The songs are bad and the social commentary is even worse in this new take on the classic fairy tale.
Nothing better encapsulates the derivative nature of Kay Cannon’s Cinderella than the presence of a trio of comic relief mice (played by Romesh Ranganathan, James Acaster, and, sigh, James Corden). These rodents were not a part of the original Cinderella story; the concept of this lady hanging out with talking mice came about solely due to the 1950 Disney cartoon. Why, then, is this new Cinderella, hailing from Sony Pictures and being released by Amazon, cribbing something from Disney? Because it’s familiar, easy, and cloying, all of which characterize this most recent adaptation.
Trying new things is a difficult task for this new incarnation of Cinderella, a sharp contrast to Cannon’s prior directorial effort Blockers. While that film soared with its commitment to unexpectedly ribald and heartfelt material, Cinderella just glides along with predictable results. Even attempts at injecting subversive “girl power” end up adhering to the concept of “more female CEOs” to a comical degree.
You know the set-up of Cinderella. The titular character (here played by Camila Cabello) lives a destitute life with her wicked stepmother, Vivian (Idina Menzel), and a pair of thinly defined stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer). She dreams of being a dressmaker, but that’s ridiculous because Vivian has dreams for her own offspring that Cinderella can’t jeopardize with her ambitions. Oh, and also, women can’t own shops.
This is one of the early problems in Cannon’s vision: the colorblind casting for the surrounding villagers (and Cinderella herself) is cool, but it also lends an icky layer to Cinderella’s sporadic fixation on sexism. Apparently, this new Cinderella exists in a vision of 19th-century England where misogyny is prominent, but racism simply doesn’t cross anyone’s mind. By totally ignoring the concept of race or specific hardships for women of color, Cinderella starts with its glass slipper already on the wrong foot and only trips itself up more from there.
Anyway, the plot goes on and we’re introduced to the prince, Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), looking so much like Nick Robinson that I got confused. King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) is forcing Robert to get married — to move the process along, the royal family declares a ball. Everyone in the kingdom, regardless of stature, can come and try to win the heart of this prince. You can probably guess where the story will go from there.
What you probably can’t guess is the strange ways Cannon expands on the classic fairy tale. Like many of the live-action remakes of Disney cartoons, Cinderella decides to explain away previously inexplicable fantastical plot details. No more lapses into whimsical fantasy; everything must now be given a tidy origin story.
Cinderella starts with its glass slipper already on the wrong foot and only trips itself up more from there.
Amusingly, Cannon doesn’t use these digressions as an excuse to cut loose. Instead, she leans on familiar details from old movies. For example, Cinderella and Robert now have an earlier meeting at the local market before the big ball to show that their connection isn’t just based on a magical gown. To get to these townsfolks, Robert has disguised himself as a pauper, making this scene a gender-flipped version of Aladdin.
That kind of familiarity permeates the world of Cinderella. There’s also a handful of sub-Joss Whedon-level self-referential quips lampooning the corniest parts of the Cinderella story. The most frustrating of these is Cinderella inexplicably flinging her glass slipper at a royal guard while making a getaway from the ball. Did we need to come up with a concrete reason for why she left a glass slipper behind? Was any child wondering about that?
If Cinderella’s narrative wasn’t such a busy mess, maybe everyone involved in this production could’ve also realized just how shoddy the film was as a musical. This time around, the story takes the form of a jukebox musical that rehashes tunes already covered in other projects like Happy Feet. There’s no real identity to the songs, no insight into either the personal tastes of Cannon or the film’s aesthetic. The reliance on modern tunes by Ed Sheeran and Niko & Vinz just makes Cinderella seem like it’s chasing modern hits at the expense of establishing its own musical identity.
The smattering of original songs isn’t much better, including the newest “Let It Go”/”This Is Me” power anthem clone “Million to One.” It’s a ballad meant to provide insight into Cinderella’s mind, but it’s never specific enough to feel like anything more than some throwaway pop tune. The choreo is also pretty unimaginative: Two blank-faced versions of Cinderella standing across from each harmonizing in a nondescript marketplace is the most style that Cinderella’s set pieces can muster. Gene Kelly would be ashamed!
None of these numbers are helped by the lack of charisma in the cast, a problem that plagues even the non-musical scenes. Cabello struggles to convey a distinct personality as Cinderella. What makes her take on this character different than the countless other iterations of the tale? The closest I can figure is that she sometimes does bits of dialogue-based comedy accentuating her awkwardness. Galitzine has absolutely no personality as Robert, while Menzel never gets to embrace her best qualities as a performer.
Mostly, it seems that Cinderella is a movie for studio executives.
Cinderella isn’t devoid of accomplished qualities, thanks to some nice costumes and an undeniably committed brief turn from Billy Porter as the Fairy Godmother (cringeworthy ‘yes queen’ bon mots aside). But it’s an uninspired project that doesn’t seem to understand what it’s trying to do. The snarky tone undercuts its shallow concept of female empowerment while its attempts at comedy are more awkward than anything else. Its overlong runtime will leave youngsters bored, and jokes about James Corden gawking at the urinary prowess of his human genitals feel out of place in something aimed at children.
Mostly, it seems that Cinderella is a movie for studio executives. Amazon and Sony being their target demo would make sense: it’s a movie about being yourself that never challenges anything.
Cinderella streams on Amazon Prime Video September 3rd.