Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
The decision to cover this entry weighs heavily on my mind. For those that have seen the film (and I don’t doubt that every single one of my readers watches along with every single film I cover), Cinderella II: Dreams Come True presents itself as an anthology, with a loosely constructed narrative thread running throughout. And I’ve made it a point to not cover films that were stitched together simply because a Disney Channel show failed. However, in all my research, I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that Cinderella II fell under that umbrella.
Cinderella occupies a unique place in Disney’s history that no other Disney film can ever come close to mimicking. It’s hard to imagine what the company would literally look like without it. It is, after all, Cinderella’s castle that accompanies its iconic logo. It’s also the most notable piece of real estate at Disney’s theme parks. References to the princess can be seen virtually anywhere throughout pop culture, the most notable coming every year with the NCAA basketball tournament (and appropriated for Midwest Film Journal’s own series of blockbuster tournaments). Cinderella shares company with all-time classics like The Wizard of Oz or Star Wars, in that its story has become so culturally ubiquitous that simply evoking its title will conjure images of phantasmagorical pumpkins, glass slippers and ugly stepsisters. Cinderella may not have been Disney’s first princess, or the most popular, but her shadow looms the largest.
What’s going on here?
The loose thread that the short stories weave themselves around involves Cinderella’s mouse friends wanting to make their own book comprised of stories that revolve around her. This aspect of the film does not matter whatsoever. There are no stakes to be found — dramatic, comedic or otherwise. Could the film have been improved by crafting some sort of through-line for the mice to work toward, like, say, an important gift to give the princess? Probably, but let’s not get hung up too much on that. If there’s any connecting tissue to the stories, it’s the theme of being true to one’s self. Nothing terribly groundbreaking from Disney, but if you’re looking for nuance from a home-released sequel, you’re looking in the wrong places.
Segment number one picks up immediately after Cinderella and Prince Charming (perhaps the blandest prince throughout the history of Disney) return from their honeymoon. Cinderella must contend with fussy royals who want their parties carried off in a certain, buttoned-up way, and they definitely don’t want any commoners around. This is the least interesting segment, and it’s ironic that it’s the one featuring Cinderella the most.
The second story focuses on Jaq the mouse, as he wishes he were human so he could have a more helpful relationship with Cinderella. After the Fairy Godmother grants his wish, he realizes that life as a human isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — can’t say I disagree with you there, Jaq — and he’s transformed back into a mouse. There are some funny slapstick bits with the cat Lucifer still realizing that Jaq is essentially still a mouse, and an Abbott & Costello bit involving his human name, that gives these predictable proceedings a small bit of life. It will also never not be adorable to hear a mouse with a high-pitched voice refer to Cinderella as “Cinderelly.” I don’t make the rules.
Finally, Cinderella’s stepsister Anastasia takes center stage when she falls in love with a baker. Naturally, her mother forbids it. There’s even a profanity-laced tirade based on her disgust and disdain for small businesses and the working man at which Quentin Tarantino would blush. (Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself!) There’s also a B-plot in which Lucifer falls in love with the castle’s cat, Pom Pom, because Disney is bound by the Constitution to include wacky animal hijinks at every turn.
How much of the original is preserved?
It’s hard to craft a story that matches the inventiveness and imagination of the original film’s rags-to-riches story (another pop-culture debt owed to Cinderella). Beyond the original returning cast of human and animal characters, there aren’t a ton of similarities to be found. Covering so many films in this series has already conditioned me to expect the sequel to introduce some new characters that essentially function as updated versions of pre-existing characters in the original. So, from that standpoint, it’s practically a revelation that Cinderella II: Dreams Come True doesn’t take that shortcut. It’s also refreshing to see Disney break the formula, even if only a little bit, by making an anthology-style film for no reason other than that they couldn’t come up with a wholly original Cinderella story.
Does this ruin the original film?
What I appreciate most about Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is its insistence to stick to what has made Cinderella so endearing to so many generations. There’s a cynical part of my brain that could easily see the Disney brass concocting some gussied-up story with witches, evil and lost romance, but it’s nice to see them sticking to Cinderella’s human origins.
Cinderella II did manage to rake in more than $100 million in receipts, which serves as its own kind of miracle. Not only was Disney phasing itself out of hand-drawn animation by 2002 — the final shoe to drop was the box-office bomb from that same year, Treasure Planet — but the release of Shrek the year before had essentially tanked Disney’s stock in princess stories. Audiences had grown tired of the House of Mouse’s shtick and began to see it all as cynical propaganda, which sent Disney into an existential and creative panic.
All of this is to say that, had it been released a few years earlier, perhaps Cinderella II could have found a life of its own. There’s some argument to be made that Cinderella is the byproduct of a bygone era, that she owes all her good fortune to a handsome man who saved her because she’s pretty. The same argument could be made for nearly all Disney princesses of the time, but that’s a discussion for an entirely different essay series. It’s funny that Cinderella II doesn’t even try to address those concerns, though. But I’m OK with that. Could the film be improved by providing some semblance of originality with its characters or plot? Absolutely, but sometimes it’s just nice to simply pop in a DVD and listen to a handful of insane stories from your animal friends for which they weren’t entirely present.
- Next Time: I sincerely hope that The Hunchback of Notre Dame II doesn’t pull the same shenanigans that Cinderella II has. Otherwise, I’ll have a bone to pick with the estate of Victor Hugo.