Cinderella tries its damnedest to take a page from Baz Luhrman’s 90s Romeo + Juliet in its approach to the modern musical, but it falls flat on its face and gets smothered in its own cinders. If you have seen a single one of the countless iterations of the oft-told fairy tale, it is easy to guess the direction we are taking here. Little in the way of surprises or intrigue exists, save the occasional unintentionally funny line of dialogue or the over-the-top jukebox musical numbers. Written and directed by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect 1-3, Blockers), I expected more than catchy songs and a cute cast.
In an old-fashioned kingdom bound by tradition, twice-widowed Vivian (Idina Menzel) lives in a humble home with her two self-obsessed daughters and Ella (Camila Cabello), her stepdaughter. Called Cinderella and treated as an outcast, Ella longs for more. She preaches self-confidence to her sisters, and heads to the town square to sell an old dress. Despite being dirty and “smelling like a basement,” Ella happens to meet a charming young man—a prince in disguise! Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) says he hopes to see Ella at the ball, but the wicked Vivian forbids her from attending as she was promised away to another (old) man. She spills ink on Ella’s dress, leaving her hopeless and defeated. Who better to help Ella out than a sassy, fabulous fairy godmother? “Don’t you wanna go to that ball and meet a bunch of rich people that’ll change your life?”
I have to admit: there is passable entertainment value here, mainly in the big shoes filled by both the stepmother (Broadway icon Idina Menzel) and the fairy godmother (Pose’s Billy Porter). Haters of James Corden will add more fuel to their fire—the actor plays a mouse-turned-human giddy about relieving himself through his “front tail.” At a point where he transforms back into a mouse, his body changes first, leaving only the damning image of Corden’s screaming head on the mismatched body. At times, Cinderella dives deep into so-bad-it’s-good territory.
Each needle drop musical cover is often poorly lip-synced, as good as some of them sound. The songs feel obvious and cliched; Ella and Robert have a big dance at the ball set to an Ed Sheeran cover, naturally. Billy Porter singing “Shining Star” was my favorite of them all, while the prince singing “Somebody to Love” gave me a brief sense of glee. What I would like to know is how Pierce Brosnan keeps getting cast in musicals despite less than stellar vocals!
To definitively pinpoint one thing that was the least successful in Cinderella, I would have to say the script is lacking in vibrancy and specificity. The prince wants Ella to give up on her dreams and live a carefree life of love with him, and the only injection of modernity is Ella insisting that she will not sacrifice her goals for a man. If you are simply retelling the same story that we have heard hundreds of times, there had better be a convincing or compelling reason to revisit it for a new audience. Even the greatest cast ever assembled could not overcome the sad reality: this script is tired, silly, and empty.
Cinderella belts it out when it premieres exclusively on Amazon Prime on Friday, September 3rd.