Kay Cannon Reinvents ‘Cinderella’ as a Cheesy Jukebox Musical with a Questionable Performance from its Leading Lady

A still from Cinderella (2021). Cinderella (Camilla Cabello) is shown sat on the edge of her bed, on top of a patchwork quilt. The room is quite bare aside from a desk and shelf. She wears a linen dress and beige corset with a brown braid belt, her long brown hair in a side plait.
Kerry Brown © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC

When writer-director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect and Blockers) was approached by James Corden and his producing partner Leo Pearlman about adapting Cinderella, she wanted to tone down the cattiness of the female characters and modernise the message of women being fulfilled without finding their prince. The final product is a likeable jukebox musical with performances you’d expect from a junior theatre company. It’s hardly a bold feminist retelling of the worn-out fable.

The film starts with Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, introducing the audience to the townsfolk of this fairy tale world. Rapper/actor Ben Bailey Smith (also known by his stage name Doc Brown) plays the town crier in a performance that looks more like a hostage situation. He loosely narrates the plot of the musical in a series of bizarre nursery rhyme raps.

We then meet Cinderella (singer Camila Cabello in her acting debut), the poor stepdaughter of Vivienne (Idina Menzel) and stepsister to Anastasia (Maddie Baillio) and Druzella (Charlotte Spencer). She slaves away in the basement, dreaming of a career as a fashion designer, whilst her family live in luxury upstairs. After a chance meeting with the prince (Nicolas Galitzine), she falls for him. His parents (Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan, having an excellently camp time) are bored of his wild ways, they need to train him to be a new king.

Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but her stepmother won’t let her. The 2021 retelling doesn’t bother to reinvent the classic story much. When the dress she designs gets ruined by Vivienne, she is left in despair. Here is when Fab G (Billy Porter) appears to save the day. Porter, usually a delight to watch, is cringeworthy as the 21st century fairy godmother. Cabello and Porter, together, have zero chemistry. The scene where Cinderella and her mice friends get transformed into coachmen has the stilted awkwardness of a RuPaul’s Drag Race acting challenge.

Her mice/coachmen are played by James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan and James Acaster. Corden acts exactly how you imagine the TV host/actor is going to act. Although his over the top performance is part of the joke, audience members tired of his schtick will find their senses assaulted by Corden’s bumptiousness.

A still from 'Cinderella' (2021). Cinderella (Camilla Cabello) is shown standing with Fab G (Billy Porter), her fairy godmother. Fab G is wearing a beautiful orange silk gown with a grand rolled diamante collar, holding a wand in his hand. Cinderella pales in comparison with her outfit's plainness.
Kerry Brown © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC

Fans of British comedy and panel shows will find the appearance of Ranganathan and Acaster jolting, alongside a minor appearance by Rob Beckett as a countryman Vivienne is trying to marry Cinderella off to. At times, their performances feel like a comedy challenge for a TV show and less like a serious acting role. Although they all work well with the family-friendly comedy of mice turning into men, they feel out of place in such an unabashedly cheesy musical.

The feminist twist is as thin as Pierce Brosnan’s vocal range. Cinderella uses the ball as a networking event for her career in fashion, promising to dress a visiting queen but still dumps it all to dance with a cute boy. Despite its intentions, Cinderella goes exactly in the direction you think it’s going to. Cannon’s liberating ending doesn’t quite land, her meek feminist telling almost less-empowering than the original story.

The songs often dive into cringe-worthy, delivered with an earnestness usually reserved for glee clubs and high school talent shows. Camila Cabello and Nicolas Galitzine take their performance far too serious whilst Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan embrace the campiness of this retelling. Much like Pitch Perfect, the mashups are a highlight, especially the ‘Whatta Man’/’Seven Nation Army’ combination, which includes a smartly choreographed scene of women lining up to date the prince. More of these grand dance numbers that come across as a little more professional and polished could have helped Cinderella find its footings better.

Cinderella isn’t much concerned with being cool and edgy. The smattering of original songs are very classically theatrical, with ‘Million to One’ being the obvious standout. Belted out by Cabello, this uplifting pop ballad has the potential to be the new ‘This is Me’ (from The Greatest Showman). The covers and mashups are unashamedly corny, with many popular songs from Gabrielle, Ed Sheeran, and Jennifer Lopez getting seemingly shoe-horned into the plot.

Despite its many flaws, Cinderella is an entirely enjoyable family jukebox musical that takes a classic fairy tale and shoves a load of uplifting pop songs about following your dreams into the plot. Despite some patchy performances, it delivers on cheap laughs and bright musical set-pieces.

Cinderella will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime from September 3rd

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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