Myriad princess films have come and gone in the last few decades — some good, some terrible and a select few which are actually quite notable. The likes of Kevin Lima’s “Enchanted” or Disney’s instant classic “Moana” come to mind, both of which land under Disney’s wide-reaching umbrella in the fairytale genre. Their monopoly over the narrative has been strict and observable, though every blue moon there comes a film that tries to emulate the secret sauce that Disney has seemed to perfect so neatly, usually to no avail.
With “Cinderella,” however, writer-director Kay Cannon, alongside Amazon Studios, is giving Disney a run for its money.
The film follows its titular character Cinderella (Camila Cabello) as she tries to make the best out of living with her wicked stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel), and her stepsisters, Anastasia (Maddie Baillio) and Drizella (Charlotte Spencer). Meanwhile, in the royal palace, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) clashes with his father King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) over whom he is “supposed” to marry. Cinderella then unwittingly meets Prince Robert and affections quickly grow; with a little magical help from Fab G (Billy Porter), aka the fairy godmother, Cinderella attends the ball in opulence — with the story’s classic conflict ensuing.
After a meandering first act, “Cinderella” quickly picks up speed, lightheartedness and enjoyment with campy musical moments soundtracked by songs such as “Material Girl” by Madonna, which interjects an interesting modernism into the story’s 19th-century setting. Likewise, the film’s main cast fuels an energy and excitement that pulls in audience engagement. Porter and Menzel naturally steal every scene they’re given, but even newer stars such as Cabello, Baillio and Spencer underpin a charisma and chemistry that simply flows out from the big screen. This, alongside Cannon’s gifted eye and pen, rejuvenates and replenishes this otherwise overdone classic.
While Cannon’s retelling of this decades-old story may appear at first glance like just another rehashing of a children’s book fairytale, in reality the script for “Cinderella” is a sophisticated and thoughtful reimagining of what we teach our children about women and their position in the stories we tell. This is visible most of all in the comedy, which uplifts an otherwise quite melodramatic plot, and does so in a way that typically evades being preachy. Smart and quietly verbose, it defines the voice and tone that ultimately brings Cannon’s script to life, and engages the audience with its surprising intellect.
Through witty dialogue delivered by Tallulah Greive’s Princess Gwen and a plot that centers itself around identity rather than romance, “Cinderella” twists audiences’ expectations about what a princess film can be. In its narrative structure especially, the film adjusts the original story by relating more closely to its female characters, developing them as individuals led by personal motivations instead of narrative cogs in a male-centric plot. This restructuring not only defies classic genre standards, but also does so in a way that makes audiences question their compliance with the original, reflecting on what our culture taught young women and girls about independence and womanhood.
The film’s moments of comedy and musicality are similarly powerful in that they typically strike the right tone, though admittedly at times can drag on for longer than they can hold attention. Particular song sequences with Cabello linger longer than they should, using valuable runtime to showcase ad-libs and vocal runs rather than plot development. Similarly, some dialogue scenes tend to drag longer than permissible and effectively hinder built-up narrative momentum, creating some minor pacing issues. And at times, repetitive “empowerment dialogue” comes off cheap and bitter.
In its entirety, though, Cannon’s “Cinderella” is a subversion of everything its predecessors were and are — ultimately working to reshape the presence of the female character within the fairytale genre. Although cinematically “Cinderella” is nothing entirely new, this reimagining of a classic tale offers a brand-new image of the princess to young audiences, and a thoughtful reminder to older ones too.