It is pretty brave of Kay Cannon and Amazon Studios to present a new Cinderella movie since the story has been done to death. Cannon’s version is pleasant enough. It features a good cast, great costumes and some nice toe-tapping tunes, but in the end, it resembles a live TV musical production more than it does a big, Hollywood motion picture. It’s earnest, I’ll give it that, but it has no teeth. The wicked stepmother isn’t really all that wicked. She’s just misunderstood. The ugly step-sisters aren’t ugly neither in looks nor actions. The prince is nice enough. Cinderella is driven to sell dresses and not much more. Almost all of the music are recycled pop songs. And then there is that feminist slant that Cannon was going for that probably sounded better than how it is actually executed.
Cinderella 2021 isn’t a bad movie. It just isn’t a great movie. What saves it is the talented cast with Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan clearly enjoying their parts and playing them to the hilt without going over the top. (There is even a few jokes about Brosnan’s lack of singing skills, which became so evident when he appeared in Mamma Mia.) For her first stint at acting, Camilla Cabello shows her comedic side and she’s actually pretty good and charming at times.
Cinderella lives in the basement of the home she shares with her stepmother Vivian (Menzel) and stepsisters Nerissa (Charlotte Spencer) and Malvolia (Maddie Baillio). Vivian is tired of just scraping by and makes it clear to Cinderella that the only reason she’s allowed to live with them is because of Vivian’s love for her late father. Like all other versions of the story, the girl is basically a servant of the family, but they just seem more annoying than demanding. Nerissa and Malvolia aren’t actually mean to Cinderella, just aloof.
So, sure, Cinderella can’t wait to leave this place, but what she wants more is to design and sew her own dresses. She tries to sell one in the village and gets laughed at by the men (“This girl fancies herself as a businessman!”) and chastised by the women (“I certainly wouldn’t buy a dress that you obviously stole!”).
Meanwhile, back at the castle, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is having his own problems. He is next in line to become king but is no way mature enough for the role and this makes his father, King Rowan (Brosnan) nervous. He want his son to marry a princess so that the two father-in-law’s can work out a trade agreement between the two kingdoms. His sister Gwen (Tallulah Greive) has tons of ideas on how to run the kingdom and relishes the role but knows that is never going to happen. It’s obviously a man’s world.
Queen Beatrice (Driver) isn’t all that thrilled with the king either. She is a talented artist, but she feels lost and ignored by her husband. Then she notices that his throne is just a little bit taller than hers.
Rowan plans a royal ball with the goal of the prince finding a women to marry. Sort of like TV’s first Bachelor. The prince agrees to attend only if “common” people can attend as well.
So now, all the women in the land are excited to attend the ball including Cinderella, but for another reason. She wants to network. When Vivian sees the dress, she ruins it. Left alone, Cinderella receives a visit from her “Fab G,” aka godmother (Billy Porter) who doesn’t just give the girl a new dress. He creates one based on her drawings. Soon, the mice are turned into humans, a pumpkin is turned into a carriage and it’s off to the ball.
Despite a few changes, the movie pretty much plays out as it always does and that’s fine. But even if we know where this is all going, there should still be some tension or adventure or something.
The biggest difference in the two movies is that the newer one is a musical and the other is not. The movie begins with Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” mashed up with Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” which is a nice way to begin. One of the best songs in movie is Madonna’s “Material Girl” song by Menzel. Instead of singing “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” Porter sings Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star.” Because of this, the songs don’t really continue telling the story and sometimes the lyrics don’t fit the setting.
Cinderella does offer two original songs, “A Million to One” written by Cabello and Scott Harris and “Dream Girl” by Menzel and they are good. It makes you wonder why the producers didn’t use all original material.
Even though Disney’s live action version of Cinderella came out in 2015, audiences are still going to compare this movie to that one and unfortunately, Disney is going to win. As good as Cabello is, her character never seems to show much expression or emotion compared to Lily James. But it’s more than that. Disney’s Cinderella is all about working hard, being kind and forgiving others. Cannon’s Cinderella is about choosing oneself over others.
This new Cinderella isn’t anti-men, but just about all of them featured in the movie are portrayed as buffoons. The only strong male character wears a gown. Though the prince says that he wants to be king one day, there is no evidence of that. He clearly has no ambitions whatsoever. The king is a male chauvinist. Even the mice when in human form marvel at their human “tail in the front” of their body. The women on the other hand are strong and smart but underappreciated because they are women. No, this Cinderella doesn’t need a man to rescue her, but it’s a poor storytelling choice to make the men in a picture look bad just to make the women look good.
Though the story ends with a slightly different direction than we are used to, everyone lives happily ever after before the credits roll up and few songs are still dancing in our heads. And that’s not so bad, is it?
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.