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?

Spoiler alert for the remainder of this series: Things are about to get much darker and much weirder. After this entry, only one animated film remains from the entirety of Disney’s home-release sequel / prequel / spinoff experiment, with the rest being live-action films.

I have no idea why Disney returned to Cinderella as one of its final animated home-release films*. They had much better critical and financial success with the Lion King and Lilo & Stitch films, so why turn back to one of its original properties? Was it simply a final farewell to one of the princesses that helped turn the studio into a global powerhouse? Indeed, once production ended on Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Disney shuttered for good Disney Australia’s animation studio, which made a fair amount of the films we’ve covered.

* Disney would continue to make home-release films in the Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh franchises, but they won’t be covered in this column.

What’s going on here?

Without question, the weakest aspect of the Cinderella franchise is Prince Charming. Who is he? What does he think about life in royalty? What kind of a monster names their son, the heir to their kingdom, Charming? Thankfully, A Twist in Time finally gives some screen time to Charming and his relationship with his father, the king.

But before we get into that, we see things from the perspective of Cinderella’s former family. The film opens on Cinderella and Charming’s one-year wedding anniversary, about which she sings. But Cinderella’s family still resents her for leaving them to wallow in squalor, forcing them to do their own dishes and laundry. Anastasia, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, manages to steal the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand and gives it to her mother. We’ve got 12 more films to cover in this series, but I highly doubt any scenes will top the one of Anastasia wrestling the Fairy Godmother, who it turns out is essentially just a helpless old lady without her wand.

Lady Tremaine uses the wand to turn back time to the day that Charming came to their home and makes the famed glass slipper magically fit Anastasia, leading Charming to believe that he was destined to marry her rather than Cinderella. Lady Tremaine also casts a spell on Charming to rework his memories and make him believe that it was Anastasia that he danced with, not Cinderella. Cinderella works her way into the castle, hoping to snap Charming out of Lady Tremaine’s hypnosis.

We’re only halfway through the film!

Cinderella gets caught after stealing the wand back and is sent away on a ship, but before she does, she grazes the hand of Prince Charming and he realizes something is amiss. Jaq and Gus Gus inform Charming of Lady Tremaine’s evil plan and he sets out to stop her, including a harrowing horseback ride to the ship — in which I felt very bad for the poor, overworked horse! Cinderella breaks the spell and heads back to the castle to prepare to get married.

Hang on, there’s still more left!

Lady Tremaine sniffs out their plan and casts another spell, this time to transform Anastasia into Cinderella’s lookalike. To get Cinderella out of the way, she changes a pumpkin into a twisted version of the carriage from the original film, and Lucifer the cat into a carriage driver, and sends them off to (presumably) fall off a mountain. Cinderella stops the carriage through a surprisingly thrilling sequence, arrives back at the wedding and saves the day. Anastasia even gets her moment in the spotlight when she gets cold feet on the wedding altar, hoping to marry someone for true love rather than a mere power play.

The end credits even provide a nice call-back to Cinderella II, revealing that Anastasia still falls in love with the baker.

How much of the original is preserved?

It’s strange how this film could have easily swapped places with Cinderella II since this one deals more directly with the events of the original film. Cinderella III feels very much like a product of its time. In its post-Shrek era, you can definitely notice an attempt from Disney to make its films more self-aware, to poke fun at the tropes it had honed so neatly throughout its decades of dominance.

Prince Charming serves as the closest to an audience surrogate here, especially in the second half, as he’s clued into what it took for him to finally notice Cinderella. His line of “but the talking mice say she’s the wrong girl!” is another highlight.

The film isn’t without its songs, but they’re fairly light and don’t slow down the mountain of plot. I’m sure it’s because I’ve seen so many of these films in quick succession, but I’ve begun to get tired of Disney’s company voice actors taking priority over outside voices. No offense to Tress MacNeille, Russi Taylor, etc. — and I understand, to some extent, that Disney would have continuity issues if they had brought in new voices — but I was left wishing I could see what someone else could have done with certain roles.

Does this ruin the original film?

Cinderella III moves at a breakneck pace and is all the better for it. The third-act transformation of the pumpkin and its subsequent chase is legitimately disturbing (as far as animated Disney films go, anyway). The Cinderella franchise has a well-rounded cast of characters, which Disney would surely draw inspiration from throughout the years, and this film uses each of them effectively. Of the films we’ve covered throughout this series that have received the trilogy treatment (Aladdin, The Lion King and, soon to come, The Little Mermaid), I certainly wasn’t expecting Cinderella to be one of the best.

  • Next Time: Three films changed the movie world in 2008: Iron Man, The Dark Knight and Snow Buddies.