Released: 3rd September
Seen: 4th September
The story of Cinderella has been adapted countless times in multiple forms. From the legendary Disney animated classic of 1950 to the millennial favourite 1997 version that starred Whitney Houston and Brandi, to the Disney Live-Action version from 2015, there have been so many attempts made at this simple story that it feels weird to go five years without someone taking a shot at it.
There’s a good reason for that, the simplistic story of a girl going to a ball and meeting her prince is so timeless that as long as you don’t make the main character annoying to the point where you don’t care if she achieves her dream, it’s pretty much bound to work… so, let’s talk about why the 2021 adaptation of Cinderella really doesn’t work.
Cinderella pretty much follows the classic story in terms of structure. There’s a girl named Ella (Camila Cabello) who lives in the basement of a home run by her wicked stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel). Ella does a large amount of the chores (Not all of them cos we need to show the other sisters doing laundry so there’s a backdrop for their big group number) and spends her spare time making dresses.
Meanwhile, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is being exceptionally picky when it comes to choosing a bride so his father, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) throws a ball where all the women in the town are invited. Of course, the stepmother says Ella can’t go, the Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter) shows up and does their thing. Ella goes to the ball, you know the rest of this story just throw in a few occasional scenes of Ella trying to sell her ugly dresses to nobility and you have the plot of this movie.
While watching Cinderella it probably will not shock you that it was written by the person who wrote all of the Pitch Perfect movies because, much like those movies, Cinderella has this bad habit of breaking into a pop song without any real reason to. Sometimes this works in the movie’s favour, having a bunch of potential suitors break into “Whatta Man” by Salt-n-Peppa & En Vogue is a fun idea that works in context because they’re all going gaga over the prince… however, when his response song is “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes, it feels off. Almost like it was written to be part of one of those singing battles from Pitch Perfect and just got used here instead.
Indeed, the entire soundtrack is kind of hit and miss when it comes to the songs working in Cinderella’s favour. It has a Pantomime approach when it comes to the music, relying on a ton of classic hit songs that have been mildly rearranged to feel like they belong together. With only two original songs (one of which is repeated ad nauseum throughout the film) Cinderella relies heavily on you being already aware of the song in order to enjoy it… just one problem, some of this cast just can’t sing the classic songs they’re being handed.
Are some of the cast good? Sure, Idina Menzel absolutely kills it (Despite never really getting many moments to be truly wicked… she’s the WICKED stepmother, you have the star of WICKED, let her be wicked goddamn it!) and Billy Porter’s 10 minutes of screentime is the absolute highlight of the film. Even Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver manage to make something interesting out of what they’ve been given, even though they do let Pierce sing again (Sure they lampshade that they know he sucks at singing but… don’t make the man sing, he’s bad at it). They’re all genuinely better than the material they’ve been given, which isn’t exactly that great. No, sadly, the problem with Cinderella lies in the lead.
This would get me killed if I said it out loud in any mall but… Camila Cabello just isn’t a good singer. She’s not, especially not in here. Any time she’s asked to sing a note that’s even a little higher than her normal speaking voice it sounds strained to the point where I don’t know who is in more pain, her trying to sing or me trying to listen. It’s so clearly pumped up in editing that it actually sounds worse than Emma Watson’s vocals did back in Beauty and the Beast. Let’s just say if I asked Idina or Billy to recreate their songs acapella I’m confident it would sound the exact same… Camilla? No, oh god no. Throw on top of that that her acting is kind of just halfway where it needs to be and you have a performance that needs to carry the film that ends up handing it off to a side cast who are trying but can’t make it work.
The majority of Cinderella is just kind of bland and trying way too hard to be cool, throwing in pop songs I heard performed better in episodes of Glee and jokes that die the second they come out of the actors’ mouths. Again, some of the actors kinda make some moments of what they have work (Billy Porter being the best of the bunch, so good that he even elevates anyone in a scene with him) but the film is just so bland and basic that there’s just nothing truly special here. It feels like a vanity project for the lead to cut their teeth in as an actor, except vanity projects are occasionally so bad they’re interesting and this isn’t that.
If you’re a Camila Cabello superfan then you’re going to love Cinderella no matter what and nothing I say will stop you… but if you just want a good version of the story of Cinderella, this isn’t it. Stick to the 97 version, at least that one had Whitney Houston belting her ass off like the icon that she is. This one just has a disturbing image of James Cordon’s head on a rat’s body, which still looked better than Cats but not by much.