- It may have worked in ‘A Knight’s Tale’ with Heath Ledger, but this latest update to the fairy tale tries, and fails, to combine a traditional setting with modern ideas
- The excellent cast, including Idina Menzel from ‘Frozen’ and Nicholas Galitzine, do not get much to do except exist as stereotypes
Classic stories and fairy tales continue to make the rounds, whether that is because recognisable names are easier to sell, or perhaps because these old tales still have some life left in their lessons.
Often these centuries-old stories work best when the time period is fully updated or the modern lessons are portrayed through the era’s traditional customs and practices. However, the new musical Cinderella, starring pop sensation Camila Cabello, tries to have it both ways, pairing contemporary post-feminist ideas, slang and pop songs with the ball gowns and social norms of Renaissance-era Europe.
It’s a cute idea that is been pulled off before, notably in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger. But here, it’s a bit awkward and forced.
Cabello’s Cinderella is a big dreamer with ambition. Confined to the basement with her talking mice, she sketches fashion designs and sews ball gowns with the hopes of one day selling her dresses and becoming a businesswoman (are retail markets even a thing in this village?). The intent is to avoid a Cinderella whose entire fate hangs on marriage to a wealthy prince, so instead they’ve made her a rise-and-grind girlboss hustler, whose values clash with those of her evil stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) who want to marry for money.
That is a choice that may have landed a few years ago, but in 2021, it’s a tired trope. In fact, tropes and archetypes are the basis of this film. In musical theatre, characters put their inner feelings into song, but these characters are mostly singing pop tunes that have been reverse-engineered into the plot, expressing vague ideas and affirmations like, “ya gotta be,” “whatta man,” “material girl,” “let’s get loud,” etc. There are a few original songs by Cabello and Menzel that fill in things a bit, but their sentiments merely scratch the surface.
This is Cabello’s first film, and while she is a skilled singer and performer, her acting is overly cutesy and a bit grating, which does not allow her character to achieve any depth. All of the main characters, including Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Robert, subscribe to this sort of “Disney Channel” acting style, which is sarcastic and insincere.
With such a great cast, it’s disappointing that it feels like none of the side characters get much to do, existing as stereotypes or stand-ins, spouting wink wink feminist phrases, “you go girl” sentiments and therapy-speak confessions about their motivation. It’s underwritten, yet overstuffed with song.
This Cinderella is a lot like Succession for kiddos, with Ella trying to get her dresses in front of investors, and Robert resisting the power being handed to him. If anything, it’s a reminder that marrying for the purposes of joining property isn’t that far off from entering into a contract with an investor. It’s cynical, because underneath it all, it’s still about the money, honey.
With all the songs, gowns and corny jokes, kids under 10 will likely love it, and frankly, that is who this is for, not the millennials or Gen Z kids who grew up with Brandy or Hillary Duff. Plus, they’ll learn about the importance of having a solid business plan ready to go as soon as opportunity strikes.