I sat down and finally got a chance to watch 'Cinderella III: A Twist In Time' last night so I thought I'd write a quick little review for those of you who might be interested in picking it up tomorrow. Let me first say that some of my opinions may be centered in the fact that I'm a huge fan of the music and story of 'Twice Charmed', the musical this film was based on. All in all, I will say I did thoroughly enjoy it even though the film is not without its flaws.
Even though the story is based on 'Twice Charmed', it's huge departure from both the plot and main theme overall of that musical. The plot departure wasn't too much of a big deal to me however the loss of the central theme is what killed the story in my opinion. Basically, on the night of their first anniversary, Fairy Godmother is creating a splendid night for the happy couple and happens to drop her wand, which is picked up by Anastasia who them hands it over to her mother, Lady Tremaine. Lady Tremaine uses it to go back in time and then over and over to manipulate people and objects so Prince Charming believes Anastasia was the girl at the ball and not Cinderella. I don't want to spoil much more, but the story does prolong itself a little too much. The plot gets acheives resolution late into the movie and then it almost starts over, negating the previous hardships. My main issue with this is that the second resolution was a lot weaker than the initial one. For a final act, you need a showstopper that wraps up your central theme. The first resolution did this, the second resolution was actually rather dull. The other main issue I have with the plot is a certain loophole. If they went back in time, Fairy Godmother should still be ok and there should be a second wand in play. WRONG! Although unfortunately when dealing with time-travel in a plot it's almost impossible to create a loophole free story, however this loophole was little too big for me.
Now getting back to the central theme and why I think it failed. The central theme in Twice Charmed is that everything is happening as an unconscious result of Cinderella focusing on and believing that Prince Charming fell in love with her beauty / dress at the ball and her journey causes her to realize that she needs to believe in herself and who she is deep down, because that's what the Prince fell in love with. That is a theme and lesson I find Disney should be telling more often in their stories given how much the Disney Princess line seems to be focusing on beauty and glamour rather than a beautiful, graceful and kind personality. Cinderella III's main theme revolves around love conquers all and cannot be manipulated or forced on anyone, even when magic is involved. Honestly, I think this theme is just worn out although I do like that the theme seemed to be more focused on Anastasia than Cinderella. I think they did try to get back to Twice Charmed's theme in the second resolution, but by then it was just too little too late and instead of Cinderella making the realization, it's actually Anastasia who does.
Oddly enough I think this film has some of the best and worst voice acting I’ve heard from Disney in a while. By far the true genius of this film comes from Tress MacNeille’s portrayal of Anastasia. She actually put her heart and soul into one of the most annoying Disney villains in history and it paid off! By the end of the film I felt so bad for her that I just stopped caring about Cinderella, who is in fact one of my favorite Disney characters of all time! She goes through a full journey as well, starting out the same person we saw in the original and slowly learning that love is more important than class or fortune. I also have nothing but admiration for Christopher Daniel Barnes as Prince Charming. His confusion between his emotions and the control of the spell came through flawlessly, plus he really knows how to handle comedic moments and there were a ton of them for him.
Unfortunately it’s not all good and let me start with the small and go to the big. Russi Taylor as Drizella was a little too one-dimensional for my taste. I did laugh at her initial gag where upon Anastasia showing her mother and sister the magic wand, she retorts “Let’s beat her with it.” However every other piece of dialogue from her mouth seems to be a repetition of this gag just with different words. I really never felt anything for her. Someone I wanted to like but just couldn’t was Susan Blakeslee’s performance as Lady Tremaine. I have always been intrigued and marveled by Eleanor Audley’s Lady Tremaine because she’s probably the only villain in Disney with no magical or true nobility / authoritative power and yet just through her voice she commands authority and obedience. Susan Blaskslee’s performance seemed to show me a Lady Tremaine who rather than command was too amused and full of herself. Given I partially blame the story for this as she now has magical power to aid her and has the freedom to be a little more cocky than she should, but doing so seems to be to destroy the power center of this character and what made her so endearing. I noticed this loss in Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, where Susan Blakeslee portrayed Lady Tremaine and hoped it was more due to a lack of story in that case, but unfortunately I was wrong. In short, and in terms Disney enthusiasts can best understand, she plays Lady Tremaine a little too much like Maleficent (Which is a bit ironic because I actually enjoy Susan Blakeslee’s work as Maleficent in Kingdom Hearts). Jennifer Hale’s Cinderella is also another lacking piece of the puzzle. Ilene Woods did play Cinderella with spunk, but it seems Jennifer Hale has replaced that spunk with a peppy valley girl edge which didn’t work for me. The place I had the most trouble with this change is the scenes where she’s supposed to stand up to Lady Tremaine. Rather than play up that spunk to get her point across and demand respect, she seems oddly quietly subdued. Almost like instead of speaking up, she’s muttering under her breath and it was not only out of character, but a very weak choice to make. She also doesn’t demonstrate a personal journey or change throughout the story. Given I believe this is also partially due to the loss of Twice Charmed’s central theme, but I still felt that Cinderella at the beginning of the film was the same Cinderella internally when the film reached it’s climax. She brought nothing new to the character and thus I had a hard time caring for her towards the end. I almost actually wanted her to just give up and let Anastasia have her moment.
Having recently watched Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, the first thing that came to mind after seeing this film was “Dear Lord they actually spent money on the in-between work!”. As opposed to other direct to video sequels, the animation was smooth and even though CG was used, it was seamless and barely noticeable, detracting nothing from the story being told. My main complaint was the color palette was way too light compared to the brown-grey hue of the original Cinderella, even during the scenes with darker elements. The character design changed A LOT although it only seemed to bug me when they used facial close-ups. The facial style has lost the definition of the early Disney films. It’s almost like if you just take single glances faces can become indistinguishable and unfortunately it results in a loss of emotional depiction. It’s hard to tell the emotion the animators were trying to portray in the close-ups. Personally, I feel that the reason this happens is because live action reference isn’t as important and used as it was in the good old days, but that just may be me.
Ah, music has always been an integral part of Disney films and why should this film be any different? Unfortunately although there are good ideas, they aren’t be used accurately. Personally the only two songs I enjoyed thoroughly and thought fit to the dot were “At The Ball”, a duet between Jaq and Gus as they try to explain the situation to Prince Charming and the beautiful ending theme “I Still Believe”, which is currently the most played song on my mp3 player. As for the rest, the opening song “Perfectly Perfect” was just that as the film opened, but during the opening sequence, the colors change drastically as Fairy Godmother tries to recreate the night Cinderella and Prince Charming met, and the song does not change one bit. It actually started to feel really out of place. If scenery changes so drastically, you need to modify the song to fit it (My favorite example being the prologue to Tarzan, which is one of my favorite movie/music sequences ever). Cinderella’s little ballad “More Than A Dream” just didn’t serve the purpose of the film. It seemed to imply early on that instead of fighting on Cinderella is just going to give up and goes entirely against the storytelling elements in play. The last song I’ll mention is “Anastasia’s Theme”, which I really loved, expect it was so low tonewise and underused. This could have easily been the film’s big number and instead it felt like it was a throw-away song. A true shame really…
All in all, flawed as it was, Cinderella III: A Twist In Time is still one of the most enjoyable direct to video sequels I’ve seen from Disney in a while. The fact that the animation looks as seamless as it does goes a long way, which is unfortunate because it should go without saying. There is also some amazing voicework to be heard. In all honesty if Disney’s fairy tales and romance stories aren’t your thing, don’t even bother with Cinderella III, but if you’re a hopeless romantic or Princess at heart like myself, you’ll have some of the best 80 minutes Disney has given us sequel-wise in decades.