'Cinderella' (2012), Disney's live-action 'Cinderella' (2015), 'Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale', 'After the Ball', 'Cinderella in the Far West', 'Charming', 'DJ Cinderella', 'Cinderella the Cat', 'Into the Woods', 'Rags' - and don't forget 'A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song', 'A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits' and 'A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish'. They're just some of the versions of the iconic fairytale character we have seen in the last decade alone. That doesn't even include this year's 'A Cinderella Story: Starstruck', the upcoming 'Sneakerella', and today's bell of the ball 'Cinderella' (2021) - my point is, there is no shortage of 'Cinderella' stories even just in the last ten years.
We all know the story of 'Cinderella', and yes, while the 2021 version changes some things (we will get to those later), the story is as familiar as Ella's story can get.
Camila Cabello (in her acting debut) is not the worst pop star to lead any musical film, and while she may not be one of my personal favourite singers, an actress she is not. She does an average job here; even though she headlines the film. she has very little to do, and is missing from large chunks of the film. You can tell she is a pop star because every time a song starts, there's big emotive hand gestures, an over-expressive face and head bops. But at the end of the day, she is absolutely fine here; I will say I thought I was going to loathe her, but her performance leaves little to discuss.
Oh, Idina Menzel ('Frozen 2', 'Uncut Gems'). I love you, but villain you are not - although that's that's not all on her. In making the film more "woke", we have some changes to the evil stepmother/stepsisters story arc. While mostly playing out how we expect, the third act "shakes things" up. She actually encourages Cinderella to go after the prince (Nicholas Galitzine, 'The Craft: Legacy', 'Handsome Devil'), but then backtracks and goes back to hating her until the ending when during ... J-Lo's 'Let's Get Loud' (oh, we will get to the soundtrack), the two end up seeing eye to eye. If you wanted redemption for this character, that's fine - just don't redeem her, take it back, only to redeem her again.
We have to talk about the soundtrack. Jukebox musicals are one of the hardest kinds of musicals to pull off, especially when you are mixing artists and decades. You have to take songs that the whole world knows and flip them so they make sense in the story, while also sounding different enough to the original song. 'Cinderella' has a hand full of original material, but mainly uses pop songs. We open with a mashup of 'Rhythm Nation/You Gotta Be', which was actually enjoyable - it was energetic enough, but like every song on the soundtrack, it doesn't fit the film. There was no point where I was convinced it was actually a musical, feeling more like actors singing pop remixes. 'Somebody to Love' is just one of those songs done to death; there is no new take on it and the same goes here. It feels like it's included here because it's a popular song and nothing more. The same goes for 'Material Girl', which made me want to leave the room. We have another terrible mashup of 'Whatta Man/Seven Nation Army' for the ball scene where the prince walks in and the girls lay eyes on him. As they set up the number I thought to myself, as a joke, they are going to sing 'Whatta Man', and that about sums up how they chose songs for this mess. This number is also trying so hard to be 'Roxanne' from 'Moulin Rouge!', which only demonstrates how much more it fails.
The most forgettable tune is 'Perfect'. I literally forgot about this one until looking at the soundtrack. 'Shining Star' is the Fabulous G's number because, of course, if there was one sequence that could have done with an original song, it's the transformation scene. I know 'Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo' is a tough act to follow, but man, you can do better than 'Shining Star'. Its only redemption is that Billy Porter ('Like a Boss', TVs 'Pose') gets to perform it, and it's just a delight to see him.
Alright, I have to warn you we are about to get absolutely wild. First up is 'Let's Get Loud', which is super strange, but the film is obsessed with making every song a group number, and 'Let's Get Loud' just doesn't work as one. Almost every song in the film has us bouncing around from Cinderella to the Prince and the castle, to random people in the village, to the stepsisters and back around again. As mentioned, the song also slows down to be a redemption moment between Ella and her stepmother, and it just does not work. I've saved the best for last - Nico and Vinz's 2013 hit 'Am I Wrong' - I ran around the room; what a wild card of a choice. The way they break it up is horrendous. It's the worst number in the film, an absolute trainwreck.
Camila Cabello is not the worst pop star to lead any musical film, and while she may not be one of my personal favourite singers, an actress she is not.
As for the original songs, they are very 'The Greatest Showman'-esque, songs that can easily be taken out of context and work as top 40 hits. The big one is 'Million to One', and we get it three bloody times. It's a catchy song but is a Camila Cabello song and not a musical number, and the scene can easily just be a music video. We get Ben Bailey Smith as the Town Crier, and he basically comes in and raps plot points every so often, which is fine, but they are the ones that will get the soundtrack skips. The most musical song is the stepmother's 'Dream Girl', and while its placement is strange, it's easily the best song in the movie. The original songs are decently written and the film should have leaned into them more, as it already has the burden of retelling a tired story, and because its reliance on pop songs just makes everything drabber.
I've put it off long enough, so let's talk about him... the one they call Corden ('Peter Rabbit 2', 'The Prom'). Look, thank god his appearance is brief, but he still manages to get some interesting things in. Most of it is just his annoying self, but as we get a great scene after the mice have turned to humans, just outside of the ball, where James talks about how he learned to pee out of his front tail... I wish I was making this up, and that it also didn't go on for anywhere near as long as it did. We can also add to that nightmare CGI list that includes the Josh Gad jaw from 'Artemis Fowl' and all of 'Cats': James Corden's head on a mouse body. It's nightmare fuel.
The other changes come mainly from the royal family. The king (Pierce Brosnan, 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again', 'The Foreigner') is married and the queen (Minnie Driver, 'Good Will Hunting', 'The Phantom of the Opera') wants to stand up to him, which is to set up the other change. The prince has a sister (Tallulah Greive), and while she doesn't want the throne, she actually cares about helping the kingdom. These were fine and are in line with how Disney makes their princess "woke" in the remakes, so they didn't really impact me much. The film also has Cinderella and the prince meeting pre-ball, which the 2015 Disney film also did, and instead of them getting married sees them just dating, because it makes them feel like they are more "woke".
With the story of 'Cinderella' having been modernised more times than sliced bread, there is much left to make more "woke", especially within the fairytale setting. With the list of versions so extensive I'm sure we'll start using them as a currency soon, this latest take on the story offers us nothing. If you wanted to do something new you could maybe gender-flip it, make it queer, even have them not get together and have both of them focus on their dreams over love - anything but this half-ass overdone cookie-cutter "girls can do anything" cliché. While that is an important message to send there are so many better ways to do it, and 2021 girl-boss 'Cinderella' is not worth waiting until midnight for.