Underdog stories always have the best chance of pulling at your heartstrings. And Cinderella has forever been the world‘s best-known underdog story. Its charm has still not worn off despite numerous iterations over the years, from the one with the animated blonde running down the palace stairs in 1950 to the one in which Jennifer Coolidge was not very nice to a teen Hilary Duff in 2004, or even the one in which Helena Bonham Carter tried on a fancy wig as the Fairy Godmother in 2015. However, I regret to inform you that Amazon’s latest adaptation of the beloved fairytale is among the most disappointing.
What lets you down in director Kay Cannon’s Bridgerton-esque (but far less awesome) version of Cinderella is just how lacklustre it is. For a story so obsessed with magic, none can be found in the writing, the performances, the costumes or even the stretched-out dance-y bits. As the clouds part in the opening scene, you arrive in a land not very far away. It looks like you’ve been dropped in a Renaissance festival, which perhaps got a little more funding than usual. Some dancing peasants and townspeople, in costumes picked from across a few centuries, let us know that they are a part of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. And you better get used to it. Similar sequences follow every few minutes as characters and their choruses break into songs by Queen, Salt-N-Pepa and even Jennifer Lopez.
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More often than not, the music in this Cinderella adds little to the scenes. The townspeople’s love for protesting against ‘social injustices’ is never really explored after that opening, ‘rhythmic’ bit. Even the final sequence, which involves everyone coming together to dance to JLo’s Let’s Get Loud, has no reason to be there. The only exception is perhaps when Nicholas Galitzine’s Prince Robert breaks into a rendition of Queen’s Somebody To Love, which fits snugly in the moment.
Ella, herself, played by singer Camila Cabello in her acting debut, gets an original song. But it, too, could not leave any mark. And that is a statement true for much of Ella herself. In this version, like all versions before it, Ella is an orphan, living in the basement of her stepmother’s house. In this movie, she is played by veteran Disney princess Idina Menzel. Except she is neither evil nor nice. I don’t know if Kay Cannon wanted to make her more human by giving her a (very jagged) redemption arc, but she comes across as a character that the writers couldn’t be bothered to flesh out. She is physically violent with a child in act one, emotionally abusive in act two and telling her heart’s deepest secrets in act three. There was no reason for her to change, except to simply follow the writer’s need to be nicer to the evil stepmother trope.
Anyway, Ella and her not very evil-stepmother live with her kind-of-nice step-sisters in a town that really has an issue with a woman earning her own money. Ella wishes to be a dress designer. Her apprentices are three mice, one of which is, of course, played by James Corden, who, unable to resist his inner Subhash Ghai, finds a way to show up in this movie, which he has also produced.
On the other side of the basement is the palace, wherein lives the narcissistic king, played by Pierce Brosnan, and his frankly-fed-up queen, played by Minnie Driver. Their son is just not getting married, which has become the town’s favourite thing to talk about. So the king, in a bid to calm the town down, announces a ball which all suitable brides must attend. The Prince’s eyes meet with Ella’s at a royal event in a moment that I refuse to believe wasn’t inspired by Kajol’s ‘gamla’ scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. He convinces his daddy to invite even the common folk to the ball. Ella will be coming too, if only to find prospective buyers for her dresses and run into the cutie she met at the market (also, the prince) the day before.
But the stepmother is feeling extra step-motherly that evening and decides to ruin Ella’s dress and her chances of finding employment. Sulking and sobbing, Ella is visited by her Fabulous Godmother, played by Billy Porter. He helps her out big time, especially by making her glass slippers comfortable to walk in… among other things.
However, this is mostly where the similarities with the original fairytale end. Dilemmas arise about not giving up one’s career for a boy, the meaning of true love, ditching traditions that were never valid and Cinderella–the movie–takes the quickest path to their conclusions. Most of it is predictable. You know what she will choose and what he will give up and none of it makes your heart grow any bigger by the end.
Cinderella is too simple despite the themes of feminism it so eagerly wants to embrace. It wishes to be woke but how can you when you make your protagonist say stuff like “Women can do anything, we make babies…,” or something to that effect. What it does is it essentially lays bare the true motivations behind it all, to join the cool clubs of movies that are revised for the new age. However, I dream of a world, hopefully not very far far away, in which films can still get a 21st century update, without losing the magic or the charm.
Director: Kay Cannon
Cast: Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter and others