|A personal moment with DaViD...|
I think I can safely say that my finest hour thus-far as a DVD reviewer has just taken place. Cinderella is my favorite Disney Animated classic, and like other classic films viewed from an early age, it has become part of my life to be enjoyed again and again as I grow older. Now having entered my 34th year, viewing Cinderella I’m rewarded as profoundly as when I was a child. Disney’s magnificent effort to bring this classic to DVD has made that experience even more rewarding.
Having the privilege to review this DVD and share my impressions with you is an honor that I do not take lightly. It is with gratitude and appreciation to all those responsible for this beautiful DVD edition that I offer you my review.
A veritable classic among Disney’s historic animated feature films, Cinderella is just as impressive a work of art and entertainment today in 2005 as it was 55 years ago when it graced the screen for audiences the very first time. Like all of Disney’s “fairy tale” translations, it has its host of critics who will be quick to tell you all the ways in which the animated feature film deviates from the historical tale. However, Cinderella’s transgressions aren’t any more egregious than any other Disney feature loved and enjoyed, and given that there are a multitude of variations on the historical tale already, in my humble opinion Disney simply adds one more—and a it's a good one.
Note to film enthusiasts: the version of Cinderella that I find Disney’s adaptation most closely resembles is actually a 1939 Deanna Durbin film called “First Love” (included in a DVD collection titled “Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack” which contains six of her films…it’s a must own). That film made use of many visuals, scenes, and characters that Disney appears to have worked into his own feature royalty-free: the characters at her home who help her get to the ball and befriend her are represented by Disney’s mice, when Deanna arrives at the ball and approaches the stair case and when she and the “prince” dance together is also clearly parallel…with Disney creating a more grandiose, but undeniably similar visual effect. I highly recommend that every one of you who appreciates classic films or the Cinderella story in general give Deanna Durbin’s “First Love” a watch and see if you don’t agree. I haven’t felt that I’ve discovered a stronger undocumented “inspiration” from one film to another since I saw the heroine in “THEM” torch the ant larvae in what was CLEARLY the inspiration for Cameron’s scene when Ripley torches the Alien’s egg lair.
Cinderella is well-paced, well edited, and delivers a compelling story with characters that get you emotionally involved. Cinderella may be an innocent, but she's not naive (just look at the way she rolls her eyes when she's about to interrupt the "music lesson" when the King's announcement arrives). The coldness of the stepmother is chillingly frightening…and I’m sure the inspiration for many a childhood nightmare. The tension that the movie builds in the final scenes is nothing short of fantastic considering that even having viewed this film dozens of time it still produces the same gut-wrenching agony as if maybe this time the movie won't turn out with a happy ending after all. While some sequences may be a bit slow for today's kids who are reared on MTV-strobe-like childrens' programming, those of you already working hard to make sure your children grow up enjoying classics like Bambi and Snow White know the importance of not letting the next generation miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience these masterworks of film for the first time at a young age.
Cinderella’s animation (which bears a strong influence from the concept artwork of Mary Blair, much like Alice in Wonderland) is sophisticated. Look at the carefully depicted backgrounds…at times they are quite abstracted and stylized…at times they are less assuming and more realistic…at times colors are bold and electric and at times somber and subdued. Every choice, every brushstroke, is placed on the canvas for a purpose. Nothing you can see is merely arbitrary; it all works together to compel the characters, the story, the emotion that Disney artists want you to feel. Some sequences are beautifully realistic, and some sequences (like the “Sing Sweet Nightingale” or “So This Is Love” ballads) are wondrously surreal and display a Fantasia-esque creativity. No two Disney animated features are just alike in technique, and just like Snow White, Bambi, and Fantasia, Cinderella is Disney Studios animation at its best.
Those of you who grew up with Cinderella and, like me, have been dreaming of the day you could own it on DVD have been well rewarded for your patience. Those of you who haven’t seen this film, there's never been a better opportunity.
Since my first love-affair with laserdisc in the 1990’s I remember the covetous way that I snatched that 12-inch platter from the hands of the store clerk and raced home to experience Cinderella ecstasy—in what was then the highest-quality consumer-format available. In those days of debating which provided better image quality…to use a composite video cable and rely on your 4x3 interlaced television’s built-in comb filter or run “S-Video” using your laserdisc player’s comb-filter…I remember being blown away by what seemed to me then to be a pristine image before my eyes and feeling a deep satisfaction knowing that I owned an “optically read” copy of one of my childhood’s most cherished films that I could watch over and over again without wear.
However, taking that laserdisc to the high-end video store and watching it magnified on a CRT projector confronted me with just how poor a film-facsimile the laserdisc medium really was. My loyalty to laserdisc was broken, and I began to dream of another future format that could much more closely “replicate film” in my living room. When DVD hit the streets in 1997 and it became clear what potential improvements the format would be able to offer…I remember dreaming that one day I might be able to purchase Cinderella again…on the DVD format…and if fate were kind, it might ameliorate the problems inherent with the laserdisc medium and transport me to video nirvana.
That day has come.
Folks. I could stop right there. Every else in this section is merely an elaboration upon that one simple word.
The magicians at Lowry Digital have outdone themselves yet again. They seem to be getting better and better with each Disney animated feature they do. Starting with Snow White, moving to Bambi, and then to Cinderella (omitting a few in between for brevity), the progress is clear. Add to that Disney’s apparent improvement at learning how to properly digitally master for the DVD medium and the winning combination is what you see here.
You’re not looking at a film that’s 55 years old. You’re looking and hand-painted cells and background artwork dancing on your screen with a purity that looks as if they were photographed yesterday. I take that back…they don’t look “photographed” at all. The effect is as if you’re staring directly at the artwork itself. Stunning.
Much like with Bambi, the visual experience of watching Cinderella is dazzling for the videophile viewer…especially for those viewing on a wide-angle/large-screen display. Background images reveal so much detail, so much depth, that you feel as if you could run your fingers along the image and feel the ridges from the painted brush stroked on the canvas. The image is so pure, so stable, so free from any anomalies whatsoever, that it’s as if those painted cells are coming to life right before your eyes. I’m still stunned even 2 days after having first viewed this DVD.
Unlike Bambi, which was an outstanding effort but still revealed a few very (very) minor artifacts (whether from film or electronic origin) like a mild softness/occasional edge-ringing and some film-related artifacts like a few strange motion "blurs" and color-shifts while the camera changed focus or moved through the multiplane layers, Cinderella contains no noise whatsoever from any source: film or video. There is no evidence of film-grain to be seen. No compression noise or color banding that I can detect. No color instability or contrast pumping or image bobbing/weaving. No edge-ringing anywhere or “digital” looking haze to obscure the natural detail. No unnecessary high-frequency filtering to remove fine detail and destroy the sense of image depth. Blacks are clean/compression-noise free, contrast is exactly right, and colors are exactly as they are meant to appear.
It’s simply perfect.
The only room for criticism I can find is that the original RKO logo is missing (replaced with the modern Disney logo) but the original musical intro score is fully intact and overlays the new Disney logo leading into the title credits in the same manner. Not the end of the world (I love that beautiful historic RKO logo on my laserdisc) but that about sums up the only issue I have with the video presentation...
I’ll make mention that this sort of “digitally restored” image is controversial with some folks…and we’ve had some healthy discussion on these points in past threads here at HTF. I think that in general it’s fair to say that with “movies” the film-negative or first-generation print (as it was intended to look by the original artists) should be the reference point that the restoration and DVD presentation aspire to achieve...and whatever "grain" or other film-related artifacts one might see in those first-generation elements ought to be left alone...that's the movie the artists made and that's the way they expected it to look (note, this has to do with "intended" grain...not film grain or noise incurred from poor-quality post-production duplication or wear).
However, in the case of animated art like Cinderella, I think it could be argued that the painted artwork could be viewed as an “earliest generation” copy of the art, if you will. If the image can be cleaned to reveal that artwork more clearly…it might actually be serving the artists’ original intentions better than the prints did that delivered the film's theatrical debut.
An audio analogy would be considering the discrete-recorded audio tracks to a classic Beatles' song as the "original" work...not the overly-compressed 2nd generation master tape used for LP...so you create a new high-res 24/192 master using those discrete tracks (without the added tape-hiss and distortion of the master tape on file) being careful to achieve the same overall balance of the original mix and this becomes the new source for your DVD-Audio disc or SACD.
Of course, without having the original artists present to share their point of view on the matter we can’t ever know for sure if we've best served their intended result. But I think that at the very least enthusiasts should allow themselves to enjoy a DVD presentation like Cinderella for what it is *and* for what it brings them that no audience outside the orignal animation team ever had the opportunity to enjoy previously. The high-resolution digital files can always be printed back to film for physical preserviation and to impart the signature of film back into the image in any desired way, and so the work done resurrecting a title like Cinderella for a DVD presentation such as this is not a disservice to the art and integrity of film…it ultimately can serve to preserve it.
John D. Lowry’s own comments relating to this issue (regarding another title) taken from this excellent article:
|“Generally speaking in the industry, grain removal equals detail removal,” says Lowry. “But we’ve been able to reduce the granularity while increasing the detail. I don’t know that anybody else is doing that in an effective way. As a matter of fact, most of the grain we reduce is grain that crept into the film through many generations of optical duplications. The philosophy of my critics, that every grain in a film is sacred, and to leave grain untouched, is a bit ridiculous in my mind.”|