Cinderella II: Dreams Come True
Directed by John Kafka
Written by Jill E. Blotvogel, Tom Rogers, Julie Selbo
Starring Jennifer Hale, Corey Burton, Russi Taylor, Holland Taylor
How low can expectations get? Because mine, regarding the Disney direct-to-video/DVD sequels, are as low as is humanly possible. I don’t actually expect legitimate quality from these films, but I forlornly hope for just a bit. And why not? Some people may scoff at this idea, or even raise their eyebrows quizzically when they realize that, yes, we’re going to look at all of the DTV sequels on this podcast. But what frustrates me most about these films is the precise reason they exist: they’re cheap. Why are there so many of these movies? They make a ton of money, because they cost very little to produce. But because they cost very little to produce, the quality is low at best.
Take Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, for instance. No, seriously, take it. I don’t want it anymore. I had it, but now I’m finished with it. Though it’s not the first DTV sequel I’ve seen, it’s perhaps the most dire. I mentioned on the podcast to Gabe that I’ve also seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, which is, make no mistake, fairly horrendous. But there’s something uniquely, almost fascinatingly troubling about Cinderella II. Here we have a film that is ostensibly a sequel to an enormously beloved film, one with characters people hold incredibly dear. Now, if you’ve listened to the podcast long enough, you know that I am not particularly enamored with the original Cinderella. I think some aspects of it are quite charming, especially the music, but as a whole, I don’t think as much of it as many, many others do.
But having said that, I am aware of how much people treasure this movie. Moreso than most sequels, Cinderella II has, I think, an extremely uphill battle to wage. On the one hand, you think the DisneyToon animators have it easy, right? Because let’s be honest, Cinderella II is for kids. I have and will continue to argue that movies from the Walt Disney Company shouldn’t automatically be targeted at children, but I’m willing to assume (quite safely) that Gabe and I—two guys in their twenties—are not the people who will hopefully get something out of this movie. On the other hand, if the target audience in 1950 for Cinderella was little girls, shouldn’t it be assumed those little girls, now grown up, are going to want to revisit the world of this fairy tale and enjoy it as much as their sisters, cousins, nieces, and daughters will?
Let’s be honest: the amount of thought I’ve put into these questions is more than the thought, care, and dedication present in Cinderella II, a film that reminds me more of the Saw franchise than anything else. The latter films cost a pittance to make and bring in tons of money. From a business standpoint, if you look at those movies, it makes perfect sense to milk the franchise dry. If you can make a massive profit, why wouldn’t you? The DisneyToon Studios films, which began in 1990 with Ducktales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp and ended, in effect, with a Little Mermaid sequel in 2008 when John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over Walt Disney Feature Animation and shuttered its doors. I hesitate to leap for joy still at this news, but I know that the DisneyToon DTV sequels weren’t anything special.
And why weren’t they special? Because they were cheap. This is how movies like Cinderella II are like the Saw films. They cost very little money and made a ton. Cinderella II made over $120 million on a $5 million budget. Obviously, part of this is thanks to people not going to the theaters to see the movie, but buying it on VHS and DVD. But still, that number is insane, and it speaks to how the DisneyToon Studios films thrived so much in the 1990s and 2000s. To me, the problem is simple: if you’re taking characters people love, you can’t give them a shoddy treatment. These characters are idolized by kids from a young age, and to give the grown-up versions of those kids—as well as kids experiencing the world created way back when for the first time—a low-rent copy is disgusting.
I always hesitate to fall back on the dangerous phrase “Walt wouldn’t have wanted it that way,” but I do doubt that the people who worked on Cinderella tirelessly would appreciate the way the characters and story were treated here. I can’t know for sure; none of us can. But I can’t imagine the people who were involved in that film were too pleased from a creative standpoint. I don’t know that any of them would protest the film on principle, but there’s something almost unintentionally callous about revisiting the world of Cinderella without treating it right. Maybe the better question is this: is there a good way to make a sequel to Cinderella, or any fairy tale that ends with the characters living happily ever after? Would it have mattered if the Walt Disney Company threw a billion dollars to DisneyToon Studios, to do as they liked? Would the result have been the same?
The stories that make up Cinderella II: Dreams Come True are, at best, slight. At worst, they’re half-assed attempts at a cash grab. Could the story of Cinderella handling her royal duties, or of Jaq the mouse turning into a human, or Cinderella’s once-evil, but now-maybe-not-so-much stepsister Anastasia falling in love with a commoner, be enough to make a full film? I mean…I guess. Maybe. But do any of those stories, based on the quick descriptions I’ve provided (and I’m not leaving much out), sound appealing to you at all? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not attuned to the sensibility that would make, for example, a story about a young woman bucking royal tradition by being a bit looser in putting on a palace party exciting. Maybe that’s enthralling to some of you or to some of your kids. But as even a 25-minute segment in a whole movie, it puts me to sleep.
Something else that disappoints me about this movie, moreso than other direct-to-video sequels from Disney, is that segmentation. I’m aware, as Gabe mentioned on the show, that some of the direct-to-video films are derived from the various TV shows Disney aired on its channel back in the 1990s, such as the Ducktales or Goof Troop series. In those cases, I can at least understand the logic in presenting a film that’s essentially a few short stories strung together. But for the return to Cinderella? Give me a break. Tell me a full story, or no story at all. I realize that the Walt Disney Company is a business that wants to continue making gobs and gobs of money. But I always hope that the films they make, whether they’re released in theaters or directly to video, have a spark of creativity, a need to be told. The story of Cinderella, even if it’s based on an immensely popular fairy tale, felt like it needed to be told and told by the animators behind the film. There’s no need to tell the stories in Cinderella II.
Desire is important when you’re making a film. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, it will show. Though the voice performers here—none major celebrities, and all doing an at-least serviceable job—aren’t a problem, the script they’re given is a major hindrance. Another hindrance is the cheap, chintzy animation. Even if the people at DisneyToon Studios had passion about revisiting Cinderella and her friends, I will assume it couldn’t have been too all-encompassing. If it had been, wouldn’t the film be even a bit more impressive? Animation is expensive, so they may not have had the appropriate amount of resources. But there are plenty of great low-budget films that do a lot with a little. This is not one of those films. There’s no life in the characters, no life in the stories, and no life in the world of Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. What a shame.