NEW YORK, New York, June 22, 2005 - Earlier today in midtown Manhattan, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) offered a presentation previewing some of what will be found on this October's Platinum Edition DVD debut of Disney's 1950 animated classic Cinderella. The session was hosted by Andy Siditsky and Rick Rhoades. Siditsky is BVHE's senior president of worldwide DVD production and creative services, overseeing the bonus materials on many of Disney's biggest DVDs, while Rhoades fields national coverage questions for the public relations department.
The session began with the trailer for the DVD, which anyone who has bought or rented a Disney DVD this year has likely seen. Siditsky then told the story of how Walt Disney once responded to a question about what was his favorite sequence from any of his animated films. With surprisingly little hesitation, Walt replied that it was the transformation sequence in Cinderella. In light of this anecdote, Siditsky explained, it seemed like an appropriate theme to use for the Cinderella two-disc DVD release. It was not clear exactly how this motif would be implemented for the DVD but highlighting this aspect of the film would appear fitting.
Siditsky then introduced animation historian John Canemaker, whose name/face/voice you may recognize from his appearances on audio commentaries and other Disney DVD supplements on discs like Fantasia, Dumbo, and Peter Pan: Special Edition. In addition to heading New York University's animation department, Canemaker has written nine books on various cartoon subjects over the past thirty years. His most recent work is The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, about the life and career of one of Disney's most influential artists. This certainly qualified him to talk about the exciting Disc 2 bonus featurette "The Art of Mary Blair", one of the supplements we got to look at.
From the clips and Canemaker's remarks, Blair definitely sounds like an important figure in the history of Disney animation, and this new piece appears to tell her story as never heard before. Despite a painting style that was abstract and rather un-Disney, Blair's art would significantly contribute to the look of not just Cinderella, but Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Disneyland's "It's a Small World" exhibit and many more projects. In an age when career women were an anomaly, some men at Disney were perplexed with Walt's fondness for Blair's childlike imagery, but she remained a dominant presence in design at the studio up to shortly before her 1978 death, even taking day-long cross-country flights from her Long Island studio to California.
Next, Canemaker dipped further into his fountain of knowledge to talk about Walt's legendary "Nine Old Men" - a group of pioneering animators whose contributions to Disney films are countless. Cinderella was one of just three films on which all nine worked on (the others being 1951's Alice in Wonderland and 1953's Peter Pan). Canemaker discussed some of the individual personalities from the troupe who each brought something unique and special to Cinderella, from Ward Kimball's broad Chaplin-esque comedy in Lucifer the cat to Frank Thomas's summoning of tangible evil in the villainous Lady Tremaine. We got a glimpse of the featurette "From Walt's Table: A Tribute to Disney's Nine Old Men", which looks to be a real winner of a supplement. Some of the most reputable Disney animators of modern times gathered together at the Tam O'Shanter restaurant in Los Angeles. They sat at the very table Walt Disney would often eat and work at and discussed how they were inspired by each of the Nine Old Men. ABC film critic Joel Siegel serves as host among the likes of Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Brad Bird, Mark Henn, Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements. That's a talented lineup for a feature I can't wait to see in full and I'm sure anyone with an interest in Disney animation will feel the same way.
Disney received extremely favorable response to the innovative "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" audio commentary on Bambi's Platinum Edition DVD, in which transcripts from production meetings were re-enacted. The all-new featurette "The Cinderella That Almost Was" comes in that vein, though it's not quite the same. Somewhere along the way of researching for the Cinderella DVD, a special envelope was unearthed which had not been opened since 1949. Inside was a full set of storyboards for Cinderella. While the basic story is the same, there are a number of interesting differences from the final film, including sequences and characters which were deleted (like a turtle named Clarissa) or revised (Bruno the dog once talked). All we saw from this was a montage of images, so I'm curious to see how this material will be arranged and how long it will run. (The British Board of Film Classification passed a supplement bearing this title with a runtime of just over 14 minutes.) Unfortunately, there was not any mention of an audio commentary and as this feature is listed for Disc 2, it's unlikely to stand in for one the way "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" did.
Lastly, we got a look at the ESPN Classics featurette "Cinderella Stories." While this seemed to be a nice featurette, it has, as you might suspect from the title, next to nothing to do with Disney's Cinderella. The montage we previewed weaved in familiar lines from the film, but the primary focus was on unexpected triumphs in sports, including the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, cyclist's Lance Armstrong's success, Kirk Gibson's chain-pulling 1988 World Series home run, Mia Hamm and the U.S. women's soccer team, Jim Valvano's 1983 North Carolina State basketball upset, and tennis twins Venus and Serena Williams. A piece about overcoming adversity to find victory sounds interesting, but the clips-and-interviews preview suggests the piece is purely to attract another demographic or capitalize on Disney's ownership of the ESPN cable sports family. Those looking for inspiration here might find it, but those searching for something related to the film in more than name would probably be better with any of the other supplements which were previewed.
Cinderella is the last film out of Disney's canon of animated classics to come to DVD. That fact and the film's merits alone would likely be enough to attract interest in its long-awaited DVD debut. Fortunately, Disney appears to be going the extra mile to make this two-disc release special and worthy of the Platinum Edition moniker which graces its most satisfying DVDs of the studio's most beloved animated films. The clips previewed today made up just a small portion of supplements which account for only some of the DVD's numerous offerings. There was but a brief glimpse of the 45-minute making-of documentary "From Rags to Riches" (a first for Cinderella) and only a mention of deleted scenes, demo recordings of unused songs, a storyboard-to-film comparison, two music videos, half a dozen trailers from over the years, extensive art galleries, a "Mickey Mouse Club" excerpt, a 1922 "Cinderella" Laugh-o-gram from the early days of Walt's career, and a bombardment of DVD-ROM and set-top games and activities. And to think we used to be happy with just the movie and a white clamshell case!
Lastly, those of you worrying that the film itself might have been forgotten amidst all this effort that has gone into bonus features, worry not. Disney has employed the same restoration process and team that revitalized Bambi with such satisfying results. While full judgment must obviously be reserved for the fall when the set is actually released, the before/after split-screen slides illustrate a dazzling remastering job. Like Bambi, Cinderella will offer both a 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Remix and its original monaural theatrical soundtrack.
Between everything screened today and Disney's track record for this premium line, all seems to be shaping up quite nicely for the studio's sixth Platinum Edition DVD. As other studios continually seek to raise the bar for DVD, Disney is right there too, relying not merely on a much-loved catalogue but on expanding the possibilities of the current home video medium. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Platinum Edition line and Cinderella looks to continue that trend.