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‘Sneakerella’ puts heart and sole into a classic tale

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Look, I’m with you – we 100% did not need yet another cinematic riff on “Cinderella.” There are plenty of those, whether we’re talking direct or indirect, and after the abysmal jukebox musical version that Amazon Studios gave us last year, one would have hoped we’d get a bit of a reprieve.

We did not.

So as you might imagine, I was not particularly excited to check out the new Disney+ film “Sneakerella.” The notion of a gender-swapped sneaker-culture-based adaptation sounded frankly exhausting, but I sat down and fired it up anyway.

As it turns out, it’s better than I expected. Not a great movie, mind you, but not bad. Not bad at all. And when it comes to adaptations of this classic fairy tale, not bad is actually pretty darned good. Driven by a charming young cast and some decent musical numbers, “Sneakerella” manages to put a genuinely interesting spin on the beloved story.

It’s not all good, of course – the film has its share of issues – but as far as efforts toward inclusive storytelling go, director Elizabeth Rosenbaum and company make something that feels reasonably progressive in its outlook. The standard clichés still very much apply, but all in all, there’s more good than bad here.

El (Chosen Jacobs) is a teenager living in Queens. He aspires to be a sneaker designer, inspired by the time he spent growing up in Laces, his mother’s shoe store. However, after El’s mother died, his aspirations were largely dismissed by his stepfather Trey (Bryan Terrell Clark), who resents the store even as he is running it. El is treated like a stockboy, much to the delight of his stepbrothers Zelly (Kolton Stewart) and Stacy (Hayward Leach), who pretty much do as they like even as El is unfairly overworked.

The only one who knows about El’s designer dreams is Sami (Devyn Nekoda), who both admires El’s talents and is determined to ensure that he shares those talents with the world.

One day, El’s stepbrothers trash the stockroom simply to give him more work to do. Trey demands that El clean up, as he has an important meeting. However, El has plans to go to a sneaker drop – the latest kicks from King, a massively popular sneaker brand, are hitting – with Sami. He closes the shop and heads out, intending to return and clean up before Trey gets there.

He and Sami wind up late, but inadvertently slide into line behind Kira (Lexi Underwood), who offers to let them join her in line. They’re all too late to get the shoes, but El and Kira hit it off, with El showing her around Queens and giving her his own special tour – one that includes, among other things, a visit to the community garden maintained by the benevolent and mysterious Gustavo (Juan Chioran). They’re making a real connection … right up until El realizes that he’s late and bolts, leaving Kira with no means to contact him.

As it turns out, Kira is actually Kira King, daughter to retired NBA star and sneaker mogul Darius King (John Salley). Yes, that King. Kira’s older sister Liv (Robyn Alomar) has a design set for the upcoming SneakerCon event, but Kira thinks that the company should go in a different direction.

You can probably guess how it goes from here.

There are some differences, of course – the mystery of identity is more a matter of degree, the element of personal success outside of romance - but the gist is the same. A shoe is lost. A search for the shoe’s owner ensues, leading to some sort of eventual reconnection. You’ve seen this movie before, but if you liked it then, you’ll probably like it now.

“Sneakerella” works. It’s not a great movie, but it is exactly the movie it wants to be. There’s an earnestness to the proceedings that makes it very easy to watch, even if you might occasionally find yourself rolling your eyes. A little saccharine at times, a little overprocessed, some narrative holes … but engaging enough even so.

I’ll note that I’m generally a sucker for musical numbers and there are a couple of good ones here; I’m all for people dancing in the street (even if the “street” is rather obviously a soundstage with a green screen). The music is generally solid across the board, with a highlight being a cover of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s original “Cinderella.”

The filmmakers built a sneaky good ensemble as well. Jacobs brings a gentle charm to El that makes him extremely watchable. There’s an ease of action here that works nicely. He’s got a decent singing voice as well. Underwood is just as good as Kira; she’s charismatic and sweet, with she’s an even better singer than Jacobs. Their chemistry together powers the movie. Nejoda is a delight as Sami, so much so that you wish she had more to do. Chioran gives heavy Lin-Manuel Miranda vibes as Gustavo. The rest of the bunch is surprisingly solid – even Salley, who is very much not an actor, does well enough to get by.

“Sneakerella” is a perfectly competent family friendly musical adaptation. There’s nothing spectacular here, to be sure, but it’s still a better movie than it probably needed to be, a fairly fresh (albeit flawed) take on classic material. The performances are fine, the music is pretty good and overall, it’s pretty engaging. When it comes to family fare, you could do much worse.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 16 May 2022 10:53

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