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Cinderella: Special Edition

Of the nearly 20 major animated features produced by Walt Disney during the 30 years after the revolutionary debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, a handful of those titles have come to represent the standard bearers of classic animation. The initial post-Snow White explosion of Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942) cemented Disney's reputation for incredible artistry and vision, but also left the studio struggling and nearly bankrupt. The movie credited with turning around the Disney fortune and fastening Disney's name in the firmament of family entertainment is the iconic and beautiful, but far less ambitious and consistent, 1950 feature Cinderella. Based on the European folk tale, as popularized by Charles Perrault, Cinderella tells of an eponymous heroine enslaved by her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, neglected, abused, and relegated to the position of a lowly scullery maid. With the aid of a spell from her fairy godmother, the kindly Cinderella is magically transformed for one night into an exquisitely appointed maiden. As such, she snags the heart of a bachelor prince; but as the spell fades, Cinderella flees back to her wretched life, leaving behind a glass slipper which the prince uses to track down his mysterious love. As with any rags-to-romance story of a triumphant underdog, Cinderella had a lot going for it even before Disney's excellent artists ever lifted a pencil. Much of the realization, naturally, is quite wonderful, especially Cinderella's surreal daydreams and her first taste of romance at the Prince's ball. The character Cinderella is drawn with empathetic grace and sweetness, and her evil stepmother is given an indelibly malevolent visage, defining the archetype for years to come. The songs in Cinderella, as well, are among the very best of any Disney feature, with mesmerizing melodies and sophisticated lyrics by Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman. "Sing, Sweet Nightingale" and "So This is Love" are exceptionally timeless (and gorgeously sung by Cinderella's voice, Ilene Woods), despite the disparate popularity of less distinguished numbers "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes."

But Cinderella is not all magic and wonder, with nearly half of the 74-minute narrative given over to a tiresome subplot involving a pair of cutesy, chirping mice, Jack and Gus, as they give slapstick chase to Stepmother's cat, Lucifer, while assisting Cinderella in her dreams of freedom. That this annoying plot thread is at all crucial the main story arc is evidence of Cinderella's major flaw: Its heroine, while gentle and beautiful, is unengagingly passive, depending solely on the good graces of vermin and magic to foil her wicked stepmother and free her from captivity. She's all hope and no action. This lack of will is a startling narrative weakness and saps much of the fun from her eventual salvation. The tomfoolery between the exasperated king and his Duke is also uninspired filler for an airy confection that is full of beauty but never quite earns its feature length. Not that children will mind.

*          *          *

Disney presents Cinderella in this two-disc Platinum Edition with a lovely full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) and choices of the restored original theatrical 1.0 mono soundtrack or Dolby Digital 5.1. Disc One incongruously includes a series of short "Cinderella Stories," courtesy of Disney-owned sports network ESPN, focusing on real-life underdog sports stories, from soccer hero Pele to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Disc Two features a more natural slate of extras, including the 40-minute featurette "From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella," a 15-minute look at plans for "The Cinderella That Almost Was," Disney's 1922 Laugh-o-gram short of Cinderella, reconstructions of deleted songs "The Cinderella Work Song" and "Dancing on a Cloud," the artist tributes "From Walt's Table: A Tribute to Disney's Nine Old Men" and " The Art of Mary Blair," a storyboard-to-film comparison of the opening sequence, still frame and slideshow galleries, a 1956 excerpt from "The Mickey Mouse Club" with Helene Stanley, original release and reissue trailers, a live preview of Cinderella with Perry Como, audio-only presentations of several unused songs, three radio programs, and a handful of "games" aimed at young girls with too much time on their hands. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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