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KidVid: Cinderella's rags to riches story, rainbow style
March 12, 1998
Web posted at: 9:34 p.m. EST (0234 GMT)
By Scott Blakey

While it may take some explaining to children whose cultural heritage tends to the same hue, "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" (Walt Disney Home Video. 1998, live action, color, 92 minutes, closed captioned, $19.99) is certainly, if nothing else, a paean to diversity.

In this remake of R&H's 1957 ho-hum musical, our heroine, her fairy godmother and the queen are African Americans; Prince Charming is of Asian-Hispanic descent; the wicked stepmother, the royal coach horses, the prince's valet and the king are white. The repertory company of character actors, assorted animals, singers and dancers also contributes to the rainbow collection.

Most of the sequences in the expensive, lavish production were shot at the old MGM -- now Sony -- studio backlots in Culver City, California. But the key selling points of this occasionally overwrought musical (from a 17th-century French fairy tale, based on a yarn that dates to early Egypt) are the actors and the music -- at least some of it.

Heading the cast are teen-queen Brandy (as the equally single-named "Cinderella"), Whitney Houston ("Fairy Godmother" and also one of the picture's executive producers), Whoopi Goldberg ("Queen Constantina"), Bernadette Peters ("Wicked Stepmother"), Jason Alexander (the valet "Lionel") and veteran stage actor Victor Garber ("King Maximilian"). Newcomer Paolo Montalban plays "Christopher Rupert," a.k.a. "Prince Charming."

Old Rodgers & Hammerstein show tunes added

And just to make sure the nippers and their parents walk away humming, the producers pumped in three old R&H show tunes to the original score -- not one of the team's most memorable. These are: "The Sweetest Sounds" (from "No Strings," 1962), "Falling in Love With Love" (with Lorenz Hart, from "The Boys From Syracuse," 1938) and "There's Music in You" (from "Main Street to Broadway," 1953).

"Cinderella" opens with street scenes at a busy and prosperous market town as our heroine tags along carrying purchases made by her nasty, nagging stepmother and two, bullying nitwit stepsisters. The theme of the show is set up right there, as Cindy bursts into song: "The sweetest sounds I ever hear I hear inside my head; the kindest words I'll ever know are waiting to be said ...."

And, lo, who should appear, in mufti, but Prince Christopher, singing a reprise and then a counterpoint. Now, how these two youngsters fail to notice each other, alone singing in the square, is a mystery. But they finally meet when Cindy drops her packages and he rushes to her aid.

Wham! The old love at first sight.

"What's your name?" asks the prince, flashing the most perfect set of choppers you've ever seen.



"I like to sit by the fire and the cinders fly and my face gets burned."

"Ah," the prince replies. "Cinder Ella. I like it."

"It grows on you, I guess."

The young pair discover that they both lead boring, repetitive lives, with every move orchestrated by others. Eventually, they will break out of this pattern, but not for many minutes, filled with a pumpkin coach, a ball, a lost glass slipper and a happy ending.

Many of the sets and Jason Alexander's ersatz MittelEuropa accent are gemultlich to a fault, but the production numbers, the set pieces of any musical, are stunning, and there is a lot of genuine humor sprinkled like fairy dust throughout the script.

Houston and Goldberg turn in rich performances, with Garber the perfect, low-key foil for the queen's emotional, scenery-chewing moments as she tries to persuade her son that it's time to take a wife and produce an heir to the throne.

Viewers will also see a pretty good waltz by Brandy and the prince. It may require some explanation to the nippers, a dance like that.

All in all, there may be just too much here for the youngest of viewers, and I would recommend this to children who are at least 8, and their families. Despite a hyperactive energy level and phantasmagoric sets, or maybe because of them, most older children will love this "Cinderella."

Other 'Cinderella' options

There are a couple of less frantic options as well.

One is Disney's "other" "Cinderella" (Walt Disney Home Video, 1950, animation, color, 76 minutes, closed captioned, $26.99), a notable classic that was given the Disney re-release treatment most recently in 1995. There are still copies around, certainly for rental if not for sale.

This "Cinderella" is a rich and original animated feature and rewarding entertainment for kids 5 and older. It has a legitimate "G" rating, and genuine emotion. The video has been remastered and undergone extensive restoration. The old Technicolor glows with rich hues, and the soundtrack is as crisp as the original. One of the most popular of all the Mouse's creations, it has earned the studio more than $300 million in theatrical releases, and who knows how much in video.

The other is the offbeat (and perhaps hard-to-find) "Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale" (Strand VCI Entertainment, 1991, live action, color, 44 minutes, $12.98), a modern retelling of the tale directed originally for "abc Kidtime" by Lee Grant. It, too, in a wonderful way, unself-consciously celebrates diversity. It's a natural for kids 8 and older.

Fifteen-year-old Cindy (Kyra Sedgewick) is moved from Maine to Manhattan, where her father has remarried a woman who has two daughters of her own. Snotty and mocking, the duo makes Cindy's life miserable. Lonely and oppressed she finally makes a friend: the unlikely Mrs. Dermody, a bag lady with a definite magic touch. Mrs. Dermody is played by the divine Pearl Bailey.

Director Grant's down-to-earth style and solid writing fill this video with earnest emotions kids can identify with. It's definitely worth the trouble to find.

(c) 1998, Scott Blakey. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate