'Cinderella': New Girlboss Edition Runs Out Of Magic Before Midnight [Review]

As surely as the glass slipper always fits Ella’s foot, it seems we’re destined to be treated to a new take on “Cinderella every few years, and the latest incarnation of the Disney classic is an Amazon-distributed jukebox musical starring pop star Camila Cabello. Though “Cinderella” makes a number of attempts to update the original fairy tale through quips, female “empowerment,” and a soundtrack full of familiar tunes, this latest reimagining runs out of magic far before the clock strikes midnight.

It’s the story everyone knows—a poor peasant girl, taken in by her wicked stepmother and two vapid stepsisters—is given the chance of a lifetime when her fairy godmother transformers her gown and sends her to the Prince’s ball to find true love. But the angle in writer/director Kay Cannon’s new version? Cinderella is a self-starting entrepreneurial girlboss. 

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While it’s certainly a new take on the story, considering Cinderella is generally depicted as being a demure, gentle, passive young woman—this quote-unquote ‘empowering’ reimagining comes off as a virtue-signaling retread, especially considering that when the credits roll, she couples up with the Prince, rides off into the sunset, and nothing of substance changes in her life. Even with all the talk of being a self-made businesswoman in charge of her own destiny, she’s still beholden to the whims of a man—it’s her Fab G (Billy Porter) who makes the dress that catches the eye of a buyer at the ball. 

Besides the ‘feminist’ inspiration, the other hook for Amazon’s “Cinderella” is the music: the film swaps “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”  and “So This Is Love” with a song selection that could generously be called eclectic. The tunes range from a mashup of “Rhythm Nation” and “You Gotta Be” to the original song “Million to One” to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” The result is a film that feels tonally jumbled—banking on well-known hits like “Somebody to Love” to earn points with its audience, yet desperate to prove in “Million To One” its ability to stand on its own two feet without the jukebox musical gimmick.

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Not helping the tonal whiplash if the film’s impressive but haphazard cast—which includes a gaggle of British stand-ups like James Acaster, Rob Beckett, Romesh Ranganathan, Doc Brown, and, of course, comic-turned-Hollywood-transplant James Corden, next to more experienced performers like Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver, who play the King and Queen. While it certainly makes sense to cast comedians in the comedic roles, the jump from a de-mousefied James Cordon joking about peeing out of his “front tail” to Brosnan and Driver grappling with why their once passionate marriage is crumbling around them is jarring, to say the least. 

Some performers stand out for the better—the aforementioned Brosnan and Driver make a formidable duo and provide a vast majority of the film’s most compelling moments, and Idina Menzel makes for a delightfully wicked evil stepmother, harnessing her legendary vocal ability to much avail – even if she’s mostly forced to singing pop mash-ups like she’s back on “Glee.” Other standouts include James Acaster and Romesh Ranganathan as two of Ella’s mice companions, both of whom run comedic circles around the painfully unfunny James Corden, who feels overblown and cringe-worthy in comparison to Acaster and Ranganathan’s drier wit. 

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Doc Brown also shines at the town crier who freestyle raps the kingdom’s latest proclamations, backed by a drumline-style marching band, and though in the wrong hands the shtick might feel tiresome, Brown has enough charisma and talent to make his few scenes a genuine delight. Billy Porter also starts as Ella’s “Fab G” (the film’s attempt at an updated fairy godmother) but the role is such an obvious pastiche of Porter’s earlier work that it comes off as a derivative caricature—despite Porter’s innate charisma and star power.

Unfortunately for “Cinderella,” though, when it comes to the main characters, that’s where the endearment begins to fizzle away—try as they might to strike the right balance of wit and sincerity, neither Cinderella nor her Prince Charming comes off as anything other than stiff, humorless performers desperately trying to breathe life into an already unflattering script.

“Cinderella” casts its leading lady as a go-getting young woman with an entrepreneurial spirit, and along with these new ambitions comes a new attitude complete with zippy one-liners, anachronistic jokes, and a painful case of “I’m-not-like-other-girls” syndrome. Though Cabello’s vocal talents are put to good use, it’s doubtful that she’ll find as much success in the acting world as she has on the Billboard Hot 100: not a single comedic beat lands and the character is lacking in such depth or personality that when the more emotional moments roll around, Cabello feels lost and stiff without quips to hide behind.

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Equally uninspired (though faring slightly better in the comedic department) is her Prince Charming (Robert, in the film) played by Nicholas Galitzine. With Cabello’s relative inexperience, Galitizine is laden with carrying the romance for the two of them, but his character is so flimsily and paradoxically written that he too is difficult to root for whenever he’s not singing – and even then, it’s difficult to discern what he wants or why he wants it. Robert, like his princess-to-be, is less a character and more a Prince-shaped outline strung together with cliches and bad jokes, resulting in a central romance that feels like oil and water, and not in the rom-com “will-they-won’t-they” way.

The rest of the film’s superficial trappings—from the sassy, more empowered stepsisters to the ensemble choreography—are straight out of a B-list Disney Channel Original Movie Adding insult to injury is the film’s nearly two-hour-long runtime (dwarfing the original “Cinderella’s” runtime which sits at a tidy 75 minutes), which gives every issue that might have been excusable in a single instance the time to fester and pop up often enough that it can’t be written off as a single poor decision.

Though the comedic talents of its supporting cast (mainly Acaster, Ranganathan, and Brown), and the veteran performers (Brosnan, Driver, and Menzel) do their best to anchor the haphazard, bloated mess of a film, “Cinderella” is an uninspired fairytale that feels less like an empowering, new twist on a classic and more of a lazy, virtue-signaling attempt at cashing in on Cabello’s fame and legion of fans. [D+]

“Cinderella” arrives on Amazon Prime Video on September 3.