Thursday, June 15, 2006

A RIDE FOR CINDERELLA (1937)

When last we visited Chief Gnome, he had left his version of the Cinderella story hanging in the middle, with Cindy heading off to Prince Charming's ball in a Chevrolet Coach which was really a pumpkin that had been magically run through a "MODERNIZER" machine. (Wondering what the hell it is to which I am referring? Check out yesterday's post.) This break in the story was clearly taken so that the Chief could spend a little romantic time with his horse/grasshopper, a mutated insect with the head of a horse that we will soon find out has amorous designs on the child-voiced though fully-bearded gnome, who most likely, and weirdly, reflects those desires. At the beginning of A Ride for Cinderella, the sequel to the previous year's theatrical animated Chevrolet advertisement, A Coach for Cinderella, the Chief Gnome and his own "ride" have made their way to Charming's castle in time to watch the ball's antics from a ledge on the castle wall. The music wafting their way from the ballroom inspires the Chief to grab his horsehopper and start to dance with him/her. (Who can tell, and who cares? As long as they're happy together. At least they are the same size...)

Inside the castle, various couples pair off for the dance, and when we first meet the orchestra, they are playing in a classical style, but once the camera settles on them, their stiffly played tune turns swiftly into a carefree, swinging stomp. The cellist shoots his bow off his strings as if it were an arrow, and the bow steals the wig off one of the ladies in attendance. The bow turns back and deposits the wig onto the face of the lady next to the now completely bald guest, and the flustered woman is glad to retrieve it back. There is a burst of fanfare, and when a red carpet is laid out for the prince, it turns out that he is actually inside the rug, and he jumps out at the last second with the air of someone who is a little too cocksure of his... well, he's cocksure. Cinderella's ugly stepsisters spy him right away, and primp and preen and battle for the right position in which to greet him. However, he strides right between the two without even a glance and takes the hand of Cinderella, who is resplendent in the gown that the gnomes created for her in the first film.

The uglies are incredibly jealous, and have become privy to secrets that even we, who have seen the first cartoon, are not even in on. At the very least, such a secret was not revealed onscreen in any manner, though we do know the secret only due to the famous story. Stating how Cinderella's coach will turn back into a pumpkin at midnight, and how all of her various accoutrement will also transform at the designated hour, one of the uglies muses, "If we could only stop the hussy!" Ugly numero dos mentions the old witch who lives in the forest. They visit her immediately, and while the hideous hag goes on at length about just how hideous and evil and bad she is, and in verse, I will not repeat it here, mainly because she is such a crushing bore about it. (She does hate herself, though, and it is a welcome sight when she socks herself in the face.) The witch recites a spell over her cauldron and creates a couple of fanged demonic minions which she sends out on a mission to destroy Cinderella's coach.

The Chief Gnome, who in addition to his lust for mutated insects must also be a licensed Peeping Tom, spies on the witchly doings, and counters the witch's blathering with a plea for the nature of good:

"But we spread happiness each day,
As we go on our merry way!
We help to make this life more gay!
We love everything --"

The Chief Gnome points to one of the demons and finishes "-- 'Cept that!" He hops off on his steed to a telephone to get a warning to Cinderella. Unfortunately for him, there is a saucy and cute bunny operator on the other end of the line, who ignores his buzzing to gossip on and on with one of her girlfriends about boys and whatnot while she absentmindedly plays cat's cradle with the phonelines. Finally, annoyed at the interruption, she picks up the phone and answers harshly, "What's eatin' ya, buddy? Where's the fire?" His message travels to "Ye Woodland Messenger Service, manned by a bug who continues to read his magazine while he uses his backlegs to kick out the message onto a corncob typewriter. His return shift kick connects with the head of a sleeping bird, who grabs the note and flies it directly to Cinderella at the castle.

It is no surprise that the sloppiness of the writers extended into even the characters not knowing what is going on, as the note reveals the secret of the midnight return to even Cinderella for the first time. (Whew! Now I know that I didn't miss anything last time!) She runs to her coach in a panic, and when she drives off, she throws the witch's minions for a loop, who are unsuccessfully trying to tear apart the sturdily modernized coach. The ghostly monstrous minions are reduced to taunting and making faces at the prince's pooch, whose leap through of them sends both he and his master crashing headfirst into a wall. Luckily for the prince, Cinderella kicked off one of her slippers (we are never told it is glass, nor does it ever come into play) into the prince's hands when she left, and he has his loyal pup sniff it to track her down.

Back in the deep woods, the witch egotistically babbles on while she creates an even bigger minion to go after the coach. As the giant demon flies into the air, it frightens every creature that crosses its path, and then it makes it way down the road, tearing entire trees out of the ground as it passes them. Eventually, the coach catches up to the minion. (Don't ask me how -- the next shot, the minion has disappeared.) The uglies pursue Cinderella in their own period-correct coach, and throughout the pursuit, it keeps getting bumped by a series of logs in the roadway. The witch creates one last minion, bigger than all of them, and it is built of "wind, lightning, thunder and rain". While she casts her final spell, she yet again can't resist bragging about just how evil she is, but this time, the storm minion socks her in the head instead, knocking her into her cauldron. The storm demon's rise to the skies makes the Chief Gnome cry, and he prays to the "Lord of all gnomes and horsehoppers, too!" He restates the gnome position on life in general:

"'Cause we spread happiness each day,
As we go on our merry way!
We help to make this life more gay!
'We love everything --"

There is a bolt of lightning that threatens to do the Chief Gnome in, but he somehow avoids it and points at the spot, finishing again "-- 'Cept that!"

The storm demon whips up ferocious hurricane-strength winds, and rains pours from the skies in a Biblical-sized torrent. Trees crash into Cinderella's coach, but the superior craftsmanship keeps the poor girl rolling along without incident. The demon pulls a tray of icecubes from his cloudy body and blows the giant cubes through a straw to destroy the vehicle. Luckily for Cinderella, the superior airflow feature of her vent windows turns the cubes of evil intent back on their original course and into the demon's puffy head. This causes him to cry even more rain, which creates the mud on the roads that causes the uglies more grief. Eventually, a log breaks their carriage in half, and they are forced to pull the back end as if they were the horses (and I mean no insult to horses), and with their footman still riding on its rear. Cinderella makes it home safe and sound as the storm slowly dissipates.

All through the night, the prince and his dog have continued their sniffing search for Cinderella and they at last burst from the woods, where they have been lost, and the dog picks up the trail again. He sniffs at the tire tracks from the coach, and mistiming his distance from his quarry, ends up getting his nose stuck under its tire. The prince asks for Cinderella's hand in marriage, but she refuses as she has no dowry. "But what more dowry could I wish for than you, my love -- AND THE COACH!" The loving pair climb into the coach and head out just as the uglies have returns, bearing the remains of their own vehicle, which is now nothing more than some of the frame, on which the footman is still perches high atop. He rides off on it like a unicycle. As the coach drives away, we see through the rear window that the prince's dog is riding in the back while the lovers snuggle in the front seat. With the license plate reading "L-OVE", a choir sings the title song, and the Chief Nome giggles on the trunk of the car. His horsehopper flirts with him playfully, and then grabs him, giving him a huge kiss, following this show of love with a couple of sloppy licks of its tongue. The End.

One could look at both of these films and think that they equate one long twenty-minute film (this one clocks in at just under 11 minutes!), but there are enough inconsistencies between the two halves, both storywise and stylistically (Cinderella looks very different from film to film, and sometimes, even scene to scene), to quash any thought of one film being created and then released in two different sections. There are several instances of poor editing: the sisters are caught deep in the mud at one point, then there is a shot of their footman riding atop their coach, and then he is being jostled in the air as they hit bump after bump. We never see their escape from the mud -- the film just continues as if it didn't happen. At another point, the tree-destroying minion is flying as Cinderella's coach roars up behind him, her headlights casting a glow on him. I suspect that it is the headlights that vanquish him, but we never see it. We only see the outside of the coach with Cinderella riding in it as if nothing were happening. This is appropriate, as the car is supposed to provide her with total comfort and a stress-free ride, but some visual cue that the demon has been dispatched would be nice. The next shot merely cuts to more of the carriage nonsense with the uglies.

Sometimes the Cinderella films have the feel that they were animated the way that H.H. Holmes built his notorious "murder castle" in Chicago: by a series of contractors who were not told of the previous contractors' work or designs (who had been fired as their sections were completed). Both films seem so haphazardly built that one feels they will collapse at any second. However, there are enough excellent or merely good scenes to almost balance out the poor ones; it is a shame that there isn't more consistency to the story as a whole, because the films seem like a missed opportunity at a true minor classic, whether in the form of a promotional construct of a car company or not. Unfortunately, some fine work is undone in the end by some shabby scripting and editing, and some very inconsistent and often bad animation.

And, as you might know by now, I love everything... 'cept that!

A Ride For Cinderella (A Jam Handy Organization Film, 1937)
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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