Movie review: 'Cinderella' tries too hard to be cool

My, Cinderella has changed.

Yes, she may still stay in her “own little corner” in her stepmother’s house, but that space now doubles as a workspace for an aspiring fashion designer. Of course, she must still deal with how her late father’s wife undermines her ambitions. And Cinderella still wants to go to the ball at the palace, less to meet the prince and more to promote her fashion collection.

With all the changes, though, Cinderella still has a fairy godmother. And, when Tony and Emmy winner Billy Porter shows up in this iconic role, the movie brims with joy. Otherwise, while entertaining, this latest rendition of the classic tale works hard to be cool.
No matter which version of this story you favor – the original animation from Disney, the television versions with songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, or such movies as “The Glass Slipper,” “Slipper and the Rose,” “Ever After” or the live-action remake – the basic story remains. A lonely young woman yearns for a future, a disappointed young man searches for companionship, and a mean-spirited stepmother longs for any way to stir things up, along with her two daughters who can’t seem to please anyone.

While the Disney original focuses on Cinderella’s animal friends, and the musicals make the most of the fairy godmother and stepsisters, this new version has something to say about what this woman should want out of life. While an earlier Cinderella might be content to stay home, this one pictures herself owning a store (not permitted in her mythical kingdom), designing clothes for celebrities (difficult, she believes, without a store) and standing on her own two feet (in or out of glass slippers which, this time around, she says are less than comfortable).

Adding texture to the revised narrative are new musical numbers as well as pop songs of the 1980s and 1990s. While any “jukebox musical” is limited in how songs actually support the narrative, these numbers look good and are effectively staged. But they feel rather generic, difficult to tell apart because they do not amplify what the characters feel or do. We miss the isolation Cinderella describes when singing about her “own little corner” in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical or the sheer joy when the fairy godmother exclaims “Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo” in the Disney original. Instead, we get a cover version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” without the originator’s presence.

Still, any chance to see Broadway great Idina Menzel on stage or screen is a joy. Other than Porter – who steals his scenes – Menzel delivers the film’s most satisfying performance, making the most of each moment, using each glance to help us understand the new motivations behind this iconic character. She’s also a musical comedy pro who knows how to convey the meaning of a lyric. In the title role, Camila Cabello brings warmth and a confident comic sensibility, while Minnie Driver has fun exaggerating the Queen of the Kingdom.

No matter how many versions of “Cinderella” you remember, this one dares to say, “there’s another way to tell this story.” Despite how hard the film works to be current, it’s fun.

More Information

Film Summary: Cinderella

Content: High. This energetic interpretation of the classic story offers a stylized and entertaining look at how people cope with romantic challenges.
Entertainment: High. With new songs, as well as hits from the 80s and 90s, the film offers a wide musical menu to keep the story as current as possible.
Message: Medium. With its plot adjustments, this "Cinderella" tries to bring a modern sensibility to the familiar story.
Relevance: Medium. Anyone who loves movie musicals, and "Cinderella," will have a fun time.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. For "Cinderella" fans, there will be a lot to discuss about the changes in this interpretation.

“Cinderella” runs 1 hours, 53 minutes, is rated PG for “suggestive material and language,” and is showing in theaters and on Amazon Prime.