Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is frantically running around the town trying to find the girl whose foot fits the glass slipper found at the ball. Screenwriter-director Kay Cannon’s 2021 reworking of the Disney classic story of the girl from the basement does give the Prince his happily ever after, but not quite in the same way as the numerous previous versions of Cinderella.
Pop singer Camila Cabello makes her movie debut as Cinderella who lives with her mean stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and awkward stepsisters. Relegated to doing the household chores and serving more as a maid than a family member, Ella uses her spare time to pursue her passion – of designing gowns and garments for the ladies. Her stepmother is desperate to find a match for all three girls.
Her only incentive to get to the ball is to show off her designing skills and network with potential clients. This Ella hasn’t hitched her coach to the fortunes of a Prince in waiting. Cannon’s Ella wants to make own way in the world, and the Prince can come along if he wants to.
In the Royal Palace, a different battle of the sexes is underway. The Queen (Minnie Driver) is miffed that the King (Pierce Brosnan) undermines her, their daughter Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive) is clearly better suited to ruling and policy making than her older slacker brother Robert, but she rarely gets to express her opinion.
The King orders that the Prince find a bride. The entire kingdom is invited to a grand ball. But Vivian’s cruelty thwarts Cinderella’s plans of working the room while showing off her dressmaking skills at the Palace. It’s nothing a little bit of fairy-dust can’t fix. Enter Fab G or Fairy Godmother (Billy Porter).
An explosion of song (some old rap, pop, rock songs and some new), dance (been there, seen that) and colours (a bit much) attempt to paper over an irregularly paced screenplay. The script is more concerned with upending the tropes of the fairy tale, giving Cinderella greater agency and creating a new Gen Z-friendly happily ever after, than reinventing the story into something wildly audacious.
Coincidence or strategy, but it turns out that British actors play the royals whereas Americans are cast as the village folk and fairy godmother. Each one gets into the groove of their character, with Cabello radiating optimism and allure and Galitzine matching her beats as the encouraging and charming prince.
Cannon, whose writing credits include all three Pitch Perfect films, works in a backstory for wicked stepmother and replaces the fairy godmother with a genderless godparent. Caste and class differences are retained though the metamorphosing pumpkin has been replaced by something less cute. The character with the most interesting arc is Robert, who goes from entitled man-child to woke, and possibly broke, unlike Ella’s feminist lite, captured in the track ‘Dream Girl’ with the lyric:
‘This treasure you found bury it
The only way out marry it
That shadow of doubt carry it
Carry it down to your grave
The world doesn't need another dream girl.’
Cinderella is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video