Cinderella and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time are two drastically different films despite sharing a lot of similarities. Comparing the two, you can see not only how storytelling, characters, and production qualities have changed over the fifty-seven years, but also the audience's expectations. Both films are very much products of their time and, over time, viewers will sense different strengths and weaknesses to each film. In my case, I used to love Cinderella as a kid. It was the very first Disney Animated Classic I ever saw, so I considered it perfect. After all, I had nothing to compare it to. But as our family got more Disney VHSs, then DVDs, the film floundered back and forth on my likeability scale. As Roger Ebert once said, "Movies do not change over time, the viewers do." I had nothing against Cinderella personally, but my feelings towards it dwindled more than grew, and it eventually reached a point where the last time I watched Cinderella in full was around 2007, the same time that the second sequel, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time , was released.
I enjoyed that film immensely, declared it to be more enjoyable than the first film, and have never wavered from that opinion. Between then and now, I've watched the film quite a few times, though I still had yet to re-experience the original. The third film helped me find a newfound respect for the character of Cinderella, as I was seeing her as more than just a passive heroine. She was strong-headed and willing to take action. Of course, eventually it hit me: this woman isn't a 1950 Cinderella. She is a 2007 Cinderella. The two may look similar, and may interact in what looks like the same universe, but they were as far apart as far can be. This week's Saturday Matinee will be another brief diversion from coverage of a cartoon short, as I take a look at a few important elements of Cinderella and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and how they change between the two films. For the first time since 2007, I watched both films together again...and for the first time.
The actual character of Cinderella is markedly different in both films, despite the audience being told they are one and the same. Yet, it works due to the stories both present. In the original film, we see a passive heroine, someone who's been emotionally abused and scarred for years and forced to be a slave in her own home. But her entire arc in the story is all about keeping the faith. She puts up with a lot from her family, and the only time she actually doubts herself is after the long day of work and a ruined dress. It is important that Cinderella is at her lowest point, as that enables her to rise above it and her faith is now rewarded. This occurs again later in the film, when behind a locked door, she's once again reduced to tears and faith. She went from the emotional high (Prince wants to marry her) to an emotional low (a simple locked door) in such quick time that all she can do once again is have faith. Surely she could have found a hair pin or other device to pick the lock. Instead, she's now completely broken and despondent.
Now, we fast forward to A Twist in Time , in which we view Cinderella completely differently. She's been let out of the tower, only to be shocked at Anastasia fitting in the slipper. She knows that her one night of happiness was the gateway to a world away from her abusive family, and she's now determined to claim what is rightfully hers. Cindy is no longer a sobbing wreck in a tower, she's a go-for-broke heroine who'll sneak into the castle and stand up to her family when discovered. Heck, she even has enough brute strength to punch out a portion of a pumpkin carriage! The Cinderella of A Twist in Time is still the same woman as the first movie, but now knows there is more at stake. She takes action rather than faithfully hope for change, as she comes to a realization that faith only gets her so far. If she wants something, she has to truly work for it.
"Working for it" can also best describe the Prince, who finally gets a piece of the action in the third film. This is a stark contrast to his depiction in the first. All we know of the Prince is what the King says of him (he's avoided his royal duties) and what Cinderella thinks of him (she's in love, even if she didn't know he was the Prince). The Prince himself is not so much a character as a human MacGuffin. He becomes a catalyst for much of the action in the second half of the film, while he himself is otherwise absent and under-developed. The one true important aspect of the Prince is his role in Cinderella's life, as he becomes a greater reason for her to escape her family. However, it's important to note that Cinderella doesn't leave her family for a man. She leaves them for what he represents: a pure, unadulterated, and unconditional love - all based on one magical night. Cinderella needs that kind of love, especially after her years of neglect and unhappiness. As a result, that's all that the audience needs to see in the Prince.
By the third film, that isn't enough, and thankfully, we actually get to know the Prince. We see more of his home life and family interactions via fencing lessons with the King. He gets more substantial dialogue beyond "I don't even know your name, how will I find you?" The Prince actually becomes another active player in the story, rather than someone who has things happen to them. The Prince is no longer the MacGuffin, but a fully fleshed-out character with his own arc. He's not only looking for the girl from last night, but wants to be sure it's her: by the touch of his hand to hers. Never underestimate the power of tactile sensation. And yet, even with all he does, the Prince still doesn't have a name. Most Disney fans unofficially recognizes him as "Prince Charming," but I've taken to giving him a much longer name: Prince Chancellor Callum Cleophas Courtland Caldwell the IV.
The lack of a name for the Prince is certainly one of the few story hiccups that the third film suffers from. Forced dialogue and a few illogical moments also hamper what could be a greater film. The strength of the film lies in its focus on action, which will certainly be blasphemy to story-conscious fans. However, that's where A Twist in Time succeeds. It takes what is a rather ridiculous premise - Lady Tremaine gets the Fairy Godmother's wand and rewinds time - and the ensuing events are a free-for-all of that twist. As a result, we get a movie unafraid to actually "go there." It's an entirely different tone from the first film, as A Twist in Time is an "anything goes" picture. You can have a food fight in one scene, an exciting race to reach a ship (complete with Errol Flynn, er the Prince, sliding down the sail on a knife), and a soap opera-esque wedding confrontation all rolled into one film. Most importantly, all those vastly different elements come together and actually make sense.
None of that would ever work in the original Cinderella. Granted, there are plenty of humorous instances regarding the mice and the stepsisters, but that's all they are: instances. In fact, the only scene in the film that to me is played strictly for laughs is when the Grand Duke and the King discuss the mystery girl and slipper. Having such a vital conversation play out whilst the two are jumping on a bed turns one of the film's turning points into a farce. It's always felt unnatural when compared to the rest of the film. Most everything else in the film is about the internal conflicts and very realistic setting. The only moment of genuine dramatic action is the pumpkin coach riding away from the castle at midnight. Other than that, it's a very calm picture, which helps to reflect the calm and reserved nature of Cinderella.
I would have written about the differences in animation, but realized anything said on the subject would be rather redundant. After all, fifty seven years have passed and there are entirely different sets of animators that worked on each film. In addition, the production standards between the two films are like night and day. Both had different intent in their production and budgets, and to compare the two so closely would be like trying to find all the ways chocolate is the same as medicine. Plus, with the comparison screen caps above, their differences speak for themselves and don't really need any further context from me.
Also, I'm sure you've noticed that I had not mentioned 2002's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. It's a film best left forgotten, at least until I write a Saturday Matinee about the evolution of Anastasia. Her actions in that film, as well as in the other two, show remarkable character growth. In the meantime, I'll close out this week's Saturday Matinee with the now-obligatory mention of their home media releases. At the moment, DVDs for all three films are out of print. Fall 2012 will likely see Cinderella receive a "Diamond Edition" Blu-Ray & DVD, although it has yet to be officially announced. The two sequels likely will make their re-appearance on store shelves some months after.