Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Johnny California: CINDERELLA in 4K

 by JB

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had never seen this seminal film.

What can I say? Some films fall through the cracks. I did have a Disney phonograph record as a child, a kind of "greatest hits" mish-mash that featured “The Work Song,” which is what the cute mice sing as they fabricate a ball gown for Cinderella. Proving that cheap music is, indeed, extraordinarily potent, I still remembered all the lyrics more than 50 years later.

This was my first viewing of this famous film, and I suspect that a grumpy, quibbling old man is not the ideal audience for this enchanted tale.
I will say the new 4K restoration is astounding. From the texture on the pages of the storybook that opens the film to the color fidelity throughout, this is the rare disc I would recommend watching JUST for the transfer. I have read criticisms of previous Disney high-def transfers that took the Mouse to task for over-smoothing things, removing too much grain, and even changing original colors. This is not the first Disney Classic 4K release, and the Disney transfer team seems to be getting better and better at it.

Rumor has it that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is coming in 4K this summer.

This was the first Post-War Disney feature film, and the cost-cutting measures are evident. I was surprised to learn that Pinocchio, Bambi, and Fantasia were all financial disappointments in their initial theatrical releases, which is astounding to me because the level of animation in those three films is unparalleled. But painstakingly hand-drawn, Disney-caliber animation is expensive, so both the Cinderella and Prince characters were filmed in live action on soundstages and then rotoscoped, which is a fancy way of saying the animators traced the live action footage. Very often, the actual animation is only a small portion of the frame, which is otherwise taken up with one of Mary Blair’s amazing (though static) backgrounds. One of the reasons that Cinderella comes across so well is that Ilene Woods gives a voice performance for the ages. We side with this girl and love her, even though she is rotoscoped.
My quibbles with this film run deep. The ratios are off; by that I mean the percentage of the total running time that is devoted to each narrative thread. We get oodles and oodles of the cute mice, I think because Disney knew that, since Snow White, cuddly forest creatures had become something of his specialty. Prince Charming, however, has less than ten minutes of total screen time and remains a cypher. He yawns at the start of the ball, he dances with Cinderella, he disappears from the film. (Remember, it is the Grand Duke who conducts the glass slipper search, not Prince Charming.)

Why not take some of the running time devoted to the tiresome and unfunny bi-play between the King and the Grand Duke (of which there is plenty) and substitute a scene of Prince Charming before the ball? He is unhappy, he is unsatisfied, and he is looking to change his life. How about a scene where he talks to his father about his dissatisfaction and what he is looking for in a spouse? How about a single scene at the ball where the Prince and Cinderella actually talk? These two simple additions would add some dimension to an important character.

Why do we love Cinderella? Because we spend time with her. We also get to see that others love her. (She has a DEVOTED cadre of rodents and birds, and you know how judgmental birds can be.)
I realize that for the happy stuff to work in a Disney film, the scary stuff needs to be scary, and by extension the maddening stuff has to be maddening. But I found myself hating Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother, and her two stepsisters SO MUCH that it was hard for me to enjoy the songs and pay attention to the plot. I kept hoping that Cinderella would confront these loathsome, sponging oafs, tell them off using un-Disney-like language, and move to another vaguely European hamlet; OR that once she married Prince Charming, she would engage a few of his royal guards to return to her former home and use a whimsically-drawn baseball bat on stepmother and stepsisters' noggins. Maybe take out their damn cat too. Adorable mice Jaq and Gus-Gus would then feast on their brains, singing, “We can do it... We can do it... Revenge for Cinderelly!" Fade to black.

Of course, that would be a different movie.

I guess I am spoiled by other Disney Classics, but I thought the songs were off as well. Why no treacherous song for the villain, Lady Tremaine? Why no comic ditty for the sisters? Why on earth no song for Prince Charming? There are only five songs total, and “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale” and “So This is Love” are pretty generic and undistinguished. That leaves “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” which sounds like Disney songwriters fed “Someday My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio into some sort of post-war song machine and requested “another one.” It’s a little cliched and mediocre.
That leaves “The Work Song,” which is charming, but since it is sung by mice using sped-up human voices (a la “Alvin and the Chipmunks”), the lyrics are hard to understand upon first hearing. Also, “The Work Song” sounds like a hasty re-write of the popular “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White. That leaves “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” which is delightful and was nominated for an Oscar. “Bibbidi” sounds like a rough draft of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins, which Disney would release to theaters fourteen years later. I demand more than ONE good song from each Disney Classic, damnit!

I will give you this: Because Disney made Cinderella, he fashioned the architectural centerpiece of Walt Disney World in Orlando to look just like the castle in the film. I have it on good authority that Cinderella Castle is the most photographed structure on Earth. I think it would be a hoot if Disney animators went “back into” Cinderella and added hordes of animated tourists taking their pictures whenever we see the outside of the Castle. That would be funny. And maybe... because we never see the villainous Stepmother and Stepsisters receive any sort of retribution for their cruelty, we could add ONE MORE scene where they are forced to work in Prince Charming’s new Cinderella Theme Park, cleaning vomit from the spinning Mad Tea Cups ride for minimum wage.

Of course, that would be a different movie.

*It seems the new 4K Blu-ray of Cinderella is exclusive to the Disney Movie Club. It will be released to the general public in October.


  1. I'm happy you caught up with this classic Disney film at last, JB! :)

    This was one of a very few movies I watched as a child (before my parents decided all movies were evil, even Disney animated ones), and I have very fond memories of the songs, particularly the Sweet Nightingale one. But to be fair, I did not see a lot of other Disney movies at that time so maybe that's why they stuck with me.

    I haven't revisited this in many years, but I will say if you want a retelling with much more time devoted to the prince and a more satisfying bit of revenge on the stepmother & sisters, Ever After starring Drew Barrymore is just the ticket! And now I have mentioned that movie two days in a row on this site in my comments... maybe it's time to rewatch!

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  3. That Disney Movie Club is a pain in the ass, it's not available where i live. I had a workaround for a while, but covid made it disappear

    1. I’ve got a workaround for you this time. I wound up with an extra one of these. DM your address on either the Twitter machine or the Instagram machine, and I’ll send it to you?

    2. this. is. awesome. ya both rock.

    3. Well, it's actually my birthday today, so i'll take it because of that 😁

      I'll get twitter and find you

    4. (Singing) Happy Birthday… to you.