The story of Cinderella has been told and re-told so many times it's practically a culturally shared experience, something children and adults alike are likely so familiar with, they could recite it from beginning to end with little variation. Of course, if one were to consider the wild variations of the story that have risen to prominence throughout just the last century, that lack of variation could be thought of as rather astonishing. That's because the basic bones of Cinderella's tale are relatively consistent throughout each iteration; it doesn't matter if she's an animated beauty with a host of talking vermin helping her cook, clean, and mend dresses, or if she's Drew Barrymore, asserting a more feminist stance while defying her wicked stepmother and sisters; the steps are typically always the same. It's a tale of true love between strangers thanks to the intervention of a fairy godmother and some stylish, but fragile footwear.
There's another aspect to 'Cinderella' that has become common in the last century or so, thanks to the musical elements employed by Disney's 1950 adaptation (though there have been plenty of versions that employed the same technique, Disney's is largely still regarded as the most famous). Of the twenty-six adaptations of the tale (there're even more on the way in the next few years), more than a handful of them deliver their story at least partially through song. One of the more successful adaptations to do this was Bryan Forbes' 1976 musical adaptation, 'The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella,' starring Richard Chamberlain as Prince Edward and Gemma Craven as Cinderella.
With songs written by the Sherman brothers (Richard and Robert, respectively), whose credits include 'Mary Poppins' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 'The Slipper and the Rose' certainly had all trappings of a big budget Hollywood – or Disney – adaptation, but this British version went for a combination of the look and feel of an on-stage musical production and the aesthetic of other mid-'70s genre films. The film is both a lavish musical production, complete with bold, vibrant costumes and elaborate sets, and a terrifically built family film that could still easily be enjoyed today – especially with the stupendous transfer the film has received on this Blu-ray.
It's difficult to imagine an adaptation of 'Cinderella' needing a synopsis here. The bones are certainly the same: a put-upon young woman finds her prince (literally) with the help of her fairy godmother, and some magical clothing and transportation that inexplicably dissolve at the stroke of midnight. It's a simple story, but, to its credit, 'The Slipper and the Rose' manages to milk it for all its worth – which clearly attributes to the film's 146 minute runtime – without feeling like a simple rehash, or like it's being gratuitous in any way; the film is actually quite captivating from beginning to end. However, while it is technically 'The Story of Cinderella,' much of the film is told through from the perspective of Prince Edward, and his hard-fought quest to marry for love, rather than for political alliance with countries neighboring his kingdom of Euphrania.
This puts the majority of the narrative and musical elements on the shoulders of Richard Chamberlain, whose matinee idol good looks perfectly embodied the prince, a character who winds up being the most deeply written and actualized figure in the film. Chamberlain exhibits a charm and magnetism that's befitting his status as a star from his many appearances on television shows like 'Dr. Kildare' and made-for-TV movies adapting the works of Alexander Dumas. Here, Chamberlain is ostensibly given the lead role in someone else's story, as he's asked to lightheartedly disobey his father the king (Michael Horden), who is desperate to see his only son married so that the kingdom may live on in peace and harmony.
But while the prince lives in splendor and comfort, Cinderella's existence is spent largely in the dank, mouse-infested basement of her late father's home, cooking and slaving away for her terrible stepmother (Margaret Lockwood) and two stepsisters. The film does a fine job of setting all this up, but at a certain point, it feels as though Forbes and the brothers Sherman had thought: "We get it; Cinderella's having a hard time with all this physical labor and emotional abuse, but what about the prince? Doesn't anyone care about what he wants?" Well, they did; and while Cinderella is being tended to by her delightfully upbeat and charming fairy godmother (Annette Crosbie), Edward is sulking around the castle, visiting his family crypt and wondering (in song) why his life is filled with every luxury he could imagine, but the one he so desperately wants: the freedom to choose his own destiny – and by that, of course, he means the freedom to choose his own bride.
Despite this focus on Prince Edward, 'The Slipper and the Rose' doesn't forget its fairytale or musical roots. The film manages to evoke memories of Disney's fantastic animated effort, as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Cinderella,' 'The Sound of Music,' and even various other musical productions like 'The Nutcracker.' The songs by the Sherman brothers are often joyous and uplifting, even though they are typically about things like loneliness, inescapable destiny, and, of all things, kingly etiquette and the expectations that come with the crown. In that regard, the song 'Protocoligorically Correct,' sung by the king, feels most reminiscent of the brothers' love for tongue twisters heard in 'Mary Poppins' with the song 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.'
In the end, 'The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella' is the same tale that's been told over and over again, each time with more and more focus on the everlasting appeal of romance, and of finding true love. This film may be quickly approaching its 40th anniversary, but its lively presentation and earnest, but never cloying delivery of sentiment makes it a treat that could easily be enjoyed by families looking for something they can watch together. This is the kind of delightful family entertainment that actually entertains, rather than hit you over the head with its supposed virtuousness.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella' comes from Inception media as a single 50GB Blu-ray in the standard keepcase. There are no previews before the top menu, so you will be allowed to navigate as soon as you put the disc in your player.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer of 'The Slipper and the Rose' is simply astonishing. Not only has the film been restored to a high-polished shine, but image also supplies colors that are simply breathtaking and insanely detailed matte paintings that look as though they'd been ripped right out of a storybook. For the most part, the film has a tremendous amount of detail in every scene. Facial features are on full display most of the time, as are the intricate and colorful costumes worn by the people of Euphrania. The sets all look terrific, and the outdoor cinematography delivers a warm and lovely feeling, with a silvery glow from time to time that accentuates the fairytale feel of it all.
For the most part, contrast is incredibly high – with the possible exception of the aforementioned deliberate haze of certain scenes. Black levels are strong and produce deep, inky blacks, while the white balance remains steady throughout as well. Color plays a large role in the look of the film, as the costumes often border on extravagant, or even garish, but their bright, pastel colors always look bright and vivid. There are times when the colors of things appear to be supersaturated – such as the lipstick worn by the stepmother, and in another scene where a table full of fresh vegetables is so bright it's practically glowing – but considering the genre of film we're talking about, it too seems deliberate.
Overall, this is a tremendous restoration of a beautifully shot film. The image is so good, it will be hard to convince young ones this movie predates them by more than three decades.
As this is a musical, the sound of 'The Slipper and the Rose' is as important as the picture, and thankfully, like the image, the producers of this disc have given it a wonderfully deep and layered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that handles the entire range of the film with such clarity and ease, one might as well be listening to a live performance. Characters' dialogue is delivered cleanly and distinctly through the center channel speaker, while various atmospheric elements tend to be delivered through the rear channels. There's not a lot of ambient noise, as this is a very deliberate production, and, essentially a staged musical, so most sounds are calculated and few just happen to be found on the mix.
In that regard, when it comes time for the music to kick up, and the characters to do their singing, the mix does a tremendous job of displaying a fantastic and wide dynamic range that utilizes all the channels without sounding as though it'd been tampered with digitally to move it across so many channels. In fact, it may has well have been recorded today it sounds so clear and precise.
If there were any drawback, it would be that the lack of atmospheric elements – even when characters are outside – tends to make certain non-musical scenes feel a little flat. But that's a small price to pay for an exquisitely presented musical such as this.
It's hard finding good quality family films that don't have some sort of didactic message, or a juvenile sense of humor making them inaccessible to all but the most puerile of minds. But 'The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella' certainly stands out as a terrific addition to the library for those who have a fan of princess stories, or simply enjoys a good musical from time to time. With a gorgeous picture and terrific sound, along with some insightful supplements, this one comes recommended.