By Janie Walenda
I’m a big Cinderella fan, but I’ve rarely enjoyed stories that try to modernize her story. I was worried this movie would be a clumsy retread filled with generic pop songs and pandering messages about “empowerment.” While I wasn’t necessarily wrong, “Cinderella” has enough fun and magic to make this an enjoyable ride.
This version hits all the beats of the classic Cinderella story but adds some new twists and turns along the way. Ella wants to design dresses and run a shop, which her old-fashioned kingdom has banned. While her stepmother may be harsh, she is also trying to equip both her daughters and Ella for the harsh world they live in. Meanwhile, Prince Robert tries to convince his father to let him marry for love while also convincing himself that he even wants to be king. While Ella is initially dismissive of the ball, an incognito Robert convinces her that the ball would be the perfect place to find customers. And so off to the ball she goes.
While I had my doubts, Camila Cabello is great as Cinderella. She’s not the best actress, but she fits very well with the project and the character. She brings a lot of personality and spunk to the character as well as the kindness that is key to Cinderella. She sells the emotional moments and has some excellent comedic timing.
The big standout to me was Idina Menzel as the evil stepmother. The new backstory for the stepmother is serviceable, but her motives are genuinely interesting and add nuance to a typically one-dimensional character. She has two of the best songs in the movie and works well with Cabello in both acting and singing. While I would rank most of the characters in this film below the Disney versions (both animated and live-action), I think Menzel’s stepmother is my favorite portrayal of the stepmother yet.
As for the rest of the cast, they do a fine job. Nicholas Galitzine isn’t bad as Prince Robert, but he does come off as somewhat stilted. Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, and Tallulah Greive are all good as the royal family. Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer, who played the stepsisters, aren’t given much to do but do have delightful comedic chemistry. While Billy Porter gives an entertaining performance as the Fabulous Godmother, it’s a bit uncomfortable and could certainly be a deal-breaker for some people.
It’s tough to say whether the music in “Cinderella” is any good. It’s a jukebox musical, with definitively pop sensibilities. The transitions into songs are rough, and I rolled my eyes at the beginning of each song. However, each song, without fail, had won me over by the end. While the choreography is nothing special, the musical numbers were fun to watch and fit well into the overarching story. Half the fun is the surprise of each song, so I’m not going to ruin that here. In addition, there are three original songs in “Cinderella.” For simplicity’s sake, I’m counting the three songs sung by the town crier, played by Ben Bailey Smith, as one song; these rap tracks had a lot of energy and made some of the familiar plot points more fun. “Million to One” is a generic pop ballad: not necessarily bad but nothing special. “Dream Girl ” is the best original song, and maybe the movie’s best song period. That, or maybe I’m just a sucker for an intense third-act ensemble number.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this movie captures the Cinderella story. I’m normally not a fan of stories that feel the need to modernize Cinderella, as I feel it discredits the strength of the original character. While this movie does have its share of awkward attempts at “wokeness,” it doesn’t mock the original fairytale. This Cinderella is much more proactive, but she’s still an essentially kind and cheerful person. I loved the dynamic between Ella and her stepfamily, how her stepfamily were villains without being cartoons. In my opinion, the ball and Cinderella’s transformation were a little underwhelming. It didn’t have the grandeur or the excitement of my favorite adaptations. I did feel that the romance was very sweet, if not completely believable. The montage of Prince Robert searching for Cinderella did get a good chuckle out of me, but we never got that iconic moment of Cinderella trying on the shoe.
Would I recommend this movie? Maybe. If you are just looking for a fun movie, like musicals, and don’t mind a bit of cringe, then you’ll enjoy this movie. If you’re looking for a movie to mock with your friends, then this is also a great choice. But otherwise, it might be best to stick with the classics.
“Cinderella” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys musicals, movies, and rereading the same books ten times.