented in fullscreen, the lack of synchronised voices to the animation only played up its undemanding qualities. The original 2002 disc made reference to a DVD-ROM extra entitled Cinderella’s Doll House, but that doesn’t appear to have made the cut this time around.
For those – like me – adding Cinderella II to their collections simply to plug a gap, you’ll be pleased to note that the case comes covered in a glossy slipcase that fits in nicely with the Platinum Edition of the original classic and the release of A Twist In Time earlier in 2007. Much, much better artwork than graced the 2002 release adorns the front sleeve, with Cinders herself looking pretty alluring above the title, though she’s oddly squished off-model and overly coquettish on the disc art itself. An insert lists the chapter stops on one side and the bonus features on the other, with the all-important Disney Movie Rewards code on a separate sheet tucked in too.
Ink And Paint:
Presented as before in a native digitally created 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Cinderella II looks pretty good if not as crystal clear as usual. I was fairly surprised at what look light grain on the image, and noticed the mosquito noise around hard contrasted areas, particularly the character outlines and color clashes, which flirt with the over use of edge enhancement. I’d have been tempted to suggest this is the same transfer as was featured last time, but a comparison between the concurrently released Return To Never-Land and its own original release revealed a little more noise than before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a re-encode had been carried out here too. There’s nothing abnormal per se, and the artwork is as good as it needs to look, but this is nothing too special.
Back in the days of the earlier direct-to-video issues, Disney apparently felt that the addition of DTS tracks might be a hook with which to catch collectors – a view I’ve often felt is at odds with that market’s view on these titles to begin with, and what child is especially going to be wowed with DTS over a perfectly decent Dolby 5.1 track? Unfortunately, Dreams Come True’s extra wattage doesn’t really bring anything to the ball that the Dolby mix doesn’t, meaning quite a waste of disc space that could have been better handed to the images. Dolby dubs are also provided for French and Spanish listeners, with hearing-impaired English subtitles also an option.
Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is one of those movies that I’m quite happy to have been sent a review copy of, but not one that I would jump out to purchase or even recommend for a rent. It tries to be charming, it tries to please the intended young female audience, and it tries very hard not to come over as some by the numbers, made for money brand exercise, but unfortunately fails on all three counts and then some. At best, this is among the more innocent of the dreaded direct-to-video titles that have gone down in infamy, a “best of the worst” if you will, but it’s certainly not an essential title for any collection. I’m glad, as a Disney nut, to finally have seen what a modern Cinderella II looks like, and happy enough to have it stacked between the original and much, much better second attempt to sequelize Walt’s 1950 classic, but unless you have any of those reasons on your list, Dreams Come True is probably left undreamt.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?