Avid Disney fans of the 90’s and early 2000’s will remember, and probably visibly cringe at, the sudden onslaught of direct-to-video sequels that Disney Toon Studios (once Disney Movietoons) unleashed upon the market. Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Fox and the Hound, Pocahontas; hell, even Bambi.
And, as you’ve probably guessed, these were not made because the studio wanted to give thoughtful, interesting continuations of some of our favorite stories and characters, and certainly not to improve what had already worked for them.
No, these were made because:
Quality is scarce in most of them. Voice actors change or sound like they’re phoning it in, the music is limited and half-hearted, the audio quality is bad or average, and the animation is less vibrant and lively, with more lines. Like a cartoon show you’d see on t.v.
All of these factors are, of course, in comparison to the original films.
Allow me to quote the notable critic and online personality, Nostalgia Chick, as I believe she put it best:
“…sometimes you have to ask yourself: why do these things exist? Are they the product of a creative spark somewhere? Or are they a studio mandate farmed out to a third-rate production house?”
“As they were made by television people with television assets and budgets, they look like T.V. shows. They are paced like T.V. shows. They have the stakes of a T.V. episode.”
“…a quick cash-in made for stupid children who need to be babysat by Uncle Television for an hour…”
She goes on to outline the usual set up for a Disney sequel. It’s either a prequel, midquel, three-part obvious television show pilot, or sequel, and most of them involve the children of the main characters from the old movie learning the same lesson their parents did last time around, or someone “from movie 1 finding a love interest.” They are glorified fan fictions with budgets, except that these are written by the canon creators.
For those unfamiliar with the terms:
Fanon, or Fandom, is what the fans come up with (their interpretations, theories, pairings, etc.)
As a child, I saw about half of these “films”. I was too young to understand why the overall quality was so bad, but old enough to be able to notice continuity errors, voice changes, and, in general, a lot less epicness all around. The only sequels I could stand to watch, for the longest time, were Lion King 2 and Pocahontas 2, and while I have some fond memories of them and wouldn’t say they are “that bad,” I wouldn’t call them good, terribly memorable, or having any high aspirations either.
Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time, however…
On a friend’s recommendation, and the above mentioned critic’s follow-up review (Top Five Least Awful Disney Sequels, I sat down and watched this film the other day. I was surprised by its (relatively) decent quality, and it’s aspirations.
Yes. I would go so far as to say this movie aspires to do something useful, which is to give the bland-as-bread Cinderella and the other by-the-numbers good and evil characters some desperately needed development. Even Prince Charming!
Also, Cindy gets stuff to do, and has to work to keep her happily ever after, which is unique and refreshing to many, who regarded her as boring and passive in her original movie.
But how can that be, you ask?
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
Cinderella and Prince Whats-His-Name have been married a whole year, and have apparently never had a single argument the whole time, because everything is “perfectly perfect.”
No, I have not watched Cinderella 2, nor will I. From what I’ve heard, 3 doesn’t care much about the continuity of 2 anyway.
The fairy godmother (who’s back for some reason, bumming around the castle I guess) and mouse and bird friends are preparing a big anniversary dinner, while the stepmother still lives in that dilapidated old manor. Lady Tremaine (yes, the stepmother has a name, but the prince doesn’t) now makes her daughters do the chores.
That is, if Cinderella were a normal person and not a Christian archetype of goodness, kindness, and patience. I think after what she’s been through, she has a right to gloat a little. And after the events of this movie unfold, you’ll see the full extent of her unrealistic forgiveness.
The anniversary party is happening about a mile from Cindy’s old house, and Anastasia catches sight of the couple riding by and decides to follow them.
Two things to note here:
1) Anastasia is now a sweet, clumsy, quirky, misled girl, who is going to be unwittingly used by her mother to keep the plot going.
I’m all for giving her a personality and not painting her as “just evil,” as Disney has done with villains in the past, but this does create a humorous contrast to the chick in the first movie that was just as nasty as her sister, Drizella, and viciously abused Cinderella with her for many years. Need we forget that lovely dress-tearing scene?
Maybe she was just sweetly misled there too. Who knows?
Nature vs. nurture again…
2) All of this opening and introduction of the characters is taking place via the most cheesy, ear-bleedingly awful musical number. I won’t say it’s the worst of the bunch (there are only about 3 songs, and the rest is background music), because that honor goes to “At the Ball,” sung later by the comic relief mice. I won’t subject you to that one.
Mary Poppins can pull off “practically perfect in every way,” but on Cinderella, it’s just obnoxious.
The only mildly interesting part of the song is the contrast in score when Cindy and the step sisters sing, but you’ll probably be distracted by the purposely awful singing of the latter. Anastasia sounds like she has a nice voice just itching to get out sometimes, but because she’s a villain-turned-anti-hero, I’m guessing the director told the voice actress to be less graceful and more comedic. Keep up that nasal, Tress!
Shenanigans happen. The fairy godmother loses her wand, which conveniently lands in front of Anastasia after everything from the first movie was exposited to her, and it then ends up in the hands of Lady Tremaine. The fairy godmother is put out of commission, and the stepmother turns back time and alters things so that Anastasia is set to marry the prince. For extra insurance, she makes sure he’s totally cool with it.
Cinderella looks on like a kicked puppy (something she does on and off as she and her hopes ride the emotional roller coaster that is this movie’s plot), then sings a song that totally doesn’t rip off the opening to The Sound of Music and “Belle”‘s reprise from Beauty and the Beast at the end.
This is like if Belle, halfway through her song, did a complete 180.
“Do I want a man or adventure, or both? I’m so confused!”
But good for her, realizing that having dreams means you have to actually work for them. Take steps and all that jazz.
She marches off to the castle, sidekicks in tow, to defy fate and go get her man.
If I may pause here to mention some more things:
1) The comedy is all over the place. Sometimes it’s funny, with Drizella being the snarky bridge between the cold, quiet, poised stepmother and the clumsy, tactless, thoughtless Anastasia, but most of the time the writers are trying way too hard. It feels heavy-handed and way too purposeful.
The scenes where the mice try to be funny are just painful. It’s colorful, shiny kid-pandering at its finest.
2) The continuity is all over the place, as you might have guessed, but to be fair, it probably wouldn’t bother most people.
It bothers me because Disney is trying to tell me this is Cinderella, but they don’t even remember their first film or care about the little details enough to try to convince me. They think that all I, or anyone, need to see is Cindy, and I’ll think, “Oh, it’s Cinderella. Okay!”
In the words of Nostalgia Chick yet again, “Brand. Name. Recognition!”
These things undermine some otherwise poignant, witty moments, like when the King is criticizing his son for how he’s chosen to determine his bride:
King: “Those aren’t reasons! Breeding, refinement! These are reasons to marry someone! Not their choice in transparent footwear!…You think there’s only one woman in the whole kingdom who wears a size 4 and 1/2?”
Prince: “It’s all I have to go on, here.”
Now, this seems pretty funny. They’re poking fun at themselves and winking at the audience. Cool.
May I direct your attention to this little clip?:
Yeah…so…The king is getting all up in the prince’s business over a plan that he basically came up with. He used the prince’s wording to trap him into marrying someone. Anyone. “That’s his problem.”
The original king didn’t care about breeding and refinement. He just wanted grandkids before he croaked. And since “every eligible maiden (was) to attend,” class must not have been that huge of a factor. Or love, for that matter.
Incidentally, the king and grand duke are probably the funniest things about Cinderella.
Here are a few other nitpicks:
- Lady Tremaine doesn’t react when her cat is turned into a hybrid duck/cat thing by magic, but she does realize the potential of the wand when it turns the fairy godmother to stone. Delayed reaction maybe?
- Anastasia is almost perfectly content trampling on Cinderella’s happiness from the get go, but only realizes later that she was hurting people, and herself, by trying to force the prince to love her. I know she is dense, but she must have her brain completely shut off if we’re supposed to believe she’s really a nice person. Even as she starts questioning herself and her choices later on.
- Lady Tremaine takes them back in time to when the grand duke first arrived at the manor, then shows Cinderella locked in her room and the mice bringing her the key before the duke even comes inside. The mice only got the key in the original movie once the duke was there and his servant was reading off a ridiculously long proclamation. Also, Cindy is apparently so confused as the duke is wheeling away Anastasia, that she talks to the stepmother as though the woman hadn’t just figured out that she was the girl from the ball and purposefully locked her in her room. And Cinderella saw this.
- Cinderella doesn’t sing like her 50’s voice actress at all. This is really petty and a personal problem, I know, but it’s my review. Cindy had a lovely voice and singing style before, and now she just sounds nice in a very generic sort of way.
Cinderella gets caught and banished by the stepmother, but the prince, alerted by the mice and somewhat able to see past the spell by…having touched Cindy’s hand, goes after her.
More on the hand thing later.
Okay, that whole scene was pretty funny.
(Note: Sorry the clip is limited. The king thought he was crazy because the prince off-handedly mentioned talking mice and blue birds telling him he was marrying the wrong girl. Yet more chuckling at the first film’s ludicrous elements)
The prince saves Cindy just in the nick of time (proving to us and his horse that he is utterly suicidal). The stepmother and her daughters flee, the wedding is on with the right girl this time. Looks like things will go back to normal…
Lady Tremaine appears again, this time magically disguising Anastasia as Cinderella. Anastasia seems more unsure than usual, but goes along with it because she’s cowed, desperate, and has no self-respect whatsoever.
That was delightfully creepy and ironic. I approve!
Note here that Cindy has been sent off to her death, and Anastasia has nothing to say on the matter at all. Her motivations and hatred or care for Cinderella are very vague.
In an even more ironic and satisfying twist, Cinderella essentially saves herself from certain death! You’ll have to see this one for yourself to believe it, but it’s true! One of Disney’s most passive princesses had a shining moment of awesome action!
…Okay, the mice do help her a bit. But they are in the same boat as she was (careening towards certain doom), and it is still an awesome scene that is worth the 5 or so minutes it would take you to check it out.
And hey, at least she didn’t need a prince.
So Cindy goes back to stop the wedding, but not before Anastasia decides that she wants real love and stops it herself via the rarely played card, “I don’t.”
Huh. Usually, we get, “I object!”
I approve of this too. Shake up the old clichés a bit, I say!
The ending is a bit quick, anti-climactic, and repetitive (a spell bounces off a reflective surface for the third or fourth time, hitting the caster in the face), but Cinderella and Princey get married, too busy making googly eyes to notice the fairy godmother’s offer to return them to their full year of peace and marital bliss from the beginning of the film. I guess it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things anyway, but I think it at least deserved a scrap of thought on their part.
Anastasia, who has been talking to the now true-lovey-dovey king on and off throughout the movie, decides to find her true love elsewhere, which is hastily pushed into the credits with broken continuity from Cinderella 2.
Sometimes, I got the vibe that she would end up with the king in the end. Can’t imagine why.
After all this nitpicking and grumbling about the flaws of the film, I still have plenty of respect for it. Unlike other Disney sequels, it wasn’t boring or terribly contrived. The stakes were high, I daresay even higher than the first film. The movie was decently enjoyable to watch, even with the (at times) cringe-inducing comedy.
Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time was trying to give us a thoughtful addition to the classic story, some self-referential humor and parody, and Cindy and her man getting some personality, something to like about them besides just “they seem nice, I guess.” The writers made mistakes here and there, some glaring and some small, but they were clearly trying harder here than they had in some of the other sequels. I firmly believe that this deserved a theatrical release a lot more than Peter Pan 2 did.
The biggest problems have to do with the jumbled messages. Love is something you have to find and work for, it’s one of the most powerful forces on earth. I agree, but the whole “when our hands touched, I knew” sentiment feels like just another “true love’s kiss.” They swapped one superficiality for another, and tried to call it deeper.
It undermines the message even more that the prince is never named once in this film, by Cindy or anyone else. And besides sword fighting and horse riding (if you stretch a little), does he have any hobbies?
I’m sure some people do feel “fireworks” during a first kiss, or feel that their partner’s “hand fits perfectly in theirs,” but Cindy and the prince still aren’t really getting to know each other. Even the king and his klutzy queen, who we never see and who also touched hands and knew it was meant to be from the start, feel like a stronger, more real couple than our two mains.
That said, I never really had a problem with Cinderella’s passivity. I like the look and sound and feel of Cinderella a lot more than I like the titular character or her husband-to-be. Also, Eleanor Audley voiced the original stepmother, making her sound despicable even when she wast doing much. I just brought it up because I know that a lot of people, particularly feminists, have a problem with her attitude (or lack thereof), and like to totally ignore the fact that this film came out in the 50’s. The 1950’s, which was totally the golden age of social progressive thinking.
You will find yourself caring about Cindy in this movie, however interesting or deep you personally find her or her man. You know, in that kicked puppy sort of way. She’s always been a nice person, and her happily-ever-after after a life of chores and verbal abuse is snatched away from her.
It’s a little more earned than in Cinderella, and she’s fighting for what she wants the whole movie.
So Cinderella 3 is a mixed bag.
Is it great?
Does it succeed at what it’s trying to do?
Again, not really.
Is it worth checking out?
Oh, definitely. Take what I’ve said and your own track record with Disney sequels with a grain of salt, and you might find a small, murky diamond in a sea of rough.
*As usual, no photos, gifs, or video clips belong to me! Disney’s Cinderella, her characters, and sequels belong to…well, Disney.