A cat-and-mouse chase seems rather peculiar outside “Tom and Jerry” and indeed, while watching “Cinderella” for the first time in a decade in a Literature & Film course last year, the inevitable Tom & Jerry comparisons came to mind, along with a little ire over the chases feeling a little long. Why more with a cat and mice when Cinderella is the key character of the whole story, not to mention her stepmother being unsettlingly interesting? The eyes, Eleanor Audley’s subtly nasty voice, and the character’s upstanding walk; how could the stepmother be given less time on the basis of that?
Now it’s 2005, and “Cinderella” has been given a stunning restoration which is almost as if you’re seeing the movie in 1950 with a bit more added for your money. Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men (Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and four others only worked together on this one) probably would have teared up at the sight of their characters and sequences in such vibrant colors. And with this, away from the VHS copy which served as my previous viewing of “Cinderella” in that class, new thoughts emerge. First, shifting opinions aren’t so bad, especially when they enrich a movie. Take into account that last year’s viewing in that class involved a bunch of other students fully unaware that Disney movies back then involved the characters singing some songs. The mice’s squeaky voices are funny but does that point really need to be reiterated with consistent peals of laughter during their work song when they make Cinderella’s dress? Sophisticates. That class had none. Or at least none with enough thinking capacity to know that animation is made up of dozens of pretty colors and they should just be quiet and watch those flutter by.
That aside, this fresh viewing of “Cinderella” made the chases between Lucifer the cat and the mice much more understandable. Disney wasn’t going for a Tom and Jerry copy. He knew, logically, that too much attention can’t be focused on one character. There’s no possible way animation would be used to make another “My Dinner with Andre”. An entire world is built in animation. More than just mansions or castles or forests full of chirping birds and strange gardens with talking flowers. It’s also about the characters involved and Disney wasn’t likely to keep Lucifer and the mice on a superficial level like Tom and Jerry where it’s fun to watch the gags build up, but that’s it. Lucifer is on the side that Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters are on, where riches are gained off of others, which is exactly the circumstance which makes Cinderella a maid in her own house. Lucifer has everything. He’s constantly petted by Tremaine, bowls of milk are produced for him, and he has his own bed in the queen witch’s room. He has to find something to do, so he goes after the mice because first, it’s the natural progression of life for a cat and secondly, it gives him a certain sadistic pleasure. It’s not so much about catching the mice as enjoying the chase, especially in the scene where he doesn’t know which cup the mouse Gus is under, passes him by when he lifts up that cup and then realizes where he is after picking up the other two. Where Tom chased Jerry simply because he wanted to (and perhaps eat him or do whatever was going through his mind), Lucifer does it because what else is there to do when you have everything you want? Sport is especially fun when there’s lots of time for it.
It’s the charm of “Cinderella” not only by Lucifer’s actions, but by the King’s in him wanting his son to marry so he can have grandchildren before he dies. It’s in the mice and birds friendly toward Cinderella, and the two bluebirds struggling to pick up the water-filled sponge to carry to Cinderella and splash it over her. Disney films have lasted for years by those good-natured moments and the superlative animation which has given it life for all these years. And now, by the standards set forth by the “Platinum Edition” DVD set bestowed upon it, it shall live on even longer.
The “Platinum Edition”, however, exists in two forms: “Superficial” and “In-Depth”. This is one of Disney’s mistakes in releases like “Cinderella” in promoting their “Disney Princess” line of anything from bedsheets to curtains to DVDs and even more in the hopes that little girls will embrace the characters even more than their mothers and douse their rooms with hundreds upon hundreds of dollars of Disney-branded products. Naturally, from a business standpoint, it’s reasonable because the company needs to make money any way it can. But to carry that on into the “Platinum Edition” line and sully the prestige that has already blessed the name (except that Jessica Simon/Nick Lachey “A Whole New World” music video on the “Aladdin: Platinum Edition release)? There’s the “Princess” DVDs full of sing-a-long songs and do-along activities and so much more which I’m sure young and slightly older girls would notice. These “Platinum Edition” DVDs need to be made for the immediate past, not the present. There’s a music video for “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” by Disney Channel’s “Circle of Stars” which has obviously lost a lot of luster since the departure of Hilary Duff but now includes the twins from “Big Daddy” who each played Julian McGrath. These kids and the others included in this group will grow older. They’re not meant to last beyond the age group they currently serve and right there, I can see the concept moving. Once these kids are gone, you just get new ones and make new shows for them. However, “Cinderella” and other movies are truly timeless classics for the Disney name. Therefore, there should only be material suitable for each movie that would last throughout all these years. Back in 1955, youth back then had “The Mickey Mouse Club” which was given new life through the “Walt Disney Treasures” line of DVDs. Are Cole and Dylan Sprouse really expected to last for the kids of today? Speaking of that, Alyson Stoner’s claim to fame for Disney is as Sally on a set of short skits between shows on the Disney Channel called “Mike’s Super Short Show”. She gets a featurette on disc two called “How to Be a Princess” in which she’s not even allowed to assume her own name for this. She’s still Sally. With her is the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team who transform a presumably on-set room for her in princessy colors, a bedspread, curtains, and wall paints. I’m not sure if even that show will be remembered in the years to come, at least after it’s over, nor Alyson Stoner, though who knows if she’ll ever find a movie or anything else after her Hollywood-preferred age passes.
Fortunately, the rest of the very special features on this set cause one to even forget the existence of the music video or watching Sally on her quest. The other major part of the first disc is a half-hour program from ESPN Classic hosted by Joe Namath called “Cinderella Stories” which uses the superficial side of the Cinderella stories in the “rags-to-riches” aspect, or however you like to call it when it comes to sports. There’s Namath’s Super Bowl II game in 1969 with him as a New York Jet against the Baltimore Colts, along with Pele, Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and others. It’s at first an oddly-placed idea, but a satisfactory program. The rest of what’s here serves as respectful genuflection toward “Cinderella”, a warm journey toward how Cinderella came to mind, with history dispensed by such confident and appreciative voices such as animation historian John Canemaker, film historian John Culhane, and a host of Disney animators including Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, and producer Don Hahn, along with critic Joel Siegel. Siegel, besides being in the employ of Disney through “Good Morning, America” is a perfect choice not only in the interviews, but as host of “From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to Disney’s Nine Old Men”, held at the Tam O’Shanter Inn at the same table where Walt Disney held court with the famed animators during their time at the studio. Siegel proves himself far better than Leonard Maltin who is an obviously well-educated man, but just loses all that when he speaks on camera. It’s evident in the “Walt Disney Treasures” line of the past, especially when he “cautions” viewers about racial stereotypes and cigarette smoking in certain cartoons. Recently, with the “High and the Mighty” DVD set from Paramount, he’s marginally improved, but still struggles.
With Siegel, it’s different. He’s got the enthusiasm, he knows it, and he uses it well to lead into his discussion with the animators about the gods of Disney animation as well as their mentors. That roundtable discussion also establishes “The Incredibles” director Brad Bird as quite a speaking force. He can really keep attention. He’s just like the rest of the treasures on this set, ranging from deleted scenes in storyboard form, songs that were never used (Listen to the delightful “I’m in the Middle of a Muddle”), a featurette on the awe-inspiring artwork of Mary Blair, galleries containing 383 stills of all kinds of artwork and storyboards, excerpts from television and radio shows, to the absolute fairest of them all, “From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella” which deeply covers the history of not only the movie, but the Disney studio in its financially-strapped state up to then, though animators were relieved to get back to a full-length feature after years of going without due to the war effort. There’s even some words from Mike Douglas, who provided the singing voice of the Prince, and Lucille Bliss who was the voice of one of the stepsisters, Anastasia. The way “Cinderella” is analyzed here is eye-opening as well, making one realize the value of Disney animation beyond just the animation.
DVDs like these could easily handle more information about the demo recordings and the radio programs that are excerpted here. When the song is heard, all that’s up on the screen is a flowery background design with the name of the song and “Original Demo Recording”. The “Platinum Edition” name now looks like the be all and end all of these movies, and while a Criterion-type booklet would likely garner more expense than Disney would like, more on-screen information should be available so there’s a more well-rounded look at the creation of these songs in their demo form and anything else which requires that sort of understanding.
Chalk this set up as another grand success, though. It’s a reminder of the long wait years ago between the theatrical releases of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”, and their VHS counterparts and it’s well worth it now, especially seeing the movies in a new pristine form, and extra features with history galore. The future looks bright for what came long ago.