This new version of the classic fairytale attempts to modernize tropes, but falters in its execution
Since most classic fairytales are in the public domain, any film studio could theoretically produce them. However, the Disney behemoth has linked its musical numbers and songs so intrinsically with the most famed, that few studios dare to tread on their ground. Sony appeared brave enough, producing a new Cinderella (2021) with an amalgamation of different music, and modern twists to its tale. Due to COVID-19, however, Sony sold the distribution rights to Amazon, where the film has now dropped rather quietly in viewers’ homes.
This new iteration of Cinderella follows the same story of a titular bullied Ella (Camilla Cabello), teased with the name “Cinder-ella” by her stepsisters (Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer) and stepmother (Idina Menzel) who use her as a servant. Ella dreams of being a fashion designer, creating dresses for a wide variety of women. Meanwhile the prince of the realm (Nicholas Galitzine) is pressured by his monarch father (Pierce Brosnan) to marry soon, inevitably bringing both Ella’s and the prince’s stories together.
The film is directed by Kay Cannon who’s had a notable start in the industry, working first as a writer and producer on 30 Rock (2006-2013) and producing the enjoyable adult comedy Blockers (2018). Given a bigger budget and scale, however, Cannon falters. She is incapable of grasping the world of Cinderella, bringing together cheap sets, unimaginative costumes, and a bland use of visuals and camerawork. The visual effects especially are horrendous, with the CGI mice looking like they belonged in a cheesy 90s film. No news has come out about a reported budget, and yet Cannon has worked with fewer resources before and delivered a better looking and more immersive film.
The musical numbers are timidly shot, using extremes of wide shots or closeups, and not bringing any comprehension or appreciation to the dancing. Likewise, the editing, particularly sound editing, is embarrassing. There is such a clear dubbing of the characters, who recorded their songs in a studio and didn’t bother to give the appearance that they are singing live. There is no hint of someone taking a breath or even of ambient noise, the songs simply sound too pristine. Cabello sings beautifully, and yet you sense a missed opportunity at letting her perform on set. Cannon seems afraid of trusting Cabello with a scene, so that we rarely get to see her perform a whole scene before the actress has to break out into a music video sequence again.
Cannon does attempt to modernize several aspects of the Cinderella tale, giving a more sympathetic backstory to the stepsisters and stepmother, bringing an ambitious and autonomous Ella to the fore, and making her independence and career the center of the plot rather than her search for love. This is paired with a diverse cast, one of the highlights of which is Billy Porter as the Fabulous Godmother (apparently the “Fairy Godmother” name is trademarked by Disney), but these modernizing attempts aren’t enough to cover up the poor construction of the plot, dance numbers, and aesthetic of the film. Not even the use of mainstream pop-songs throughout the film (similar to what Moulin Rouge (2001) did) are enough to distract you from Cinderella’s deficiencies.
In the end, this version of Cinderella had good intentions and ideas as to spinning something new of the story, but the execution, investment, and creative drive behind it all falter at every step. Looks like there’s no happy ending for the prospects of this Cinderella.