Author's Note: This review is based on a screener copy of Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, not on a final shelf product. I received none of the final packaging, but having previously reviewed Disney screener copies for their high-end releases, I'm assuming the video and audio quality of this screener disc will match the final product, as they have in the past.
Why do I want to keep calling this Cinderella II: Electric Boogaloo? Actually, 2002's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, as it's properly titled, has been re-released on DVD in a "Special Edition," but I can't for the life of me discover what's different about this release. All the extras appear to be the same as the ones featured on the 2002 release, with the exception of one new marginal DVD game, so.... And "special" Cinderella II: Dreams Come True most decidedly isn't, with this paltry, poorly executed offering pretty much hitting rock bottom for the straight-to-DVD sequels that Disney has supposedly sworn off producing anymore.
Gus and Jaq, the mice who helped Cinderelly in the first film are back, with a plan to make a book for Cinderelly featuring some stories they made up to entertain her. Helped by the Fairy Godmother, the three small vignettes are presented to the viewer. The first short story deals with Cinderella's first day in the castle, where she has to learn how to be a princess from the snotty Prudence. Being put in charge of an important royal banquet taxes Cinderelly's resolve, but she comes through in the end. In the second story, Jaq, too small to be of use to anyone in the castle, decides he wants to be human, so the Fairy Godmother grants his wish. Of course, the results are disastrous, with Jaq almost ruining Cinderelly's Spring Festival. And the final chapter deals with Cinderella's evil step-sister, Anastasia, who falls in love with a butcher - much to the dismay of her mother who disapproves of the union. Can Cinderelly help these two ugly kids find love?
I've always been squarely on the side of Disney - or any company for that matter - having the right to revamp or sequel a beloved property, as long as the new film is entertaining and worthwhile in its own right . But Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is junk of the first order, and thus deserving of not my scorn or my wrath, but my utter apathy. Why in the world would you take such a beloved gem, a genuine masterpiece of post-WWII Disney animation as Cinderella (a film that a broken 1950 Europe embraced so whole-heartedly that it won the Golden Bear in Berlin and a special prize at the Venice Film Festival), and tarnish that beautiful memory with such a rank piece of marketing incompetence?
It's bad enough that the animation looks like sub-par Saturday morning fare (comparing it to the full, classical animation style of the original is heartbreaking), but can't we please get over the whole, "Be true to yourself!" dogma that runs rampant through children's programming today? I'm not kidding; enough's enough. It's gone way overboard. Believe me; I've been to the mall on Saturday afternoons and there are millions of kids out there in America who need to be told don't "be yourself" so much, and to shut their little yappers. You know who else were "true to themselves?" Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, that's who - and that didn't help anybody, now did it?
I'm exaggerating of course, but this blanket "Be yourself" mantra that is endlessly being drummed into kids' heads is utterly meaningless when it's packaged over and over again in the guises of boring, stilted cartoons such as Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. It's such a safety crutch for timid writers that you tend to just go along because arguing against it makes you look like a Nazi. Who doesn't want their child to "be themselves," particularly if you're discussing empowering little girls (who are the main viewers of junk like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True)? But can't that message come with some real meat on those tired old story bones? Is "being true to yourself" really just picking out the right colors you want on the castle drapes and choosing chocolate pudding over prunes for dessert, as Cinderella II: Dreams Come True's first story suggests? Couldn't they come up with something just a little bit more substantial to show Cinderelly's grit and determination?
Better yet: why not just skip the whole thing and leave her and the Prince to live "happily ever after," just as the fairy tale intended the story to end? Of all the fairy tales that you could safely leave behind for a sequel, Cinderella would seem to be the most obvious one. The whole point is they lived "happily ever after." It's not rocket science. Those little words ended it; it's up to us to imagine all the magic and mystery that simple phrase suggests. Instead, that gossamer filigree of imagination and wishing and hoping that we all as children imparted on the ending of that lovely fairy tale, comes crashing down with the reality that Cinderella apparently was a fairly common little scullery maid, after all (she likes to wear her old rags in Cinderella II: Dreams Come True), and that contrary to appearances in the first film, her nasty sisters, particularly Anastasia, are worthy of our pity, rather than our well-earned scorn. Thank you, new Disney, for making concrete what I only could have wished for. Dreams did indeed come true for viewers of the original Disney Cinderella, but children watching Cinderella II: Dreams Come True may very well learn a hard lesson in pandering for the sake of a buck.
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen video image is fine, with no compression or transfer issues, but the animation itself is sub-par. Colors are quite bright and the image is sharp.
You can listen to the awful songs of Cinderella II: Dreams Come True in English Dolby Digital DTS 5.1 Surround (god, why), or 5.1 Surround in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are available, as well as close-captioning.
There's a game on this "special edition" that I don't think was featured on the original 2002 release, Race to the Royal Banquet House, which is just as lame as the other extras on this DVD, including A Little Misunderstanding, a read-along storybook; the Cinderella's Enchanted Castle game; a behind-the-scenes look at the score called Musical Magic, and a music video for the gawd awful Put it Together song.
If, in their efforts to be "true to themselves," your little tykes demand Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, tell them to can it, and watch the original masterpiece with them instead. They'll thank you for it later. You can safely skip Cinderella II: Dreams Come True.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.