Blu-ray technology is a blessing and a curse. Because it’s now the standard in home media creation and distribution, the basis behind this innovation has perhaps become obscured. Some of the greatest films of all time have been given new life on Blu-ray, as recently as last week, for example. (One can only imagine how exquisite Lawrence of Arabia looks in high definition.) But film studios aren’t selective. Just about everything goes on Blu-ray now, for better or worse. So, the Walt Disney Company traffics in both the good and the…well, not-so-good. This week, they’ve offered up old and new entries in their direct-to-DVD catalog. Coming to Blu-ray for the first time is a duo of sequels, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups, conversely, is a new film out right in time for the holiday season. And both are…shall we say, dubious Blu-ray releases.
The Cinderella two-film combo—it’s three discs, with one Blu-ray featuring both films and two DVDs—is mostly just an update for the 2002 and 2007 sequels. They’ve made the leap to high definition with, frankly, mixed results. Oh, yes, the animation in both movies looks bright and colorful enough. However, if you’re familiar with direct-to-DVD animation, you know that it’s not nearly as impressive or sumptuous as what you might find in feature animation. The people working on these films have much shorter budgets, so the animation can’t help but look a little lackluster. In short, these movies give credence to the old skepticism about high-definition technology being applied to films: that it heightens the flaws inherent in the product, as opposed to enhancing its perceived perfection. You might think that the five years between sequels would allow the third film—which deserves credit for telling a single story, not three very short, TV-esque ones like the second film does—to be improved visually, but no such luck.
Only the naïve will be surprised that the Cinderella two-pack is extremely light on special features. Each DVD has one of the films along with one of the Blu-ray supplements: the first or second edition of “Becoming a Princess.” Calling these features “editions” is a stretch, as the concept of each is the same: an ad for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at the Disney theme parks. Depending on which “edition” you choose, you’ll see a different little girl and her mother get whisked away by “Miss Petal”—I leave it to you to guess Miss Petal’s first name—to the extremely popular beauty parlor Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. There, the little girl is given a princess makeover; after, the girl plays a game or has a royal tea party with Miss Petal.
Suffice to say, you’ll have to be extremely patient to find these two features that cute or enjoyable. The only credit I give here is that the little girls are clearly not actors; thus, their reactions feel quite natural. The other two features, a music video for “Put It Together” from the second film and a “Musical Magic” supplement, are mostly disposable. The latter feature is at least interesting to kids if they’re rhythmically inclined and aren’t yet that well versed in cinematic musical compositions. And that’s basically the takeaway from this entire Blu-ray: if your kids are die-hard fans of Cinderella, this is worth buying. If not, well…
Next up is Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups, the thirteenth film in the Air Bud franchise. (You think I’m joking, right? I admire your hope. But I’m serious.) This is, despite the title, the third film in the franchise with a Christmas theme, following Santa Buddies and The Search for Santa Paws. (I haven’t seen these other movies, so I’ll simply assume that they—whoever they are—found Santa Paws alive and well.) As this is my first movie in the Air Bud franchise, I can only express faith that the other entries in the series aren’t so jaw-dropping. I’m more of a cat person than a dog lover, but only a heartless man would deny the inherent adorability of canines. But you…really have to love dogs to like these movies, I think. The talking animals, thanks to the dubious magic of CGI, are disturbing enough. But the whole idea of the movie—spreading Christmas cheer and getting some grumpy people who hate Christmas to love the holiday and so on—is executed so oddly and immaturely. I think it’s safe to say that if you or your family like the franchise as a whole, then, hey, do I have a movie for you. Otherwise, you must be a Disney completist. Or just a big fan of Cheryl Ladd, who plays Mrs. Claus here. (Commence feeling old at the thought of a Charlie’s Angel playing someone so matriarchal.)
There are just two features on the Blu-ray, one called “Blooper Scooper” and one called “Santa Paws Music Mash-Up.” The former is—yes, contain your shock—a blooper reel of sorts. Part of the 3 and ½ minute supplement is genuine screw-ups from actors like Danny Woodburn and Ladd; the rest is clearly created bits with the CGI dogs and other animals. And while some blooper reels are actually kind of funny, the one here isn’t thanks to the “goofy” music and a surprising lack of…well, bloopers. The latter is somewhat misleading: it’s 2 minutes and 15 seconds of the Buddies singing a mix of a song created for the movie and “Jingle Bells” as footage from the film plays over the soundtrack. It’s not wrong, then, to say that if you’re going to buy this movie—and with 13 movies in the franchise, clearly someone is—you’re buying it for the movie itself, not the 6 minutes of supplements.
I feel like I echo a similar sentiment when reviewing the Blu-ray releases of Disney movies that are skipping the movie theater or are being released on the HD format for the first time. But it bears repeating in relation to Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups. You may be the kind of home-media buyer who likes to buy movies blindly, to take a risky adventure with your money. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Maybe you’ll regret the purchase and try to get the money back by reselling on eBay. If you’re not a blind buyer and you wind up with these movies, I assume that you or your kids are major fans of Cinderella the character, and/or you love CGI talking dogs. Everyone else need not apply.