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‘Cinderella’ a musical misfire

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Every time we see another remake/reboot/reimagining of a classic tale, it begs the question: is this necessary?

Look, I’m not naïve – I recognize the nature of the business, with the familiarity of IP ruling the day. Even so, you have to wonder whether what we’re getting is something that people actually want to watch. Are people clamoring to see some vague variation on a story they’ve seen a thousand times before?

The folks behind the new “Cinderella” – currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video – seem to think so. As to whether they’re right, well … I have my doubts.

This new version of the classic fairy tale is directed and adapted for the screen by Kay Cannon, best known as the writer of all three films in the “Pitch Perfect” series. Basically, it’s the story you know with a few feints at feminine empowerment and a whole bunch of pop songs that have been put through the musical theatre wringer. It’s OK for what it is, but the truth is that it’s basically a mediocre jukebox musical and not much else.

This is a story that feels polished to within an inch of its life, to where there’s almost nothing there, all style and no substance, despite its best efforts to have you believe otherwise. It’s like a gift, gloriously sparkly and beribboned, festooned with all manner of decorative accents, but when you open the box … there’s nothing inside.

Pop star Camila Cabello is our Cinderella this time around. Ella lives in a vaguely medieval, hazily defined and haphazardly anachronistic kingdom. She’s at the mercy of her stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel, “Frozen II”) and her unsubtly-named stepsisters Malvolia (Maddie Baillio, “Dumplin’”) and Narcissa (Charlotte Spencer, “The Duke”), hanging out in the basement with a trio of mice (voiced by James Corden, James Acaster and Romesh Ranganathan) and dreaming of being a fashion designer.

Meanwhile, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine, “The Craft: Legacy”) is acting out, uneasy with the future that comes with being king. His dad King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan, “False Positive”) wants him to marry soon and expand the kingdom, but Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver, TV’s “Speechless”) encourages him to look for love. Of course, Robert might not even be the best candidate; his younger sister Gwen (Tallulah Greive, “Locked Down”) has plenty smart and progressive ideas.

Contrivances put Ella in the town square at the same time as an in-disguise Robert. They meet-cute, leading to a promise from Robert to introduce Ella to people who might help her move forward with her fashion dreams. Of course, Vivian says she can’t go. Cue fairy godmother.

Or rather, Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter, TV’s “Pose”), who shows up and gives Ella all the standard magic bells and whistles – beautiful dress, box turned into a carriage, mice turned into footmen and of course, the glass slippers.

And then … I mean, you know how this goes.

Throughout, we are assailed by stylized arrangement after stylized arrangement of pop songs, each of them getting the Broadway treatment. This movie is very much a musical, with various plot points receiving particular emphasis via a performed cover of a song you probably remember if you’re of a certain age. I mean, when the opening number is set to a medley of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” only with jazz hands, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.

I’m genuinely not sure what to think about “Cinderella.” The jukebox musical approach is certainly one that I’d never considered for this story, but this feels more like an extrapolated version of one of those NBC live shows that they keep trying to make happen every Christmas. I hesitate to use the word “bad” – for what it is, it’s reasonably well-made and I appreciated the production design – so much as baffling. Why does this exist? Who is it for?

It’s the sort of movie that feels like too much and not enough at the same time. Big splashy production numbers are great, but if no one cares about the people in them, what’s the point? Everything outside the set pieces seems like an afterthought, with little in the way of genuine character development beyond the standard rudimentary romance. Change the song-and-dance to explosions and it’s an action movie.

That said, the numbers themselves are fine. I have a soft spot for that stuff myself, so I recognize that my enjoyment of them comes from a personal taste place wherein I am especially forgiving. There are no genuine showstoppers here, but they’re all pleasant enough in a nostalgia-tickling kind of way.

Honestly, the cast does their best with what they’ve got. Cabello seems like she could be pretty good with the right script – there’s something there, I think, though she only gets to show it here intermittently. Galitzine handles his business as well, though he’s not as successful as Cabello in rounding out the flatness of the script. Their chemistry is odd – not much romantically, but comedically, they’ve got something. Menzel is a pro – she knows why she’s here and acts accordingly. Brosnan and Driver look to be having fun, though again, there’s not much movement there; they’ve got a subplot that is kind of charming and wholly unnecessary. Greive is memorable despite having precious little to do. Porter is fabulous – obviously – and makes the most of an iconic moment. Acaster and Ranganathan are fun and James Corden is James Corden.

Perhaps the most damning thing regarding “Cinderella” is how fundamentally unnecessary it feels. While it’s a potentially interesting take on the story, it falls short on following through on that potential, resulting in a movie that is simply … forgettable. Disposable. But at least it has a happy ending, in that you might well be glad when it’s over.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 06 September 2021 10:00

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