...certainly not the best adaptation
I knew very little about Cinderella going into this other than Camila Cabello was in it and James Corden pulled a regrettable stunt involving a mouse costume to promote it. I thought the trailer seemed a tad cheesy and I was slightly concerned about Cabello’s acting abilities. Plus, I was fairly confident that this version couldn’t possibly top my all time favorite Cinderella version which of course is the 1997 movie with Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Whoopi Goldberg. Nevertheless I was completely willing to immerse myself in yet another take on the Cinderella story.
Cinderella was directed by Kay Cannon who you probably won’t recognize as a director. She only has Cinderella and Blockers (2018) on her filmography. But you might recognize her as the writer of all 3 Pitch Perfect movies and a contributing writer to 30 Rock. As far as Cannon’s directing skills she is merely adequate. It’s hard to direct a musical but she pulls it off fairly well. There are some large scale dance numbers that Cannon plays relatively safe with a moving camera that tracks through the scene. Cannon doesn’t take too many risks from a directors standpoint.
This version of Cinderella has been completely modernized and you’ll recognize Cannon’s touch on the story immediately. Ella (Camila Cabello) lives with her harsh stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and two stepsisters Anastasia (Maddie Baillio) and Drizella (Charlotte Spencer). She is forced to reside in the basement where she has three mice friends and designs dresses in her spare time. Meanwhile Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is dealing with a hard nosed and stubborn father, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan), and a nurturing mother, Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver). King Rowan is yearning for his son to grow up, marry, and take the throne. But his sister Gwen (Tallulah Greive) is much more suited to be a leader as she is constantly putting forth excellent plans to improve the village. While in disguise, Prince Robert stumbles across Ella at the town market and becomes smitten. This spark propels him to propose the idea of a ball to his father so that any woman from the town can attend. From here it is the typical Cinderella story complete with a Godmother renamed Fab G (Billy Porter) and a glass slipper. The only thing that stands in the way is Ella’s desire to pursue her dream of becoming a dressmaker. This could have been okay in theory, but the “feminist” lens is taken much too far to the point of being hokey and cringey. Almost as if it’s trying too hard to say, “Hey look, we made Cinderella fit with modern times! We’re woke!”
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Unfortunately, the acting fell a bit flat. Camila Cabello sang the songs delightfully but her acting was only barely passable. She did as well as I expected and to be fair she could have been much worse. Idina Menzel put in a solid performance as the stepmother, presenting her harsher side as well as a softer side that revealed she had been disappointed by life (who hasn’t?). Even Nicholas Galitzine was fairly good, portraying Prince Robert as the wild heir to the throne who refuses to play by traditional rules. But some of the lines came off as cringeworthy and you could see some scenes were a bit stilted. Alas, this is what you’d expect in a new version of Cinderella so it can be overlooked.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The only visual effects to comment on were the CGI mice and the transformation scene with Cinderella and Fab G. The mice were very obviously CGI. They looked supremely fake and took away from the rest of the movie. Maybe that was an intentional choice? But I’m guessing not. The transformation scene was certainly magical and was probably the best use of visual effects you could hope for in a movie such as this. The design was fairly low key with the village reflecting the older time period. It at times felt like the set of a play rather than a movie which, again, may have been intentional. It certainly didn’t take away from the story but it didn’t add a whole lot either.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
If you liked the musical stylings of Pitch Perfect then chances are you’ll like the music in Cinderella. I was so thankful they didn’t try to write original songs for this movie. If they had, it would have been nearly impossible to watch. The use of popular songs was used really effectively and it’s one of the few moments you can see the talents of Kay Cannon shine through. You get to hear hits like Material Girl by Madonna, Somebody to Love by Queen, Am I Wrong by Nico and Vinz, and Perfect by Ed Sheeran. These tunes were sung by the cast and reflected whatever was going in the story. The best mashup was at the ball when the women who were interested in Prince Robert sang Whatta Man by Salt-N-Peppa as Prince Robert and his friends sang Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes simultaneously. It was an unexpected mashup that really shouldn’t have worked at all but it was honestly very catchy and fun. If you like pop music or the musical stylings of Pitch Perfect then you will enjoy the musical performances.
Cinderella modernizes the traditional story by showcasing Ella’s career ambitions and making Prince Robert the one to sacrifice to make their love work. Does this modernization work well or add anything vital to the traditional tale? I didn’t think so. It felt a little stilted and quite honestly more focused on ramming a particular version of “Girl Power” down my throat than telling a compelling story about a young woman. The best bits for me were the songs, but that’s because I love pop music. The overall vibe here is light-hearted and at times silly. There’s plenty of humor, some of which plays well and some of which fails quite miserably. I think I went into this movie with such low expectations that I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. I wound up finding a few things to enjoy about it and I admire Cannon’s attempt to do something different with a well-known story. It’s certainly not the best adaptation of the Cinderella tale.