The Magic Riddle
"If you wanna share these classic stories with your children, I highly recommend you share with them the real stories, and leave this movie alone to be forgotten."
The Magic Riddle is a 1991 Australian animated feature film directed and written by Yoram Gross. The film tells the story of Cindy, an orphan who lives as an indentured servant to her cruel stepmother, and features elements of famous fairy tales including Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, The Ugly Duckling, The Three Little Pigs, and Pinocchio.
Cindy, short for Cinderella, lives with her widowed stepmother and two stepsisters, Bertha and Ertha. Cindy is forced to do all of the housework and is effectively a servant. The widow hates Cindy because when her late Grandfather died, he hid his will which the widow knows passes all the family inheritance to Cindy. The widow purposely keeps Cindy busy so that she won't find the will, giving the widow time to find it first. The widow is also planning to marry her favorite daughter, Bertha, to a handsome young man named Phillip, though he is smitten with Cindy.
One night, Cindy falls asleep before finishing her chores, but an old lady sneaks into the house to finish the chores for her. Ertha, Cindy's kinder stepsister, encounters the old lady, who reveals that she is Cindy's Grandmother, and was kicked out of the house by the widow after Grandfather died. The same thing happens the following night, but the widow wakes up and chases Grandmother away. Ertha, who witnessed everything, tells Cindy about it.
The widow is afraid that Grandmother will help Cindy find the will. Following the advice of her magic mirror, the widow puts on a salesman disguise and visits Grandmother in the woods, tricking her into entering The Castle of a Hundred Doors, from which there is no escape. Cindy, dressed in a red riding hood, arrives at Grandmother's cottage too late and is chased away by a "wolf", which is actually the widow in disguise.
Cindy sits by a lake, telling her hopes to an ugly duckling, unaware that Phillip is listening. Phillip reveals himself and gives her a ring as a token, but their meeting is interrupted by the widow, who orders Cindy to work. While in the barn, Cindy discovers the widow's wolf costume and realise what happened. Bertha, who is jealous of Cindy, chases the pigs away from the farm and blames Cindy for it. Ertha advises Cindy to escape to Grandmother's cottage, which she does. There Cindy discovers seven wooden dwarfs and one wooden puppet Pinocchio. They come alive when she kisses them, and they tell her that widow took Grandmother away.
The widow wants Cindy back at the house working for her. She discovers Cindy's music box and decides to lure her back by holding a masked ball. Cindy wants to go, as it is a chance to see Phillip. The dwarfs make her a costume, but warn her that since her mask is made of snow it will melt at midnight. At the ball, Cindy's disguise works and she gets to dance with Phillip. Meanwhile, Ertha and Pinocchio dance together. When the clock strikes twelve, Cindy's disguise melts and she runs away to escape the widow, her friends following close behind.
When the widow mocks Ertha for falling for Pinocchio, Ertha retaliates by telling Phillip that Cindy can be found at Grandmother's house. He heads out to find her but finds the Castle of a Hundred Doors instead. The dwarfs also find the Castle, but they too get lost inside and unable to escape.
The widow goes to the cottage wearing another disguise devised by her magic mirror, this time pretending to be Pinocchio's mother. The widow hypnotizes Cindy with a magic apple to fall asleep, and in the commotion, the widow accidentally falls into a well. Pinocchio, now alone, searches for help and stumbles upon the Castle. When he enters, one of his shoes is caught on a nail and starts to unravel. Eventually, the Grandmother is found, and everyone groups up and follows the trail out.
When they arrive back at the cottage, Cindy is woken up by a kiss from Phillip. Grandmother explains to Cindy about the will, and that the answer is in his Magic Riddle, a poem which ends with: "Only Pinocchio knows". It turns out that the will is inside Pinocchio's nose. Grandmother reads the will, confirming that all of Grandfather's possessions go to Cindy. Cindy and Phillips's wedding is held at what used to be the widow's house. After the celebrations, the dwarfs and Pinocchio turn back into wood, their task completed. But when Ertha kisses Pinocchio, he comes back to life to be with her.
- The pacing of the film is rushed and it is easily noticeable.
- The poster itself has some errors, with Cindy's horse having yellow fur instead of having grey fur like in the movie, and there are two instead of three pigs for some reason.
- The animation is very ugly to look at, constantly looking like it was made in haste with the character designs and very flatly colored.
- The story is confusingly messy and feels very over-stretched, complete with plot strands that either feels underdeveloped or pointless.
- Poor grasp of the source material as the fairy tale references mostly feel underused at times or aren't handed properly very well:
- When Pinocchio's nose grows it's indicating that he told a lie, but after he tells another lie (even if he's just joking around) his nose doesn't grow. How can you screw up the most famous fairy tale character who is known for lying!?
- When Ertha kisses a petrified Pinocchio he becomes a real boy, which doesn't even happen in the original Pinocchio story.
- The build-up of introducing Grandma as the "Fairy Godmother" stand-in is rather pointless, as it was the dwarfs who helped Cindy get ready for the ball.
- There is no real wolf to play the role of the Big Bad Wolf, instead the widow and a sheep play the parts.
- The widow tries to hypnotize Cindy with an apple rather than just giving it to her to eat it like in the original Snow White story; Even Pinocchio pointed this out.
- Misleading title: The riddle itself isn't magical whatsoever.
- The movie has far one too many plot holes, there are a couple of them that weren't explained such as:
- Why would any man want to marry the widow in the first place if she's shouting a lot, behaves nasty, abusive to her step-daughter and others, and just straight up ugly?
- How did Grandma survive in The Castle of a Hundred Doors without food or water for days?
- How does a simple kiss bring wooden sculptures to life anyway?
- Why did Grandpa leave everything in his will to Cindy? Grandma's still alive, but he didn't leave anything to her? And how does the inheritance go to the widow if no one finds the will?
- Why doesn't the widow just go and get Cindy at Grandma's cottage instead of wasting her time planning a fake ball to lure her back if she knows the one place where she's hiding?
- The slapstick humor that the film tries to imitate isn't really that funny, as it mostly falls flat, annoying, and predictable. Even the comic reliefs (Pinocchio, the dwarfs, and the animal sidekicks) just made the movie even more sufferable.
- The love and relationship between Phillip and Cindy don't seem very genuine, as it feels forced while having a lack of chemistry.
- The widow has a very poor reason to hate Cindy, not because so the viewers could have an antagonist to root against, it’s because she can’t find Grandfather's will. She even sings a song about it!
- The message, which is that you should only marry someone if it means that you can get a bunch of stuff that you didn't even want, is loathsome.
- The widow's name is never revealed as everyone just calls her "the widow", and if so who would name their villain title "the widow" anyway?
- Some of the character design choices are strangely questionable, with Pinocchio and the widow being the biggest offenders.
- The widow's three main disguises look so poorly made and cheap, that they give both Team Rocket from Pokémon and Sonic from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog a run for their money:
- The chair salesman looks like an offensive Jewish stereotype.
- The wolf fursuit doesn’t even look remotely close to an actual wolf and looks more like a goofy cartoon dog.
- The mama Pinocchio disguise is so ridiculous, that even Pinocchio would realize that he never has a mother to begin with and could see through her disguise.
- While Ertha is shown to be the "nice and sweet" step-sister, there are many incidents where she shows her meaner and darker side in the movie, such as spying on Cindy with Phillip only to tattle to her mother, and even destroying the third pig's brick house getting Cindy even more trouble than before (with help from Bertha of course). It's like the writer himself could not be bothered to decide whatever or not make Ertha's character good or bad.
- There are a few several inappropriate moments within the movie:
- The scene with the two step-sisters squirting each other with goo.
- The widow flashes her knickers on screen and her breasts fly around.
- Ertha admits she is in love with Pinocchio which is considered pedophilia.
- The scene with Phillip kissing Cindy's unconscious body is super creepy.
- Phillip getting sexual harassed by Bertha multiple times in a kids movie of all things.
- Pinocchio's nose looks way too phallic, and what's even worst is that when he lies it looks like he's got a boner.
- The movie feels like it's stealing elements from a few Disney properties here and there, with Phillip being an obvious carbon copy of Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, and some of the designs for the dwarfs look a little too similar to the Disney dwarfs.
- There are tons of animation errors that are easy to spot in the movie, there are plenty of recycled characters/scenes, poor lip-syncing, lazy sound editing, and many among others that are too many to be included. Even the animators themselves were so lazy that they reused some elements from the film's trailer, no joke.
- Forgettable soundtrack, with most of the songs either both nonsensical or just have no reason to be in the movie, with some including:
- "Try Not to Cry So", which is about Cindy being an "ugly duckling" and wondering when she'll turn into a swan when in reality she's a beautiful young woman in contrast to her ugly old hag of a stepmother. Many would see this song as really hypocritical in its context.
- "Mean Mean Mean", while catchy, is poorly-written as a song for a villain.
- The "Pig Song" is pretty much by far the most infamous song in the film, due to which it's not only just a retelling of The Three Little Pigs story and padding out the movie's running time, but awful to listen too as well.
- With the exception of Grandma, NONE of the cast of characters are likable or memorable in the slightest and have several problems:
- Cindy is a clueless wimpy Mary Sue protagonist.
- Phillip is the boring but one-dimensional "Prince Charming" love interest.
- The widow is a terrible villain who acts like a spoiled brat with poor evil planning decisions.
- Bertha is just the mean girl stereotype, while her sister Ertha, is a backstabbing pedophile (as seen above).
- Pinocchio is an obnoxious twit.
- The dwarfs act like a complete hivemind.
- The animal sidekicks are totally useless and feel like they were shoehorned into the film's plot at the last minute.
- For some really dumb reason, Cindy, a person whose known for loving and caring for her animal friends, doesn't seem to know what snakes are apparently.
- Similar to what happened to Gary in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, Grandma herself feels more like a plot device than an actual character in this film.
- While the idea of mixing up popular fairytale stories is creative, it isn't executed very well. Other fairytale films similar to the idea like Shrek, Into the Woods, and Revolting Rhymes not only did handled the idea better but did it with much more wit, charm, and magic.
- Terrible ending: While the film is shown with everyone living happily ever after, the dwarfs on the other hand get the short end of the stick. As soon as they turn back into wooden sculptures, Cindy doesn't seem to care and acknowledge the fact she can just simply kiss the petrified dwarfs to life again as she did earlier, but rather instead dance the night away with Phillip. This just makes the film's ending (along with Cindy herself included) feel shallow, selfish, and pure heartless.
- Despite her being a plot device throughout the film, Grandma is at least the only character that's likable (or most tolerable).
- It has a nice little original twist on the Cinderella story, with Ertha being a kinder and friendly step-sister to Cindy.
- "Ordinary Miracles" is the only decent song that's worth listening to; too bad it's at the end of the movie credits.
- Seeing the widow and Bertha getting punished for all of their misdeeds by becoming Cindy's maids is pretty satisfying.
- The Castle of a Hundred Doors has the best scenes in the entire movie, not just because it looks cool and spooky, but it has rooms that disappear and reappear at random which is awesome.
- It is very impressive to have three voice actors do all of the characters, and the voice acting itself is passable.
- Unlike most villains who just want the money because of greed, the widow does have a reason as to why she wants the money: she is just trying to support herself and her own daughters.
- Some of the backgrounds are nicely detailed and it does become above serviceable.
- During the Little Red Riding Hood scene, the widow having the ability to change voices was actually pretty smart of her (in fact, it's the only smart thing she ever did).
- In the original trailer, the way Cindy standing up to the widow by not doing her chores was very independent of her.
- The animal sidekicks are at least cute (the ugly duckling, the three little pigs, Puss, Hansel and Gretel).
- The film's poster does feature some of the fairytales being advertised, so it's not a complete lie (unlike the title).
- For some very odd reason, Cindy is the only character whose barefoot throughout the majority of the film.
- Even though it was released on VHS at the time, it never was released on DVD. However, The movie is free to watch on YouTube and streaming sites like Kimcartoon.
- During the end of the credits, there's a sentence that reads: "Any similarity of the characters and voices in this film to actual persons is unintentional".
- "Ordinary Miracles" was performed by Julie Anthony.
- Yoram Gross's The Magic Riddle had a more international flavour than his previous children's films made in Australia. It was based on an original story he came up with, and is a mixture of fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and others.
- The film was also given a theatrical release in the Philippines, with an advanced screening held at the Shangri-La Plaza's The Cinema on January 2, 1994.
- There were a number of changes that were made during the production of the original trailer, with Hansel and Gretel originally being bulldogs, Puss had a different voice, the widow only wears a wolf mask, Cindy hugs the dwarfs to live instead of kissing them, Cindy originally wore a flower dress, and Phillip, Puss, the three little pigs, and some of the dwarfs had different designs before the finished cut.
- The film has a few foreign and strange titles throughout the time of the film's release in Europe, with the German title Cindy und das Zauberrätsel (Cindy and the Magic Puzzle), the Norwegian title Den magiske dragen (The Magic Dragon), the Hungarian title Cindy meséi (Cindy's Tales), and the French title La légende de Cindy (The Legend of Cindy).