Cinderella (2021) Review
I am posting this review on the 1 year anniversary of Amazon's jukebox musical Cinderella (2021) starring Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minie Driver, Tallulah Greive, and Nicholas Galitzine. On IMDB, the movie has an average rating of 4.2, and I would agree.
While the movie is filled with pretty people and pretty costumes, the plot doesn't make a lot of sense and the music is off-putting. It's sad, as I think there are a lot of good elements in this movie, it just doesn't live up to it's full potential.
Ella's parents are dead so she lives with her stepmother and 2 step-sisters. They treat her like a servant, she must fetch tea, and she lives in the basement near the fire. While she's nicknamed Cinderella because of being covered in cinders, she's never dirty. She always looks immaculate and the makeup from being a servant to after the Godmother's magic does not change at all. Characters will comment on how dirty Cinderella appears, but she always looks like a model.
Camila singing off-key in "Am I wrong" became a meme. It's a bad result for Camila's first movie to involve bad signing when she's famous for singing. Worse, I don't know if she was committed to the role. Maybe the decision to keep Cinderella perfect looking was the director's choice, but it gives the appearance a diva unwilling to lessen the makeup for a role. Additionally, it undercuts the Fabolous Godmother's transformation as her hair stays the same. Mariah Carey has talked about the difficulty to de-glamorize for acting, so maybe there's a Precious in Camila's future.
The movie starts with a voice-over from the Fabulous Godmother who uses standard "chosen one" language instead of the "once upon a time." Call me traditionalist, but I could do without the "she changes the world" and would rather just have "she finds happiness."
The opening number is an attempt at the townspeople song of Beauty and the Beast. Belle expresses frustration with lack of adventure and romance while the townspeople criticize her for being different, "Rhythm Nation" by Janet Jackson helps express the frustration of the townspeople and the evil stepmother "are we looking for a better way of life" but "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree does not adquately express Cinderella's feelings of frustration. "You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold" does not fit with the Cinderella who is forced into servitude and abused by family. She's signing about having courage to do something great, but is making tea for her evil stepmother. "You Gotta Be" should have been saved for when's she's trying to escape or build a new life.
If I could replace that song, I would suggest a rhythm and blues rendition of "Trapped" by 2Pac changing the lyrics slightly to "You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion / Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion / Over the years I've done a lot of growin' up / Workin' hard, cleanin' up / I think I've had enough / There must be another route / a way out." This introduces Cinderella's frustration at living with her stepmother. This satisfies Cinderella's opener. And as good as "You Gotta Be" is as a song, it doesn't set the stage for Cinderella's growth. We meet her already as wannabe #girlboss, so the ending when she meets her goals with courage isn't as impactful.
The movie makes some music diegetic and some non-diegetic in a bad attempt at comedy. In the "Rhythm Nation / You Gotta Be" opener the mice explain they cannot be heard by Cinderella. We did not need that. Even a small child can understand movies where the animals are the only ones who can hear each other. It's patronizing and unfunny. It also breaks the beat.
Why is this movie offensive in 2021? Before we move to the next musical number, we meet the creepy man who stares at Cinderella and her step-sisters. Before we learn he's creepy, Cinderella makes an ableist comment ("Do you really need that cane?"). This movie came out in 2021 and should have known better than to have a joke about mobility aides.
The Evil Stepmother makes all of her children (but mostly Ella) do chores so they can marry rich because she thinks it's the only way to be happy. So, they should have had Sir Thomas be interested in the stepsister whose actually into him, but the stepmother say he's too poor, go after Ella. This would also help explain the sister's resentment to Ella. Later in the film, the stepmother contracts an enagement between Ella and Sir Thomas - but no explanation is offered why Sir Thomas isn't good enough for the stepsisters. This scene was wasted for an ableist joke.
This scene is then followed up with one of the mice making a comment about Ella's body. Commenting on someone's gait isn't funny. In the same minute about a mobility aid joke, it's panifully offensive.
The next song is the the main "I Want" song, as is standard for musicals. Cinderella's "Million to One" does not have any musical cues connecting it to the movie. It's out of place against the hip hop mashups that include harpsichord touches to add a medieval element. The song is not memorable as it's a direct rip-off of The Greatest Showman song "A Million Dreams" which is still played on the radio to this day.
The mashup below puts the instrumental "A Million Dreams" over the vocals of "Million To One" and is indistinguishable from the real version of "Million To One." I don't understand how Amazon didn't get sued over this plagiarism.
"Million To One" is in conflict with Cinderella's previous declarations of being bold under "You Gotta Be" as suddenly she's singing about fear and daydreaming. It's a mediocre song, The Greatest Showman did it better and first.
For many songs in this movie, including "Million To One" and the subsequent first town crier song ("The New Barry") there is no integration. The song just starts. I'm not a fan of this and like musicals to have greater integration.
Movie can't decide if the world is a dystopia. So far we've had touches that the Evil Stepmother wants her girls to marry rich and she feels sad about being a widow. However, we have not reached the part of the story where women can't have power or businesses. Instead, we're introduced to a charming princess who is confident and does have power. Even makes a sex joke! It's weird that the Queen, Princess, and other woman lack power sometimes, but other times do have power.
Did we need a rap song to tell us about the changing of the guard ceremony? No. This should have been cut. It's like the mice explaining who can hear them - we don't need this is the same movie there are erection jokes.
Finally! 15 minutes into the movie and we get the problem - the Stepmother says woman can't engage in business. That it's "blasphemous" "insane" and "nonsense."
The royal family is great. Pierce Brosnan (King), Minie Driver (Queen), Nicholas Galitzine (Prince) and Tallulah Greive (Princess) are all amazing. It makes me sad the movie doesn't hold up, as I love almost every scene with the royals.
Prince Charming's "I Want" song. This is actually integrated! "Somebody to Love" is funny (the Prince signs about hard he's working while surrounded by servants), the staging is dynamic (from inner palace, to changing of the guards with dancing guards), and moves the plot forward. The Prince must find a wife he loves to please his father. Ella Enchanted already did a musical sequence with this song so they had a high bar to meet for Cinderella adaptions and they met it.
The Cringe Comedy is the Worst. The above song ends when Ella climbs up onto an honored statute for the changing of guards ceremony. It's painfully cringe and I did not find it funny in any way. Camila Cabello's Cinderella is dumb (she doesn't realize there are male mice and female rats among other idiotic lines) so her standing on a statue fits her character. I just really find that style of drawn-out cringe comedy painful.
The Prince is now into Ella because "she talked back to my father and now I'm in love"! That is not the sign of a healthy relationship however it is accurate. Guys with daddy issues tend to gravitate towards women who affirm their beliefs (see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, where she affirms his belief that Prince Charles has been an asshole). I appreciate that the Prince has the discussion with his best friend. This movie does have some good parts!
The Prince agrees to a marriage ball in return if commoners are invited to stick it to his Dad. He then goes on a hunt for Ella.
Next song is "Material Girl" with the Evil Stepmother and her daughters, who want to marry for love. It's nice, and one of the more popular songs to stream on Spotify as Idina Menzel is good.
Back to "is this a dystopia," all the shops in the market are owned by men. Ella tries to cold sell to an aristocrat who believes she stole the item. Ella then tries to sell it by yelling at everyone. The Prince in "disguise" (he's wearing a headband) recognizes Ella and purchases it after telling her "women can't sell goods and women can't own shops." WHAT IS THIS DYSTOPIA. I don't think I've ever read a novel where women were banned from a capitalist society. In history women have been prevented from having a business outside the home and from getting business loans, but a flat out ban on selling a homemade good is ludicrous. The economy would collapse if women stopped working.
We then get the town crier annoucing the ball with the lyrics of "You goa prince to impress, yes / It's gonna be magic, yo, uh / So it'd be tragic, y'all, uh / If you were a sad chick, yo, uh." Absolutely unnecessary. Prince invites her to the ball with the promise of introducing her to future clients. She takes the money he paid for her dress, and goes home to start designing.
The meme. The worst song of the movie is "Am I Wrong" where Camila Cabello is off-key / off-tone.
This song does fit, where the Stepmother is doubting whether marrying for money is wrong, Cinderella is doubting whether making clothes for the ball is a good idea, and the Prince is doubting his position. It's just off-key.
Cinderella makes her dream dress but then the Stepmother says she can't go because she's already been promised to Sir Thomas. This doesn't make any sense as we never get an explanation for why Sir Thomas isn't good enough for her daughters or why it wouldn't be in the Stepmother's best interest to have all 3 daughters at the ball as 3 is better odds than 2 for snagging the crown.
What would have made more sense, would be if "Am I wrong" by Nico & Vinz mashed up with "Gotta be you" be Des'ree led into Cinderella taking that empty shop space illegally and selling all of her dresses but then getting raided by the guards. The Prince and Princess look on in horror, Cinderella looses all of her dresses, and the Stepmother decides that Cinderella is too much of a problem and she needs to marry her off quick. Insert the song "Dream Girl" by Idina Menzel and Laura Veltz here.
Then, we get a duet between Cinderella and the Princess to Beyonce's "If I were a Boy" that's short and sweet with a reprise of "Gotta by You" when Cinderella escapes her imprisonment. and the Stepmother and Stepsisters leave for the ball. I also think Beyonce's song fits Camila Cabello's singing style better.
So now the Stepfamily is at the ball and Cinderellas has returned home for her portfolio. She then reprised "million to one" and talks to the butterfly she saved. *poof* Fabulous Godmother scene.
In real-life, the stepmother rips up the dress, but Cinderella could have saved it. Even worse - Cinderella doesn't take her portfolio to the ball. It's aggravating to see #girlboss fail upward.
Best Song Sequence of the Movie:
The best sequence of the movie, "Whatta Man / Seven Nation Army" works within the plot. All the different women at the ball are talking about what a wonderful guy the Prince is while he sings with his male courtiers how he wants to fight them off. It's a great mashup, great visual, and make sense with the characters signing the song.
Girl Boss Sucks At Girl Bossing. First, the Prince is the one who gives Ella the idea to sell her designs at the Ball, she doesn't think of it on her own. Then she forgets her portfolio and can't give a solid pitch. It's all super dumb. She also never brings up the "hey we should change the law preventing women owning businesses." Not very female-empowerment to have other people do all the work.
Poor Transition. "Perfect" by Ed Sheeran is moving, but, they don't know how to transition out of it so they walk around the garden while the mice make dick and hand jokes. Then they go into a room where the Prince plays piano for no real reason. Camila Cabello making fun of the piano move was one of the few times she made me laugh. They should have transitioned straight from the ball to the piano room. I guess they felt they paid for James Corden, so they needed mice dick jokes. Overall this was good, but needed less James Corden.
The stepmother fines the show and gets mad. I don't really think this is a good plot point, all she cares about is money and Ella marrying the Prince is good for her. If I could rewrite this, she leaves with the other aristocrat who hired her as a dressmaker.
This is where "Dream Girl" by Idina Menzel and Laura Veltz is in the movie, about killing your dreams. It's a moving son from Menzel but I don't think it makes sense. She should want Cinderella to get married, not follow her dreams.
In the movie, the Prince goes after Ella and they leave for the aristocrat who Ella intends to work for. The King goes after the Queen to woe her back in love because he's been ignoring her. Ella gets the job, the next heir is the Princess, and the Prince and Ella join the aristocrat on a grand adventure. Close out with some J-Lo and everyone lives happily ever after.
However, the dystopia is still a dystopia. I would have preferred if the Prince said the King must give his seat at the table to his sister and approve her plan (which involves repealing the anti-women business law) while he and Ella go off on adventure of sailing around while she's a personal dressmaker. We don't actually get closure for the dystopian economic hellscape, but presumably, Prince Charming's younger sister fixes it but the lack of closure is sadly realistic to modern girlboss - not everyone who breaks the glass ceiling offers a helping hand to others.
Too Long Didn't Read:
Not all of the music fits the plot and many songs aren't integrated together, leaving a disjointed musical with the central song a rip-off of The Greatest Showman. The comedy is very cringe and makes Cinderella out to be a dumb girlboss. Idina Menzel lends great humanity to the Evil Stepmother and everyone in the cast is great, but the pacing and script leaves this with large plot holes. Ella Enchanted, Ever After, Rodger & Hammerstein's Cinderella and Disney's animated Cinderella are all better. 4 out of 10 stars.