Disney has made three animated Cinderella movies over the course of 60 years. If you grew up in America, you’re likely familiar with the original 1950 “Cinderella.” It’s less likely you’re familiar with the straight-to-DVD sequels.
“Cinderella II: Dreams Come True” is a bland anthology movie about Cinderella’s new life in the palace, but “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” is an entirely different animal. Not to place undue worth on Rotten Tomatoes scores, but it’s currently sitting at a 75% approval rating. For non-theatrical Disney sequels, this is equivalent to winning an Oscar. This glowing reception aligns with my own dim memories of the film — when I watched “Cinderella III” as a kid, it blew my mind.
I remembered it mostly due to a time travel plotline that undid Cinderella’s (Jennifer Hale, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) happy ending. For a 5-year-old, this was shocking enough for the movie to stick in my mind as a grim, masterful reflection on impermanence and fear. With my own good memories and a solid Rotten Tomatoes score to back them up, I took it upon myself to revisit the film.
As it turns out, “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” is not a good movie. My planned retrospective on an underrated piece of animation was obliterated about one minute in, when the ugly stepsisters jump into their first musical number. My clearest memory of the film — the evil stepmother (Susanne Blakeslee, “Wishology”) rewinding time to undo Cinderella’s marriage — happens not at the film’s darkest moment, but in the opening sequence.
Here are some other things that happen in the opening sequence: Cinderella and her prince (Christopher Barnes, “Starman”) celebrate their one-year anniversary. The happy couple sings a song about how awesome their year was, cleverly titled “Perfectly Perfect”. Ugly stepsister Anastasia (Tress MacNeille, “Animaniacs”) comes in to riff off the song, singing about being lonely and wanting to find her own perfectly perfect love. Cinderella and the prince take themselves on an anniversary trip, during which the fairy godmother (Russi Taylor, “Mickey Mouse”) shows up to give them new outfits. Anastasia accidentally falls into the possession of the fairy godmother’s magic wand and turns the fairy godmother into stone. The evil stepmother takes possession of the wand and monologues about doing evil. Then she does said evil, reversing time in hopes of repositioning one of her daughters to marry the prince in place of Cinderella.
At this point, we’re still less than eight minutes into the movie.
It’s hectic, it’s weird and it’s definitely not “good.” The rest of the film continues with a lot of the same chaos. Not a second feels like it was made with any serious artistic or thematic intent. At first, this disappointed me. It’s jarring how much memory and childish perspective can warp perception. I was hoping “Cinderella III” would be at least a little bit thoughtful. I wanted it to move me. I wanted to reconnect with my younger self, to still be able to celebrate the things I once had. Instead, I was let down, bummed about how inaccessible my own past felt.
Incredibly, “Cinderella III” managed to dispel my disappointment almost as soon as it prompted it. While it might not be smart or thought-provoking, it’s undeniably fun. As I watched, the passable Rotten Tomatoes score began to make sense. The movie is lackluster, but it doesn’t give you time to wallow in its lack of direction. It’s too busy being legitimately funny. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single one-liner made me laugh — and what a wealth of one-liners there are. My personal favorite moment is when Prince Charming throws himself out of a window to avoid his father, easily the funniest minute of Disney animation ever.
Barring the possibility that I just have an awful sense of humor, I’m certain there is some real value to “Cinderella III.” The script is consistently funny and clever. That takes a real, concerted effort. The film’s writers had every reason to mail it in. It’s the third Cinderella movie, likely greenlit to fill a gap in the studio’s release schedule and rake in a little extra cash. I can’t imagine there was any intense pressure or incentive to make it excellent. Still, they made an effort to create something viewers would enjoy watching.
So while “Cinderella III” has nothing to say about tragedy or destruction or time, to me, it’s still a moving piece of art. It’s something people clearly took joy in creating, despite neither the studio nor the public caring much about its quality. At the risk of being melodramatic, it strikes me as almost radical — something made with care in the face of corporate indifference.
I’m now on a mission to revisit more straight-to-DVD sequels. I think we all could do with a little more “bad” media in our lives. Spending time on under-appreciated things is inevitably surprising. Sometimes the movies are just undeniably unfunny and unthoughtful like “Cinderella II.” Other times you’ll come across a gem like “Cinderella III.”
So watch a bad sequel. Give some love to some unlovely art. And if you want that art to make you laugh the whole way through, watch “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time.”
Daily Arts Writer Lola D’Onofrio can be reached at email@example.com.