Contemporary takes on the oft-told classic Cinderella story are nothing new, with movies like Ever After (1998), A Cinderella Story and Ella Enchanted (both released in 2004) being some of the prime examples. So, when writer-director Kay Cannon (2018’s Blockers) presented her own updated version, I was wondering what kind of fresh angles she could bring to the table.
The result is nothing much other than reimagined the story with a woke culture-like mindset, namely the introduction of a genderless fairy godmother (Billy Porter). Even the title character (Camila Cabello’s Ella) isn’t the kind of poor girl that most of us have grown accustomed to her classic rags-to-riches story. Instead, she is ambitious and believes that her hard work would pay off someday. That hard work in question is dreaming of becoming a dressmaker. Living in the basement, she would spend her time sketching and making her own dresses. And when she’s not, her wicked stepmother, Vivian (Idina Menzel) as well as her cruel stepsisters Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) and Narissa (Charlotte Spencer) would either mistreated or bully her like slaves.
Of course, no Cinderella story regardless of traditional or modern would be complete without introducing a handsome prince, which in this case played by Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Robert. His royal parents (Pierce Brosnan’s King Rowan and Minnie Driver’s Queen Beatrice) and especially her father desperately wants his son to get married. Not just anyone but more of a fixed marriage in the form of a potential candidate that King Rowan has already laid eyes on her. That candidate turns out to be Princess Laura (Mary Higgins), which if they are successfully married to each other, he has the chance to unite the two kingdoms.
But Prince Robert refuses to marry any woman he has no feeling for her at all. Then came one day when he falls in love the moment he sees the witty Ella in the crowd. Knowing she would be the one worth marrying for, he subsequently invites her to a ball. Well, you know the rest if you have seen enough Cinderella movies both animated and live-action versions in the past.
Cannon’s screenplay retains the fundamental structure of the classic story, complete with the happily-ever-after ending. Except for the updated themes and characters that are more in line with the way we live today. Even the song numbers are peppered with the jukebox musical, covering familiar hits like Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”, Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and even The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Think of it like Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 hit musical Moulin Rouge! and you’ll get the idea.
While the modern-like story itself is pretty much something you have seen a few times before in this kind of genre, Cannon manages to overcome its familiarity with energetic choices of a soundtrack and stunning production values. Kudos go to Paul Kirby’s elaborate production design and Ellen Mirojnick’s lavish costumes while Cannon’s direction is vibrant enough to sustain its nearly two-hour runtime.
Camila Cabello, once part of a member of the girl group Fifth Harmony before going solo, made her acting debut in Cinderella. I have to say she has that charming personality and her performance — both singing and acting — turn out to be better than I expected. For a newcomer to acting, she pulls off well enough. Idina Menzel is spot-on as the wicked stepmother and being a singer herself, she gets to put her voice into good use in one particular number, where she sings Madonna’s “Material Girl”.
Both Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver deliver their respective above-average supporting turns as King Rowan and Queen Beatrice while Billy Porter made efficient use of his otherwise limited screentime as the flamboyant genderless fairy godmother a.k.a. Fab G. Equally worth mentioning in the cast includes Tallulah Greive’s hilariously deadpan role as Princess Gwen while James Acaster, James Corden and Romesh Ranganathan provide some decent comic-relief moments as the three talking CG mice. The only actor that doesn’t make much of an impression is Nicholas Galitzine, who could only muster a bland performance as Prince Robert.
Originally intended as a theatrical-only release by Sony back in early 2021, the studio subsequently sold its rights to Amazon due to — what else– the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic and skipping cinemas altogether. You can stream Cinderella on Amazon Prime Video.
Disclosure: I have also reviewed Cinderella for The Cinemaholic. Please note that the content of the above review is completely different from the one published at The Cinemaholic.