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Walt Disney’s Cinderella holds a special nostalgic place in my heart because my elementary school library had a VHS copy that would be shown alongside Jim Henson’s Labyrinth on rainy days. In revisiting it over the years, I realize it’s not one of the studio’s greatest technical or storytelling achievements, but it was released at a critical moment. Following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, Disney animation took an arguable step back from spectacular, game-changing release to cheaper, more forgettable anthology-type movies, like Saludos Amigos, Melody Time, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. These lesser films (which were a necessity as Disney put effort into WWII propaganda) have aged better than expected, but do not represent the studio at its strongest. In 1950, Cinderella began a return to traditional storytelling and adapting fairytales, and started a roll of Disney’s best animated films that ended somewhere around 1967 with The Jungle Book. Like many movements, this first part is simply not the strongest, but led the way by changing the way the studio did things, even paving the way for a more concrete filmmaking formula that the studio would follow though the best and worst of times.

Cinderella: Diamond Edition
Directors Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson all came out of the period more defined by anthology animation (except Luske, who shares a director credit with six others on Pinocchio). I’m not sure exactly how duties were divided, but there are some rather obvious differentiations between Cinderella’s home life, the house mice’s world, and the lavish world of Prince Charming’s ball. Despite these contrasts and the directing team’s time with episodic pictures, these diverging styles blend well into a coherent whole and a solid, traditional three-act structure that escaped many Disney features of the era, though plenty of time is still spent on episodic gags, most of which are relegated to the first act and feature only nominally amusing mice. Cinderella also eschews some of the more terrifying aspects of Snow White, Pinocchio Dumbo, and Bambi, making it the first of the supposed ‘Disney Classics’ I’d feel safe showing a toddler. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a mark for the ‘plus column,’ though. Don’t worry though, Disney would get back to infusing their animated films with nightmarish sequences with their next theatrical release, Alice in Wonderland.

The aforementioned lesser Disney animated features that led up to Cinderella certainly helped the directors’ prep in terms of music. Specifically I’m speaking of the original songs that rivaled those of even the first four story-driven canon features (Disney more or less scorched the earth for any future adaptations of established music by releasing the generally perfect Fantasia as only their third animated feature, though Sleeping Beauty certainly did a fine job with Tchaikovsky’s work). I defy anyone to watch the film and not to walk away with ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ or ‘Cinderella’ (aka: ‘Cinderelly’) stuck in their heads for days. The animation isn’t quite a game changer, but is very consistent and clean with a handful of real standout moments. These include Lucifer the cat (easily the studio’s most underrated feline effort), the impressionistic sequence where Cinderella runs in despair after her evil stepsisters tear apart her dress, and the following sequence of events where the Fairy Godmother uses her magic, culminating in the indelible shot of said torn dress transforming into a silver ball gown. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the gulf in style between the super-cartoony mice and more smoothly and gracefully animated, yet slightly dead-eyed human characters, but that’s just me.

Cinderella: Diamond Edition

Video


Cinderella is presented in 1080p HD video and framed to 1.33:1 (slightly reframing the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio), and generally looks super great. The image has been scrubbed to stark clarity, revealing extremely clean cell elements and lusciously painted background textures. Obviously some major digital augmentation has been employed here, including DNR, but it continues to be difficult to judge Disney for the practice, considering that, even though animated films from the period (and most of time) were shot on physical film, the presence of grain isn’t really part of the filmmakers’ ‘vision.’ Still, it’s always a little uncanny watching these Blu-ray releases after decades of ‘lesser’ home video releases and this particular disc is perhaps the most grain free of all the older films. I can understand complaints of altering the footage, but don’t necessarily agree with them. The most impressive upgrade over older standard definition releases is the eye-popping vibrancy of the colour palette. The film’s style dictates that there isn’t a whole lot of blending between hues, especially not in the foreground cells. The painted backgrounds feature crisp gradations, but not a lot of smooth blends. The transfer clarity ensures that these hyper-acrylic hues are sharply separated without bleeding or blooming (aside from a handful of mouse tails that are slightly overwhelmed by the brightest warm colours). I looked pretty closely for digital artefacts, but there really aren’t any. The closest we get to dirtiness outside of the very finest of grain (you’re going to have to squint to see it) are the shadows along the edges of some of the cells.

Cinderella: Diamond Edition

Audio


Like most of Disney’s more prestigious Blu-ray releases, Cinderella has had its original mono sound re-mastered and remixed into a relatively subtle 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. I tend to question such extensive remixes, but the Disney people are always good about working from vault materials and filmmaker notes. Dialogue, including animal noises, is perfectly centered when required and quite clean. The closest thing to distortion here is the slight click of some of the sharp consonants, which is a pretty common audio artefact for older dub tracks (something about microphone quality). There are some stereo and surround embellishments, such as the roar of Lucifer the cat, echo effects of the King as he laments his loneliness in his giant palace, and the ominous ding of the midnight bell. The key thing on this track is the quality of Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace’s music, which is probably the film’s single strongest element. The score gets a wide stereo and surround treatment that spreads the experience in a relatively natural way. There aren’t any sweeping, weird directional elements in the music, but the illusion of being blanketed in sound is very well executed. Lead instruments are appropriately centered with a bit of a volume boost as well. The score is warmer and more LFE-heavy than the effects and dialogue tracks, creating a slight disconnect, but, generally speaking, the blend is effective. And hey, if you’re one of those people are still uncomfortable with a 1.0 to 7.1 revamp, this disc also includes a DTS-HD Master Audio original mono mix. Everybody wins!

Cinderella: Diamond Edition

Extras


The extras begin with the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-You Interactive Storybook Disney Second Screen experience. Because I’m late on this review (I’m trying to catch up, I promise), the second screen app was actually activated, so I was able to use it (struggling through bugs). It’s needlessly complicated getting started – you have to type in your name, supply a picture, choose a character, but, once the app figures out what’s going on, it’s much the same as previous efforts, including simple games and the title storybook. The new extra I’m assuming the kids are really clamoring for is a new CG short starring characters from Tangled entitled Tangled Ever After (6:30, HD). It’s very, very cute.

The Diamond Edition Backstage Disney extras begin with The Real Fairy Godmother (11:50, HD), a look at the real-life inspiration behind the character, Mary Alice O’Conner. It includes interview with Diane Disney Miller, animation historian Paula Sigman Lowery, animation director Mark Kirkland, retired Disney vice president of community relations Tillie J. Baptie, John Arthur O’Connor, and art director Ed Ghertner. Behind the Magic: A New Disney Princess Fantasyland (8:20, HD), an elongated commercial for the Disney theme park’s latest expansion project. The Magic of the Glass Slipper: A Cinderella Story (10:00, HD) is a bizarre, mixed live-action/animated short film about French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, directed by M. David Melvin. The section is completed with an alternate opening sequence (1:10, HD), presented in rough sketches and storyboards.

The rest of the extras are old news and found under the classic DVD banner, including three deleted scenes with introductions from Beauty and the Beast producer Don Hahn introduction (9:40, SD), a demo recording of an unused original title song (2:20, SD), seven additional unused song demos (17:50, SD), three radio programs advertising the film (12:30, SD), From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella (38:30, SD), The Cinderella That Almost Was (14:10, SD), From Walt’s Table: A Tribute to the Nine Old Men (22:10, SD), The Art of Mary Blair (15:00, SD), a storyboard-to-film comparison (6:50, SD), an original 1922 Laugh-O-Grams: Cinderella short (7:20, SD), an excerpt from The Mickey Mouse Club with Helene Stanley (4:00, SD), and trailers.

Cinderella: Diamond Edition

Overall


Once again, Disney pulls out all the stops in re-mastering one of their animation classics, the comparative quality of said classic being somewhat beside the point. Cinderella looks impossibly fantastic and features a strong, natural, new DTS-HD MA soundtrack that presses its strongest element – the music. There aren’t many new extras and the Disney second screen option isn’t particularly informative, but the old DVD extras are all here and just as good as they always were.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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