Cinderella (2021) Review
A FLAT, CRINGEWORTHY,
AND MESSY FAIRYTALE RETELLING
A royal ball, a kind-hearted fairy godmother, a wicked stepmother, a glass slipper, and a girl named Cinderella. Yes, I’m talking about the iconic and popular fairytale of Cinderella, which has seeing its various forms and retelling throughout the ages. While many believed that the tale originated with many of the other classic fairytale stories from the Brothers Grimm folk tale collection Grimms’ Fairy tales in 1812, the origin of Cinderella goes further back. Yet, despite the various changes, the core narrative premise still remains the same; finding a young woman living in forsaken circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune, with her ascension to the throne via marriage. More iconic iterations have been translated for a more “kid friendly” approach, with more emphasis on whimsical magical and a “happily ever after” ending, which has become more of the widely received and presented iteration of the fairytale. From that particular material, Hollywood has adapted the story of Cinderella many times over, with some like Disney’s animated classic Cinderella in 1950 and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella in 1957. In addition, Cinderella has been adapted in just feature films, but in also TV shows, operas, ballets, Broadway shows, cartoons, and children’s picture books. Now, Amazon Studios and director Kay Cannon release the latest iteration of the famous fairytale story with the musical film Cinderella. Is this updated version of the fairytale worth looking at or is it a far-cry from the iconic “happily ever after” mantra with its messy execution?
Set in a faraway kingdom, Ella (Camilla Cabello) is struggling to find happiness in her life, forced to live in the basement and commanded to serve the needs of her stepmother, Vivian (Idina Menzel), and her daughters, Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) and Narissa (Charlotte Spencer). Parentless and depending on her stepmother’s whims, Ella dreams of a better life of designing dresses, making her own way in the world, but Vivian is dead set with marrying off her girls, believing wedding a wealthy man will solve all problems. At the same time, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), the son of King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) and Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver), who wants his son to marry a princess capable of expanding his rule, which doesn’t sit well with young heir apparent. While wearing a disguise, Robert goes into the kingdom’s town in search of a woman with substance, bumping into Ella, who is enchanted with the young designer who wants a real existence. Receiving an invitation to a royal ball, Ella finds help changer her style with some assistance from the Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter), who magically transforms the young pauper into a regal figure, wowing Robert. However, Ella’s big dreams of life of her own are threatened by Vivian’s bitterness, as she refuses to go along with her stepdaughter’s vision for romantic and financial freedom, while King Rowan pressure Robert to marry for power in the name of his own legacy and for the kingdom’s prosperity.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Of the plethora of fairy tales, I personally think the story of Cinderella is perhaps one of the most iconic one. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to follow and very straightforward. It’s not super scary or dark (well, at least the more kid-friendly version, which is the more commonplace iteration of the tale), and it has a good dose of “happily ever after”. Naturally, the whole fairy godmother, the glass slipper, and the stroke of midnight are always iconic to hear in the narration, so it’s always a welcomed one; offering a sort of comfort in hearing such familiar beats. It’s because of these familiarity that Cinderella has been around and relevant throughout many generations, with Hollywood revisiting the fairytale story throughout the decades; creating different variations of the classic. As mentioned, the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s version is one of the more iconic iterations, but I have yet to still see the original 1957 version. Although, I do remember seeing the 1997 TV movie version (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella), which I will mention a little bit later on in this review. Of course, perhaps the most widely accepted / viewed iteration of the fairytale would have to be Disney’s 1950 animated film Cinderella, which is what I was first (like many of my generations) were first introduced to the story of fairytale as well as the key features made in this cartoon film (i.e., the “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” song). There were a few other film adaptation that I like, including the more realistic period piece drama of Ever After: A Cinderella Story (loved Angelica Houston as the stepmother) and Disney’s live-action remake Cinderella, which definitely is one of their better releases in their reimagining of their past animated classics. Overall, the allure and fascination of the story of a young, poor girl going to a ball to meet her prince charming is something that will continue to be bringing hope and wonder into the lives of many for generations to become. Thus, Cinderella, throughout all its transforms and iterations, has become timeless in its own right.
This brings me back around to talking about Cinderella, a 2021 romantic musical and the latest iteration of the iconic fairytale story. This movie sort of got shuffled around for me as I really didn’t hear much about it when it was first announced, but soon came to hear about when it was said the role of the fairy godmother character was going to be a male instead of the more traditional representation of female. This sparked a debate online, which was when I first heard about the upcoming film. After that, I really didn’t hear much about this movie, with the exception of people talking about the new Cinderella movie coming out soon. Heck, I didn’t even see the film’s movie trailer for the project, so I couldn’t get hyped, nor did I get a chance to be intrigued by it. When I went on vacation to Costa Rica at the beginning of September, I read that this new Cinderella movie was released on Amazon Prime Video and the reviews for it were mixed…. ranging from mediocre to bad. Because of this, I was intrigued to see how the movie was. So, after completing some of the movie reviews that had to get done, I decided to check out this new Cinderella movie on Amazon Prime Video to see if it was just as bad as many were making it out to be. And what did I think of it? Well, I have to agree with many of those opinions. Despite a few fleeting moments, 2021’s Cinderella is a woefully bad and poorly executed endeavor that’s unremarkable and uninspiring. This version of the classic fairytale story is so generic and bland….it ultimately begs the question on how this movie got greenlit to begin with.
Cinderella is directed by Kay Cannon, whose previous works includes as a producer for projects like Pitch Perfect 2, New Girl, and 30 Rock as well as her directorial debut film of 2018’s Blockers. Thus, given her background in comedic endeavor and / or more lighthearted projects, Cannon seems like a suitable choice to helm such a film in reimaging the classic fairytale for a new generation. However, that’s pretty much it when it comes Cannon’s direction, but more on that later in this review. The only thing I think that Cannon does a good job is making the film have an upbeat and positive feeling. The film (at its core) is lighthearted, approachable, and easy to digest (though its quite hard to swallow…. if you know what I mean). As for the positives, this movie only has a few as most are found within its technical presentation. Yes, Cinderella doesn’t have the grandiosity of blockbuster that Disney’s 2015 live-action remake had, but the overall presentation is still relatively good; replicating that iconic look of a pseudo medieval fantasy kingdom fairytale setting throughout the movie. From art direction to costume attire, the movie’s colorful background is good and definitely is eye-catching, with a lot of “pop” in vibrancy. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Paul Kirby (production designs), Kathryn Pyle (set decorations), Ellen Mirojnick (costume designs), and the entire art direction team, for their efforts in making Cinderella’s setting come alive. Lastly, the film’s score, which was done by Mychael Danna and Jessica Ron Weiss, is good. It’s not the absolute best movie / film soundtrack I’ve heard, but it definitely works for the movie and is probably better than the pop songs that are incorporated in the feature.
Unfortunately, the movie isn’t the “happily ever after” endeavor that one could hope in a Cinderella movie; finding the feature to be riddled with glaring (and numerous) problems throughout the entire project. Perhaps the most glaring aspect that the movie criticisms focuses on is how the feature itself feels like a cobbled-up versions of different ideas that doesn’t exactly “gel” together cohesively; resulting in a fairytale remake that has a lost sense of its own personal identity. How so? Well, right from the get-go there is a lot of emphasis of musical numbers, which tries to replicate the same modern-style energy that Hamilton had, but never fully reached idea and doesn’t have Lin-Manuel Miranda to evoke that prolithic zip and finesse. The same goes with the covers of the musical songs themselves (more on that below), which tries to emulate the same style that Moulin Rouge! did, but lacks the boldness and visionary that director Baz Luhrmann had for his 2001 film. There is also a hints of Bridgerton, with lot of colorful / flashy costume period piece attires and handsome, good looking young people, but never fully captures what made that Netflix show memorable. Also, I felt that the movie tried to be like Ella Enchanted, with the movie trying to update fairy tale tropes as well as singing modern songs, but lacks the same type of charm and fun that the 2004 film produced. Additionally, for all of its modern-style forward thinking and lofty ideas of the current generation as well controversy that surrounds the gender swapping of one character (more on that below), the movie never quite captures the bold casting choices as was done in 1997’s TV movie of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella that had singer Brandi (African American) as Cinderella, singer Whitney Houston (African American) as the fairy godmother, Victor Garber (Caucasian) as the king, Whoopi Goldberg (African American) as the queen, and Paolo Montalban (Asian) as the prince. There’s a few other ones that the movie tries to copy from, but you get the gist of it. Suffice to say, Cinderella ultimately has a classic case of “mistaken identity”, with Cannon’s direction trying too hard to appease everyone and taking ideas that never quite come together as whole; rendering the movie choppy and unbalanced.
Speaking of Cannon, the direction for the movie is poorly executed and has greatly difficulty discovering what the film’s identity wants to be. As mentioned above, the identity for Cinderella is all over the map and Cannon’s choices and overall decision in shaping the film is really called into questioning. This is where the criticism gets to the “nuts and bolts”; finding Cannon trying too hard to appease viewers with a modernization / updated version of the classic fairytale, but never fully committing to those intentions. What exactly is the ultimate vision for this iteration of Cinderella? Well, it’s kind of hard to say and I don’t think that Cannon has had clear idea of that. There is the classic fairytale tropes of the original Cinderella story that the movie incorporates (and that’s pretty much inescapable), but the movie needs new material bounce off because…what’s the point of revisiting a tale that has been over numerous times. Cannon, tries as she might, fails to interject some new ideas. Yes, there is a few new additions that make into the film, including character motivations and subplots, but all of feels unwanted and surface level material, with some threads left unfinished / dangling by the time reaches its ending. Additionally, Cannon’s direction for Cinderella just feels lackluster; never truly coming into her own creation and just generates something that would be hip or cool with the current demographic that are trying to capitalize on modern interpretations. Yet, despite that notion, nothing really feels original or new; making Cinderella just so generic and derivate that it’s painful to watch and begging the question of how did a film like this get greenlit? There is also several pacing issues that movie has throughout its runtime, with uninteresting mechanics of subplots, which slow down the film’s progression and makes the 113 minutes (one hour and fifty-three minute) cinematic runtime feel bloated and sluggish.
Cannon also pulls “double duty” on Cinderella as the writer for the film’s script, which is also another critical point of criticism towards the movie’s final cut. How so? Well, while her direction skills are lacking, Cannon’s script handling is just as woefully underdeveloped. As mentioned, the movie doesn’t have its own identity, with bleeds into how the story is written, which is incredible generic and predictable. Again, the story of Cinderella has been told, retold, and redone many times over (it’s why it’s called a classic), so something new has to be added to help elevate the narrative and Cannon never really does that with the script. Yes, as I mentioned, there are some new story threads to help flesh out certain characters, but all of them are only surface level and feels incomplete; lacking substance and dramatic effect / implications in the story. I know the movie is made, more or less, lighthearted, but the project never really gets to some of its meatier aspects, which again is another problem with this film. Thus, the story fall backs onto classic fairytale story, which is all presented, but feels utterly derivate in nature and formulaic to the touch. This makes the script for Cinderella quite vanilla and bland. Plus, it doesn’t help that the written dialogue is terribly wooden, cheesy at times, and cringeworthy in others. Plus, the decision to utilized modern day terms and slang in the movie is indeed a poor one. Hearing words like “bro” and “dude” and a few other terminology wording is quite awkward in a film that’s supposed to be set in a pseudo-medieval / fantasy kingdom and actually pulls me out of the whole experience even more. I’m all for modern styles in period settings (like in Hamilton), but the usage of such slang words in Cinderella is simply eye-roll inducing
The film also brings up the issue of sexism and female empowerment into Cinderella, which becomes such a groaner. Not because of what it wants to say on the subject, but rather how its presented in the Cinderella, which causes issues. As seeing in recent years, Hollywood has increasingly shown / portrayed female empowerment throughout many of its cinematic endeavors; projecting woman in a more favorable light through storytelling and character development. Unfortunately, Cinderella seems dated when it comes to discussing such empowerment strengths and sexism issues. The script clearly wants to stay a lot of about this, with Ella wanting to start a dressing shop (a female business owner), King Rowan’s misogynistic behavior (looking down at woman), Queen Beatrice subservient to her husband (obedience to a man), and Princess Gwen’s forward thinking (changing the status quo). These are all fundamental to such idealism towards females, but everything is presented in the movie as only surface level material, with moments being derivatively dialogue driven and being both too preachy and too “on the nose” in what it wants to say. I’m all for the female empowerment in movies as there’s been plenty of perfect examples in various genres from animated features to live-action (both fictitious narratives and “based on a true story endeavors), but this movie woefully doesn’t fully commit to examine such ideas and poorly executes them. In the end, there is right way and a wrong way to project female empowerment and discussion of sexism…..and Cannon’s Cinderella falls into the latter category, and it shows.
Naturally, the film’s music comes into play of the feature’s criticism, but not the score…. I’m talking about the actual musical number songs that are presented in Cinderella. Unlike the Rodgers & Hammerstein version or even the Disney animated version, this new iteration utilized mostly cover songs from several pop songs of the past few decades. However, it comes off as a completely and utterly flat and out of place to the movie’s setting, story, and just in general. Hearing songs like Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”, Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, Gloria Estefan’s “Let’s Get Loud”, Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong”, and Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Shining Star” seems so off-putting and totally awkward. Yes, movies like Moulin Rouge! and Ella Enchanted (both Ella Enchanted and Cinderella use Queen’s “Somebody to Love”) utilized modern day pop songs within their period piece setting, but those were made with a bit more pizzazz, showmanship, charm, and entertainment value, in their proceedings and overall execution Cinderella just feels like lackluster, despite the choregraphed dancing sequences and large assemblage of cast of character singing / dancing throughout. Plus, it’s quite obvious that many of the vocals for the songs are heavily autotuned and seem so unnatural to those who can actually sing in the movie. There are a handful of original songs in the film such as “Dream Girl” and “Million to One”, but those feels very bland and derivate lyrics; lacking the necessary extra “oomph” needed, especially to the pop songs that are being covered. Overall, while incorporated pop songs in the movie seems like fun decision, the inclusion actually hampers the movie even more; finding the musical selection in Cinderella to be hollow and uninspiring.
The cast in Cinderella is also a somewhat sour note of criticism; finding some of the acting talents mediocrely decent at best to just downright “blech” in their performances at worst, which is disappointing as some of the cast are recognizable from their past endeavors and their involvement on this fairytale project being an unmemorable blemish on their filmography catalogue. Headlining the movie is singer Camila Cabello, who plays the role of the main protagonist of Cinderella…. or just simply known as Ella. While her career background is mainly singing, Cabello makes her film acting debut with Cinderella and it kind of shows that. From onset to conclusion, Cabello’s acting is not quite there; finding most of her acting range mediocre at best and some of her dialogue lines cringeworthy. She gets the character and the whole modernization interpretation of Cinderella, but she doesn’t have the charming effect one has for such a character; lacking the whimsical nature and timeless feeling of such an iconic fairytale character. Cabello does better singing than acting and she gets credit for that, but even then….it just feels awkward.
Faring worse in this regard would to be actor Nicholas Galitzine, who plays the character of Prince Robert, the heir apparent to the kingdom and Ella’s love interest. Known for his roles in Chambers, The Watcher in the Woods, and The Changeover, Galitzine has that young and dashing looks that are befitting for classic “prince charming” role, but that’s pretty much it. His character and his performance render Prince Robert as an almost stereotypical college jock-esque (i.e., a classic “bro” mindset) persona / bravado, which is quite off-putting and kind of goofy in my opinion. There’s a vague character development of why he hesitant to take the throne and to find a bride, but the subtext for his personal subplot feels undercooked and is never fully realized. What also doesn’t help is the simple fact that both Cabello and Galitzine have zero chemistry with each other, which makes the romance between their respective characters of Ella and Prince Robert feel extremely clunky, forced, and hard to buy into.
Of course, there is big difference about this Cinderella than all other iterations of the classic fairytale, which is having the character of the fairy godmother being played by not just a male, but a African American gay man, with actor / singer Billy Porter playing the role of the “Fabulous Godmother…or just simply called “Fab G”. I know that idea will probably upset a lot of people, but its not that bad idea and doesn’t really lead to a lot of controversy. Then again, the idea of gender swapping a character such as the fairy godmother in the Cinderella story doesn’t really amount to much. Of course, Porter, who is known for his Pose, Like a Boss, and American Horror Story, fits appropriately well within this modernization version of the classic fairytale. He certainly makes an entrance with his character and plays the part of what was expected. No harm, no foul….in my opinion and I’m not upset of a man playing the role. The flip side, however, is that there isn’t much beyond that. Naturally, the character of the fairy godmother in Cinderella is really only important in one particular seeing, and that’s all that the new iteration showcases…. barring a few narrations voiceover snippets that bookend the film. So, beyond the standard gifts and sayings that the character says (i.e., bestowing Cinderella with a gown, glass slippers, and horse and carriage, turning mice into footmen, and warning her that the spell would be broken at the stroke of midnight), Fab G doesn’t really bring anything new as Billy Porter just plays…well…. Billy Porter. Again, I have no problem with Fab G (as a character) nor as Porter playing the role, but he’s very limited in the story and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table beyond his gender. Thus, for all the talk and controversy of the role of the fairy godmother being played by Porter, it doesn’t really add up to much, which is disappointing and felt like a missed opportunity. As a side note, his costume in the movie is fantastic and Porter pulls it off masterfully!
Who actually fares the best in the movie (and that’s not saying much in this movie) is actress Idlina Menzel as Ella’s cruel stepmother named Vivian. Known for her roles in Frozen, Frozen II, and Enchanted, Menzel has certainly made a name for herself in playing the role of Elsa in the Frozen movies (as well as singing “Let it Go” and “Into the Unknown” for those movies respectfully). Thus, it comes at no surprise that Menzel would want to tackle another fairytale-esque character as well as the chance to provide her musical voice. In that regard, Menzel does manage to stand out above the cast; finding her singing in Cinderella being the best of the bunch (even though I’m still not a fan of all the pop / cover songs for the film). However, Menzel’s interpretation of Ella’s stepmother just seem a little “hand wavy” evil as the script tries to add a new representation of the iconic Cinderella character; trying to make her cruelty justifiable. Unfortunately, this attempts ultimately falls flat and she becomes vaguely evil. Thus, popular as she is, Menzel can only carry the character for so long, with her character of Vivian being generic and kind of ambiguous, which (again) is disappointing.
If Menzel’s Vivian is the best that the movie has to offer, then the combined efforts of seasoned acting talents from actor Pierce Brosnan and actress Minnie Driver have to be the worst in Cinderella, who play Robert’s royal parents…. King Rowan and Queen Beatrice. While Brosnan, who is known for his role as James Bond (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day) as well as The Thomas Crown Affair and Mamma Mia!, and Driver, who is known for her roles in Good Will Hunting, Speechless, and The Phantom of the Opera, have the most acting experience on this project, their involvement in Cinderella is woefully disappointing and almost as a disservice to their acting talents. As mentioned, Brosnan’s Rowan is borderline misogynistic, while Driver’s Beatrice goes back to the poorly executed interpretation of female empowerment and their position in marriage. Both are terrible characters and only slightly elevated due to the talent playing them, which (again) is a disservice to Brosnan and Driver’s career. Both certainly “looked” the part of a king and queen of a fantasy kingdom, but that’s it. Why did they even agreed to be involved in this movie?
Plus, let’s not forget the character of Princess Gwen, the sister to Prince Robert and daughter to King Rowan and Queen Beatrice. Played by actress Tallulah Greive (Millie Inbetween and Flatmates), the character of Gwen, much like mentioned above, is just a new idea that is implanted in this new iteration of Cinderella, but the result is completely DOA (dead on arrival) and seems more like an afterthought; finding the character popping up here and there for comedic parts. She wants to bring about change, but no one listens to her. It’s silly, odd, and just plain forgetful. Why was she even in the movie? Who knows….?
The rest of the players in the movie, including actor Rob Beckett (Comedy Playhouse and Meet the Richardsons) as a possible suitor for Ella named Thomas Cecil, actresses Maddie Baillio (Dumplin’ and Hairspray Live!) and Charlotte Spencer (Glue and The Living and the Dead) as Ella’s two stepsister Malvolia and Narissa, and actors James Corden (Into the Woods and Peter Rabbit), Romesh Ranganathan (King Gary and The Reluctant Landlord), and James Acaster (Grave New World and Mark Smith vs. the People) as three mice (respectfully named James, Romesh, and John) who live with Ella and are later transformed into her footmen, are in minor supporting characters. Unfortunately, while some of these acting talents in this grouping are recognizable in their past endeavors, their involvement in this movie is horrible bland and / or pointless. Yes, some iteration of Cinderella have suitor for the young girl to marry, but Thomas Cecil is woefully forgetful in the film’s grand scheme. The two wicked stepsisters to Cinderella are iconic in the fairytale story, but become less and less important as this version’s narrative progress; making Malvolia and Narissa nonexistent by the time the film ends. Lastly, like the stepsisters, the mice are also iconic in the Cinderella fairytale narrative, but are merely there for comedic relief and are somewhat forgetful by the time reaches its ending.
The classic fairytale story of a young girl meeting her prince charming at ball gets retold once again in the updated movie Cinderella. Director Kay Cannon’s latest film takes the iconic story of Cinderella; updating the material for a new generation, with glitzy, glamour, and musical charged numbers for new viewers to experience. Unfortunately, despite the intentions being made to speak to a modern generation and a solid production quality, the movie stumbles more often that finding its performance stride, especially considering Cannon’s direction, the off-putting pop song selections, odd pop-culture references, a bland script, cringeworthy dialogue, poor characters, and weak performances. Personally, I did not like this movie at all. Everything just felt too superfluous, too “on the nose”, too derivate, too bland, too corny, too heavy-handed, too cringeworthy, and just too painful to watch in almost every aspect. As I said before…. how did this movie get made? Thus, it comes at no surprise that my recommendation for this film would be profound and unequivocally a “skip it” as the feature does little to differentiate itself from other iterations of the Cinderella fairytale yarn, while its updated modern-esque mechanics never quite work. In the end, 2021’s Cinderella never captures the same bold ideas like the 1997 TV movie Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, nor the sense of realism like Ever After: A Cinderella Story, nor the magical timeless feel of Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella, nor whimsical charm of Ella Enchanted, or even fantasy enchantment of Disney’s 2015 live-action remake of Cinderella. In a simplistic sense…this movie is a disastrous “hot mess” of a fairytale retelling.
1.1 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: September 3rd, 2021
Reviewed On: October 12th, 2021
Cinderella is 113 minutes long and is rated PG for suggestive material and language