cinderella

This rendition of "Cinderella" had potential to portray depth of character, but it fell drastically short of expectations.

On Sept. 3, a new rendition of the Charles Perrault classic, “Cinderella,” was released on Amazon Prime Video. Camilla Cabello stars as “Ella” alongside a star-studded cast including Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Maddie Baillio and James Corden. This contemporary twist to the original tale includes rap, hip-hop, R&B and pop music in its score.

The anticipation for this movie was high, especially due to the star-studded cast, but unfortunately, stellar celebrities couldn’t make up for the dull performance.

The movie opens with a musical number in the town that’s never named and introduces the main characters as they perform “Rhythm Nation'' by Janet Jackson, one of the many covers included in this movie. This song as an opening leads audiences to believe that the town is very musical or unified in some way, but this isn’t really the case. The residents of the town are in the musical numbers, but they have little to no relation to any of the main characters. This can be typical for ensembles in musicals, but with this story, the disconnect is more obvious. 

After an awkward encounter with local creep Thomas (Robert Beckett), Ella returns to her basement and sings about how people are going to know her name in “Million To One” — one of only two original songs in the film. Through this song, it's revealed that Ella dreams of owning her own dress shop. Making the majority of the musical numbers covers is a strange choice, as the songs don’t provide any sense of cohesion and feel random at moments. 

Then, the audience is taken to the town square. “The New Barry,” a short rap that details the day’s events, explains that the guard-changing ceremony will commence, and that the whole royal family will be present. The rap has a nice flow to it, and there’s a marching band that accompanies it. The raps that are sprinkled in this movie feel random. They’re well written, but the movie should either commit to a rap score or pop ballads. With the time period and the hip-hop music combined, it starts to feel like a bad Hamilton rip-off.

Vivian (Idina Menzel), Ella’s stepmother, gathers Ella and her stepsisters to go to the guard-changing ceremony. In this scene, the stepsisters Narissa (Charlotte Spencer) and Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) are primping themselves while Ella reminds them not to care about what others think. In other Cinderella retellings, the stepsisters are either comically ugly, cruel, funny or a combination of those things, but that’s been left out of this newest rendition. The stepsisters are usually the comic relief in some way, but they were incredibly boring. They're tame and uninteresting — if there were more jokes or even some outrageous fashion choices, it may have been more fun to watch.

During the guard-changing ceremony, Ella catches the attention of Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine). After recounting how hard it is to be a prince, he sings Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” The transition from speaking to music for this number is goofy. As he’s dressed in royal garb, he’s singing a ‘70s ballad, and the disjunction is jarring. The camera angles are dramatic, and the way Prince Robert starts the song is unnatural. Like in many movie musicals, the transition to song doesn't feel natural. This number's only redeeming quality was the choir because of the powerhouse vocals, but the song really just further solidified the movie's absurdity.

In the backyard, Vivian, Narissa and Malvolia are hanging the laundry. Vivian lectures the girls on the importance of marrying rich so they don’t have to do such trivial tasks such as hanging up their own clothes. Vivian then starts singing “Material Girl” by Madonna. While Menzel’s vocals are incredible in this song, it once again sounds out of place. The film’s use of covers becomes more and more confusing as the movie continues — even some cheesy pop songs about magic and believing would fit better.

When Ella goes to the town square to sell one of her dresses, she’s introduced to Prince Robert in a bandana as a disguise. He’s so infatuated by her from the guard-changing ceremony that he goes to town dressed as a commoner in order to find her. He buys her dress for triple the price and successfully invites her to a ball.

This scene has funny moments and is a nice introduction to the dynamic between Prince Robert and Ella. After this scene, somehow, an even more confusing song choice, “Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz is performed. The a cappella introduction is pretty awkward, and it’s obvious who the singers were in this number. The actors who weren’t singers didn’t open their mouths enough to sing certain notes, and some of the voices were manipulated with autotune, which was noticeable by the lack of vibrato. The pitch correction used in this movie is astonishingly noticeable, even though the rest of the movie's vocals were decent.

“Shining Star” is the best song choice for this movie, and the fact that it's sung by the Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter) is the reason. His voice shines, and this song choice makes the most sense in context of the film’s message. The dress reveal is magical, but it would've been more powerful if the song didn't stop and start multiple times. It’s unfortunate that the Fabulous Godmother is only in this one scene because the Godmother is traditionally one of the most important characters in Cinderella’s story.

After Ella is transformed, she makes her way to the ball. The set for this scene is dark and ugly. The colors of the dresses and the background are competing for attention on screen. The ballroom scene is supposed to be the most magical and romantic, but compared to other Cinderella renditions, the ballroom set and scene is lackluster. 

The one positive of this scene is it further confirms that Prince Robert’s sister, Gwen (Tallulah Greive), is the best character. When everyone is focused on Prince Robert finding a wife, Gwen is explaining her plan to reduce poverty to her parents. She’s the most likeable character throughout the entire movie due to her determination to become Queen. It’s interesting to watch, and she occasionally provides comic relief.

What makes this one different from the previous live-action Cinderella movies is that Ella has ambitions and dreams for herself. This isn't evident in any other “Cinderella” rendition, and this adds needed depth to her character. The Prince’s growth throughout the movie could’ve been more gradual instead of a sudden breakthrough at the end — he's still a flat character. Another difference is that Ella and Prince Robert do not get married at the end —  they stay together as a couple however. This is a more realistic aspect of the movie that should have been more explored.

This rendition of “Cinderella” had potential to portray an interesting storyline and allow for more character development, but the musical aspect is underwhelming. With a movie musical, the music numbers should propel the story, but in “Cinderella” the songs felt out of tune and fell flat.

Contact Georgia Orfanides at orfanigm@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.