Cinderella has arrived on Amazon Prime Video, courtesy of TikTok, in the form of a new, non-Disney musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale. This anachronistic retelling of the storey, on the other hand, has no concept of the audience to which it is speaking.
You’ve heard the storey: An obedient and beautiful young woman is bullied by her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters in a far-off kingdom, but she escapes thanks to a fairy godmother, a glass slipper, and a charming prince. But what if Cinderella’s evil stepmother (Idina Menzel from Frozen) was more like a Jane Austen mother, worried that marrying rich is the only way to happiness for a woman? What if the stepsisters are insecure rather than ugly? What if Cinderella’s salvation comes from her own creative desires rather than some aristocratic prince? On paper, this appears to be a good idea. Cinderella on Amazon is completely unwatchable in terms of execution.
Kay Cannon’s debut film Blockers, a raunchy but heartwarming storey about parents and teenagers, wowed critics and audiences alike. However, given that she also created the forgettable Netflix series Girlboss, it’s perhaps not surprising that her vision of female empowerment is already dated.
Ella, played by Camila Cabello, is a fashion designer with her own shop who dreams of leaving behind her basement apartment and demanding step-family. She creates fashion that is unattractive, full of frills, and lacking in sophistication. Even the big ballgown, which is supposed to be a style spectacle and is described in the film as “pure fantasy,” looks like a pricey prom gown at best. More troubling is Cannon’s substitution of the validation of catching a prince for the validation of commercial success. The focus on Ella’s dressmaking isn’t on the pride she takes in it, but on how she can profit from it. Because your passion means nothing if you can’t exploit it under capitalism. Remember that, kiddies! Learn nothing from the burnout of Millennial hustle culture!
But don’t worry, Ella still has a thing for the prince, despite the fact that he isn’t all that. Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is uninterested in politics, becoming king, or much else besides “gallivanting with his merry bros.” Until he sees Ella, that is. Then he transforms into a pick-me-up artist, dressing down to impress and purchasing a gown from Ella to entice her. Is he genuinely interested in her work, or is he just lusting after her? Who am I to say? He’s as undeveloped as he is attractive. He has no ambitions other than to marry Ella, which, by today’s standards, isn’t exactly a fairy-tale romance.
When she isn’t lurking around the castle, scrounging for a literal “seat at the table,” his sister Princess Gwen (a plucky Tallulah Greive) is constantly spouting progressive proposals (Sustainable energy! Welfare programs!). But that is all she does. She’s a one-note joke, but the fact that she’s supposed to be inspirational makes it even funnier.
Cannon’s script is full of feminist platitudes, including speeches about self-love, social justice, and standing up to men in positions of power. However, the plot undermines these platitudes. Cinderella’s ability to succeed as a dressmaker is due to her proximity to wealth. Even her “Fabulous Godmother” (Billy Porter), who declares, “Rich people… will change your life!” He also insists on her wearing uncomfortable high-heeled glass slippers, claiming that “women’s shoes are what they are.” Magic, too, has its bounds.” It’s funny because fighting or even disagreeing with painful gender norms is impossible!
The film also sends body-positivity messages to one of the self-doubting stepsisters, but the filmmakers specifically target the skinny one (Charlotte Spencer). Meanwhile, Cinderella makes regressive stereotypes about fat people. Maddie Baillio, the heavier-set stepsister, is clumsy and described as “obnoxious,” and when she’s hurt, she turns to food for comfort. One of Cinderella’s three mouse friends is played by James Corden (who also produced the film). His jokes, like those in Cats, revolve around his weight, his loudness, and his insatiable appetite for food.
Cinderella, a film from Amazon, also mines queer culture for the most mainstream elements to add a sheen of inclusion and glamour. While Ella sings, the mice make shady asides. A brigade of want tobe queens dripping in eleganza lip-syncs for their lives to win the favor of a judging royal, as seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Porter, of course, sashays in wearing a bright orange ensemble that would be perfect for his red-carpet highlights reel. The Fabulous Godmother, on the other hand, is nothing more than Ella’s Magical Sassy Black Friend, whose sole purpose is to give Ella life-changing advice while making her appear cool through proximity.
Furthermore, the musical numbers are woefully underwhelming. The choreography is uninspired, with nothing mesmerizing or memorable to offer. The pre-existing music selections are frequently unmotivated, with lyrics that have little to do with what’s onscreen. (“Seven Nation Army” sung by a grumpy prince at a ball is an especially odd choice.) The songs written for the film fare better, especially when they allow Menzel to show off her Broadway glitz. However, the cinematography is sloppy, with poor coverage and lighting that frequently cast shadows over the characters’ eyes. So in a big moment of romantic rapture, Ella and her prince are rendered as dully as the mice scampering underfoot. And frankly, Cabello and Galitzine could use all the help they can get. They’re pretty, but they’re achingly lacking in chemistry or charisma.
Simply put, this film is atrociously bad. It’s littered with half-baked ideas, drab fashion, and tired stereotypes. Cannon slaps in songs from Ed Sheeran, Madonna, and Janet Jackson, along with slangy bits like “chicks dig it,” “dude,” and “that’s how old people say ‘poppin'” in a clumsy attempt to make it feel modern. The narrative also lacks a sense of flow. Scenes slam into one another without grace, which stands out even more in a musical.
Maybe it’s so disjointed because the filmmakers believe Gen Z has so fully embraced TikTok that it doesn’t require flow. It’s easy to imagine a producer pitching this to Amazon with something along the lines of, “Kids today just want dance numbers, fashion, and social justice, delivered in bite-sized morsels!” However, TikTok users demonstrate more individuality in their dancing, more courage in their politics, and more fashion talent than this studio film can muster. It’s frankly infuriating that a princess film is so devoid of grandeur. Cannon has only given us a ghastly eyesore that is both dull and intellectually shallow.
Cinderella releases exclusively on Prime Video on September 3.