" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Cinderella III: a Twist in Time might have gone onto the dusty pile with other straight-to-video sequels, if not for the fact that it marks a milestone for the Walt Disney Company — it may be the last hand-drawn animated project made by Disney. Soon after the completion of this movie, DisneyToon Studios Australia, the last Disney-owned studio making hand-drawn animation was closed.

This news alone doesn’t make the movie worth watching — especially if there are no elementary-school-aged girls in your house. On the other hand, if the movie does take up residence in your DVD player, you may find that it is tolerable to watch and doesn’t merely rehash the original story.

There may yet be a future for hand-drawn animated films from the company that used to be the leader in that medium (see below), but for the time being, we’ll have to be content with yet another sequel to Cinderella.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Who?

Straight-to-video sequel marks the end of an era at Disney
Straight-to-video sequel marks the end of an era at Disney

The movie opens with Cinderella singing about her “perfectly perfect life.” Anyone in the movies with that attitude is due for a setback, whether they deserve it or not, and it turns out that Cinderella’s wicked relatives aren’t done with her yet. Her stepsister Anastasia (the red-headed one) spies Cinderella and the prince picnicking with the fairy godmother. Anastasia manages to get her hands on the wand and turns the godmother to stone. The stepmother, a more disciplined wand user, uses it to turn back time to a minute before Cinderella tried on the glass slipper. Another wave of the wand shrinks Anastasia’s foot and suddenly she is headed off to the castle to marry the prince.

Cinderella and the prince realize that something isn’t right. Luckily, their little mice friends, Gus and Jac, are around to get the goods on Stepmother. There’s an improbable action sequence and some more malicious wanding before things are set right.

The movie beats the audience over the head with the message that true love is stronger than any magic spell. More interesting is that Anastasia becomes a sympathetic character. She may be ugly and clumsy and socially inept, but she just wants to be loved too.

Overall, the movie is... watchable. The story moves along at a good, fast clip, and the antics of the mice fit into the plot better than they did in the original Disney movie. As for the quality of the animation, it’s somewhere between the 1950 movie and a show on Toon Disney, and it’s definitely above average for a straight-to-video production.

DVD Extras

A DVD game and some DVD-ROM features are made for the movie’s intended audience. One of the DVD-ROM games wouldn’t let me exit, despite repeated clicks of the correct button. A music video of I Still Believe, performed by Hayden Panettiere is skippable unless you happen to be a fan of hers. The other bonus features are promotions for other Disney products.

Unfortunately, there are no extra features on this DVD regarding its place in animation history.

Picture and Sound

Both the widescreen picture and the DTS surround sound are excellent. It is encouraging to see and hear a high level of quality on a straight-to-video movie.

Not Quite Dead

There’s an acknowledgment of changing times towards the end of the credits, which thanks DisneyToon Studios “for their many years of producing beautiful hand-drawn animation.” In the meantime, other hand-drawn animation projects from the studio have been outsourced (something that Disney has been doing for a long time).

In recent years, Disney’s animated films have underperformed at the box office. This led to a decision in 2004 to switch from hand-drawn, to computer-generated animation for their theatrical films. It’s an understandable business move, but the problem with their movies from the past decade had more to do with a lack of originality than with the way they were made. (See also Matt Anderson’s commentary on this same topic.) Computers are a marvelous tool for animation, but it would be a shame for a company with Disney’s history to turn its back on the medium.

Reports of the demise of hand-drawn animation at Disney may be exaggerated, however. A hand-drawn animated film, The Frog Princess, is reportedly in the very early stages of development at Disney. Ironically, we may have John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and Disney’s feature animation division, to thank for it. Hopefully, the quality of Pixar’s films will rub off on this one.