Producers: James Corden, Jonathan Kadin, Shannon McIntosh and Leo Pearlman Director: Kay Cannon Screenplay: Kay Cannon Cast: Camila Cabello, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Nicholas Galitzine, Doc Brown, Tallulah Greive, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, James Acaster, James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan, Luke Latchman, Fra Fee and Mary Higgins Distributor: Amazon Studios
Few fables have proven as durable as “Cinderella”—its origin goes back at least to Greco-Roman times, and it has gone through innumerable permutations over the centuries, the most famous being Charles Perrault’s seventeenth-century French telling, though the Brothers Grimm also included it among their tales. It even survived being revamped as a vehicle for Jerry Lewis, probably the oddest of its many cinematic adaptations. So it will undoubtedly outlast this latest misfire from writer-director Kay Cannon; with apologies to the Disney animated version of 1950, it might be described as Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bad.
While keeping the story in what appears to be a vaguely medieval realm, though Paul Kirby’s production design and Ellen Mirojnick’s costumes are inconsistent at best (and gaudily unpleasant at worst), Cannon has turned it into a message picture about female empowerment and—in general terms—a musical, though not one in the mold of the cherished Rodgers and Hammerstein version, or of the Andrew Lloyd Webber one that’s just opened in London.
No, this is a jukebox musical in the vein of “Mama Mia!” The opening ensemble is an athletic romp to Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” only the first of many bewildering selections that include “Material Girl,” “What A Man” and “Perfect.” There are some newly-composed numbers in the mix, too, most in the bland “Frozen” mode and none terribly memorable, and a few better left unmentioned. (In one of the unhappy bits that Doc Brown rattles off as the town crier, for example, the poor fellow is stuck with a lyric that rhymes “Barry” with “dysentery.”)
The Cinderella is Camila Cabello, a chirpy young thing oppressed by her stepmother (Idina Menzel) and stepsisters Anastasia (Maddie Baillio) and Drizella (Charlotte Spencer). This Cinderella doesn’t pine for a prince, though—she wants to become a fashion designer and own her own dress-making business. In fact, when she first meets Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), who happens to be in disguise at the time, she derides his male chauvinist attitude.
Naturally he’s smitten with her from first sight, though his stern father King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) insists that he shape up and agree to marry an heiress with a big dowry, preferably in land. (Rowan, of course, treats his wife Beatrice, played by Minnie Driver, with condescension, and dismisses the progressive ideas of his daughter Gwen, played by Tallulah Greive, as so much nonsense.)
It’s to force Robert to choose a wife that Rowan hosts the famous ball, and Cinderella wants to attend more to make prospective business contacts than to snare a man. But dolled up by her gender-neutral fairy god-person Fab G (Billy Porter, in ultra-flamboyant mode) and accompanied by the familiar mice-turned-footmen (James Acaster, James Corden and Romesh Ranganathan), she gets to the ball and steals Robert’s heart. The traditional glass slipper stuff follows, but with a feminist slant, and by the end Cinderella finds that she can “have it all,” while the other female characters—Gwen, Beatrice, even Vivian—explain how they’ve all been mistreated by the patriarchy and the era of male dominion is rectified.
Throughout Cabello exhibits such spunk that it grows irritating over time. (The picture is arriving the same week that Ed Asner died, and we are being treated to his immortal lines for the first episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”—“You’ve got spunk! I hate spunk!”) Still, Cabello has energy to burn, and she sings well. So does Menzel, though the switch that asks us to feel sorry for her because she wasn’t able to fulfill her musical dream falls flat, especially after she’s battered a Schubert impromptu into submission on the piano.
As to the others, Galitzine is attractive but bland (a gender reversal of sorts), Porter does his oh-so-extravagant shtick, and Brosnan’s big laugh comes when—after mercifully avoiding singing for much of the movie—he makes us remember his cringe-inducing work in “Mamma Mia!” by croaking out a please-forgive-me love song to his wife Driver, who’s pretty much wasted. The only other person of note is Corden, whose taste in choice of musicals—first “Cats,” then “The Prom,” and now this—seems faulty at best.
Add cinematography by Henry Braham that’s on the level of one of those musicals made for the Disney cable channel, and editing by Stacey Schroeder that makes mincemeat of most of the musical numbers, and you have a “Cinderella” that deserves a place in the cinematic scullery. Happily there are scores of alternatives available, almost all of them preferable.