The real title of this German animated movie by Rolf Kauka is Der Zauberstein, which I've rather loosely translated to The Garnet Stone. However, this movie may be known as Once Upon a Time, Cinderella's Wonderworld or Maria D'Oro und Bello Blue. Titles aside, this 80's movie remains one of my nostalgic favourites. (Bad quality screencaps, ahoy!)
Our heroine, Maria, is bullied and forced to become a servant by her stepmother and stepsister, but she finds love in a hunter who happens to be the prince. Soon there follows a race between Maria and Marie Lu (her stepsister) to gain a very special garnet stone by carrying out seemingly innocent tasks set by the mysterious Mrs Holle.
Maria and her father had been living rather peaceful lives together until a con-artist "fortune teller" wormed her way into their family by claiming to bring Maria's father good fortune through marriage. Unfortunately it's not good fortune she brings, but his fortune in money she's after, which she and her daughter Marie Lu spend with glee at every chance they get. Maria's father is helpless to stop them, and Maria's too nice to try, so they quietly allow themselves to be made servants to the greed and selfishness of mother and daughter.
One day during a royal hunt, the prince of their kingdom separates from his fellow hunters as he chases after a white stag. Eventually he loses sight of the stag, but catches sight of Marie Lu bathing in the woods and bullying Maria with her bossiness. When Marie Lu stalks off to change, he approaches the crying Maria to comfort her. Important note: He tells her that he's a poor hunter, not the prince. As they are just starting to get to know each other, Marie Lu returns and tries to ruin things for them, but eventually she just steals the prince's horse and leaves when he tells her that he's just "a hunter". Hah, with Marie Lu gone, the prince and Maria take the time to sing and fall in lurrrrrrve. The prince then gives her a garnet stone necklace, which he tells her will bring them together.
One night Marie Lu notices Maria holding her garnet stone lovingly, and Marie Lu being the nasty stepsister that she is, snatches the necklace and drops it into a well just to torment her. But not too long later a royal proclamation is made, saying that the prince will marry a girl who has a specific garnet stone necklace. When Marie Lu goes to the castle and recognises the prince as Maria's "hunter", she realises that she needs Maria's garnet stone necklace in order to become queen.
So Marie Lu returns home and offers to "help" Maria fetch her necklace from the well. But things don't go as planned, and they both fall into the well and enter a magical realm where they are told to find Mrs Holle if either one of them wants the garnet stone. There are a number of seemingly insignificant "tasks" along the way, and no prizes for guessing as to Maria / Marie Lu's reactions to them. Of course, the tasks prove to be more important than the two girls initially believe.
The Garnet Stone contains a number of elements from various Grims Brothers' fairy tales, the most recognisable being the "heroine is a beautiful kind girl who is bullied by her stepmother and stepsister but eventually finds salvation and love in a prince". But that's why people love fairytales, isn't it? The fact that despite the unfairness in the star's life, she prevails with her patience and kindness to get her deserving happy ending. The Garnet Stone does not try to be different. It's a fairy tale, and perfect in its simplicity.
What I particularly like about this movie are the small things, like the tiny jokes that children would not get and the adults will most likely not bother to catch. But they're there. The Garnet Stone does not belittle its audience, if the audience itself gives the movie a chance. Marie Lu was a particularly nasty villain, even if by the second half of the movie she had been degraded to become Maria's rival. You know what's going to happen to her, so she should be as nasty as possible for the ending to be satisfying. And how do we know she's naturally mean? Because she acts the exact same way when she's poor (before her mother married Maria's father) and when she gets rich afterward. Heh.
Maria was pretty well-done, too. One thing I like about her is the fact that she's not a weakling for the sake of it. Her father's still alive, and she serves her stepmother and stepsister because she does not want to he father to suffer more than he does. Okay, so she does cry a bit, but she's a sweet little thing that's constantly being bullied so she deserves the right to sniffle once in a while. (She got slapped! That's an occurence as rare enough as it is in the animated fairy tale world...) Not that she doesn't have very human wariness in her... I particularly like that expression she gets when she watches Marie Lu fake a twisted ankle to get pity from the hunter/prince.
I'd almost forgotten to mention the sudden appearance of the magical realm of Mrs Holle. If you had been watching the movie expecting it to be a Cinderella-style thing, the sub-plot of the magical Mrs Holle's "chores" would have possibly thrown you off, since there had been no magic involved in the story up until that point. Once the two girls fall into the well the story almost takes an Alice in Wonderland turn with the extreme cartoony-ness and the spontaneous musical numbers, but it's just to reiterate Maria's kindness against Marie Lu's wickedness, since it's not that essential to the plot. You know the come-uppance is coming, and Mrs Holle is there to give it. (Mrs Holle has a superb scowl that says everything there is to say about Marie Lu's nastiness. Wah.)
The animation kind of reminds of Don Bluth's work, in that a few characters were meticulously designed to be as detailed and human-like as possible (Maria, Mrs Holle), while the rest are much more cartoony in nature. The effect kinda comes off like a badly clashing outfit, especially in scenes where Maria has to interact with said cartoony characters, but that's okay by me. A friend of mine would be happy to point out Maria's overly large head, but then again she thinks the prince is handsome. I say the prince needs a new hairstylist.
I have no real qualms with this movie, but that's because I'd watched it through my childhood and the story had moulded itself onto me. I am horrendously biased in its favour, and I'd refuse to see its bad points. The only real thing I can poke at is the movie's simplicity and rather two-dimensional characters. But it's a fairy tale. The characters and the stories are always like that. Have you read Grims' Fairytales? If yes, you know what I'm talking about. If no, why haven't you?!