When most people think of "Cinderella", they're reminded of Charles Perrault's original story or the Brothers Grimm version...and Walt Disney's animated adaptation, of course. In 1957, legendary duo Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted a musical version with Julie Andrews in the title role, which was seen by more than 100 million viewers during its live broadcast; it then disappeared for decades and was finally released on DVD ten years ago. Another TV adaptation debuted in 1965, also using Rodgers and Hammerstein's blueprint: 18 year-old Leslie Ann Warren led a cast of familiar faces like Ginger Rogers, Celeste Holm, and Walter Pidgeon. This production was videotaped over the course of two long nights, broadcast to millions of fans, and enjoyed by millions more via repeat airings during the next decade.
The young Warren shines as servant and princess; though she doesn't have as commanding a voice as Julie Andrews, her transformation from rags to riches is much more believable. Stuart Damon is also magnetic as the dashing Prince; his strong voice and charisma blend well with Warren's appropriately naive and doe-eyed performance. As for Cinderella's wicked stepmother and the two stepsisters---played by Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), Pat Carroll (voice of Ursula from The Little Mermaid), and Barbara Ruick, respectively---they serve up an appropriate amount of scenery-chewing and exaggerated eye-rolls. Celeste Holm's Fairy Godmother also gets the job done. Performance-wise, it's practically a toss-up between this version and the 1957 original…but I'd imagine your cast preference will hinge on nostalgia.
As for the plot, this colorful adaptation plays out almost identically to the Julie Andrews version, aside from at least one new scene that pairs meek Cinderella with the visiting Prince at the beginning. Other characters, such as Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers' King and Queen, are given less to do this time around. But for the most part, little has changed: there's a glass slipper, a pumpkin coach, the stroke of midnight, a desperate search and, finally, a wedding. Also adding to the charm factor is this TV special's era-specific set design, with bold (read: gaudy) colors and a relatively flat appearance, as well as at least one ultra-low-budget special effect that should've been left on the drawing board. But this Cinderella is still terrific family entertainment: if you've seen and enjoyed Rodgers and Hammerstein's take on the fairy tale before, you'll have no problem enjoying yourself. Even if you haven't, this modest production's approachable charm and wide-eyed enthusiasm make it a true lost gem of classic television.
Shout Factory's 50th Anniversary Edition DVD---no Blu-ray, as the videotaped source material wouldn't benefit much---looks like a carbon copy of Columbia/Tri-Star's original 2002 DVD, but the A/V presentation has received a much-needed upgrade. Unfortunately, just about everything else remains the same, making this a slight upgrade that will probably only appeal to die-hard fans...or those itching to see General Hospital's Alan Quartermaine in his younger days.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Cinderella has never looked all that great on home video...but considering this was videotaped almost 50 years ago, things could definitely be a lot worse. Columbia/Tri-Star's original 2002 DVD received extremely poor marks from the prolific Aaron Beierle, which makes me wish even more that I had a copy of that disc for direct comparison. Because I'll be honest: Shout Factory's 50th Anniversary DVD looks quite satisfying for the most part, with relatively stable colors and a respectable amount of image detail (again, considering the source material). Digital imperfections, including edge enhancement and compression artifacts, also don't seem to pose much of a problem. But don't get me wrong: there are still plenty of flaws on display here, including some heavy blurring at the left edge of certain scenes (perhaps cropped in earlier releases or the original broadcast), rounded and ragged black edges occasionally sneak into the frame, and the format's processed, "sharp" appearance will never be mistaken for even the cheapest 35mm film stock.
Just for the record, the packaging vaguely states that Cinderella has been digitally restored from the original elements, so I'll assume this picture represents at least a modest improvement in overall image quality. Either way, this is leaps and bounds ahead of the surviving kinescope source elements used for the 1957 Julie Andrews production.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480i resolution.
There's little to say about the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio except that it gets the job done and falls in line with what you'd expect from a TV production of this era. Dialogue and music are clean and well-balanced, and nothing looks to have been sweetened during post-production. The high end occasionally sounds clipped and there's a modest amount of hiss at times, but I'd imagine this is yet another unavoidable source material issue. This disc also includes optional English and Spanish subtitles during the main feature, which is something of a rarity for Shout Factory releases.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Very basic menu interface here, with minimal logos, advertisements, and distractions beforehand. Separate sub-menus are offered for chapter selection, bonus material, and subtitles setup. This one-disc release is housed in a standard clear keepcase; cover artwork is identical to the previous release (aside from a "50th Anniversary Edition" banner at the top), and the colorful interior artwork displays a nice cast photo, chapter listing, and DVD credits.
Only a recycled Retrospective Featurette
from Columbia/Tri-Star's 2002 DVD
, which is entertaining and informative but far too short at less than 10 minutes (the 2002 DVD also included a sing-along option for one of the main songs, but it hasn't been carried over). There's nothing new here, which is disappointing for a 50th Anniversary Edition...especially one whose two principal cast members (and many supporting ones) are still very much alive and well.
Cinderella has been adapted dozens of times over the centuries...and while this 1965 TV adaptation may not be its finest hour, those who enjoy Rodgers and Hammerstein's music should enjoy themselves...even if you're already seen the 1957 or 1997 adaptations of the same material. While the set design and overall atmosphere here is hardly dynamic, striking, or fancier than your average off-Broadway production, there's a certain appeal to these performances and the period-specific color palette is just as charming. Shout Factory's 50th Anniversary Edition DVD sounds big on paper---and it does appear to offer a modest A/V upgrade in comparison to Columbia/Tri-Star's original 2002 DVD---but the lack of new extras is disappointing. But hey...at least it's not a sneaky repackaging job, right? Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.