By David T. Valentin
The 2021 iteration of Cinderella, featuring singer Camila Cabello as the star of the movie, dropped just yesterday and it seems to be a modern iteration of a fairy tale we’ve all been waiting for. With stars like Idina Menzel as Lady Tremaine, Billie Porter, as Cinderella’s godmother, Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan as the queen and king of the land, there’s enough talent, singing and comedy to keep a wide range of audiences entertained throughout the movies two hour long run.
This adaptation of Cinderella sees singer Camila Cabello as Cinderella as a go-getting woman who wishes to one day make it into the big world as a seamstress with her own shop. As always, she lives under the roof of her oppressive and cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine, played by Idina Menzel, along with her more-goofy-than-cruel stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella played by Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer. Prince Robert, played by up and coming actor Nicholas Galitzine, is, like the traditional tales, looking to find himself a princess. Though, with the strained relationship that his parents have, caught in a marriage with no love, it seems Prince Robert is intent on finding a future bride whom he wishes to marry for love rather than royal power. The himbo-like Prince Robert spends most of his days gallivanting around with his three bros, whose relationship is a healthy and goofy take on “boys will be boys.”
When Prince Robert spots Cinderella sitting on the statue of his father for a better review of the royal decree of ball, Robert ventures into town and finds Ella trying to sell a gown. After their interaction in town, Prince Robert is intent on marrying Ella, and when they find each other at the ball, it seems true love is just around the corner. But Ella decides she cannot live in a stuffy traditional life as queen and decides to choose herself and her dreams as a seamstress. While many iterations of fairytales may show the prince becoming angry, Prince Robert accepts Ella’s decision. However, the clock strikes 12, and before the two can exchange a kiss goodbye, Ella must flee the scene but not before losing a glass slipper. And the rest you know, with some slight variations.
At first the movie didn’t really tickle my fancy. The choice of using modern pop songs with a somewhat medieval set felt a bit off putting. But as the movie rolled along, it felt less and less like a movie musical with top actors and more of a personal, local town theatre school play. I don’t mean that at all in a bad way. In fact, that feeling of a school play, rather than a big to-do musical movie, allowed the film to take itself less seriously and play around with the story in a way that was quirky and goofy but not awkward. I could definitely see this iteration of Cinderella becoming something local theatres might adapt for smaller productions. The intimate romantic, serious, or comedic moments would definitely be more suited to a smaller, closer audience, but that feeling was also not lost on the big screen. Even the feeling of the story not really being placed in any specific time in history allowed them to deviate from the standard, serious storytelling aspects of fairytale that might have critics questioning the films creative direction by declaring bits of deviation (specifically in tone) to be risky. The end-product is perhaps a subgenre of comedy, indie fairytale, if that’s an actual thing. The comedy never seemed to miss, while also not taking away from the more romantic and serious points of the film.
At first, I was a bit skeptical of Camila Cabello being cast as Cinderella, not really because of her acting but really because of her singing. As I admitted, the more pop, upbeat take of the fairytale was a bit jarring to me, and I wasn’t really expecting that (especially since I really didn’t know too much about the film, other than Billy Porter playing the fairy godmother, which was more than enough to convince me to see the film). Though, the film did demand me to reevaluate my biases and expectations of fairytales, which are traditionally very white and based in more European standards of art. Once I understood the spirit of the movie—an adaptation that poked fun at the fairytale musical genre while creating its own unique tale—I thought Cabello was a perfect fit for Cinderella.
Her petite yet demanding and confident portrayal of Cinderella gave us a refreshing take on a princess who often appears aloof or very dreamy. Cabello’s balance between making audiences feel bad for Cinderella’s position and Cinderella’s demanding personality of not only knowing she deserves better but that she will go out and chase a better life, keeps audiences on their toes making us wonder what our princess might do next to stir up the very traditional people and situations around her. She is a wildcard in a system built on traditions, but a statue of independency and ambition. And with the ending of her choosing herself and her dreams unapologetically rather than conforming to a system she rather not partake in for the sake of love, it gives audience members a hero we can really root for.
I couldn’t help but think throughout the film how different Cinderella’s personality was and obviously not at all in a bad way. But I couldn’t quite place what it was that made her feel so out of place in her own fairytale. And then halfway through the film, it dawned on me that while sure, they changed Cinderella’s personality completely from what we’re used to, I couldn’t help but feel as though she took a few lessons from a certain whimsical, bookworm beauty. That’s right, the film very much felt as though it took Belle out from her story The Beauty and the Beast and plopped her into the lead of Cinderella.
The take on masculinity and confrontation of toxic masculinity is a continuation of new stories refreshingly demonstrating that masculinity can be positive and that women absolutely do not need to put up with the bullshit of toxic masculinity. Prince Robert and his friend’s very himbo personalities made them feel charming and fun to watch. Much of Prince Robert’s charm, now that I think about it, did not necessarily come from his princely charm, but more so from his willingness to want to grow with Ella not as his lover but as his partner in life and as equals. As Ella chooses herself, her values and her dreams, she forces prince Robert to really reevaluate why he does the things he does. Eventually, because he loves Ella, he comes to a positive conclusion that he must also choose himself and his own dreams. In turn, with the couple both choosing their own dreams, values, and passions, they decide to choose each other not out of a necessity to get married but to help each other fulfill each other’s dreams. And in a way, they redeem the failing marriage of Prince Robert’s parents, who, through seeing their son happy with Ella, eventually rekindle their old love.
While the film had so many strengths, it did fumble in two areas. One was the relationship between Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother and Cinderella. In the original Disney tale, there’s not much reason for Lady Tremaine’s cruelty towards her stepmother, other than the fact that she seems to take out her anger of her husband’s death on his daughter. At the end of the day, Lady Tremaine is just cruel and it’s a bit hard to make such an iconic Disney villain sympathetic. That being said, they did try to humanize Lady Tremaine as a woman who dreamed like Cinderella does, but unlike Cinderella she chose to give into a patriarchal system rather than openly defy and try to change that system.
In this iteration of Lady Tremaine, she was a woman with a dream to become a great pianist. She even went so far as to attend a prestigious musical school for her talent, but in the end her husband before Cinderella’s father believed a mother had no place gallivanting around to fulfill her dreams when she had a house and two daughters to attend to. So, as Lady Tremaine says, her cruelty is not for no reason, but it is to discourage Cinderella from dreaming too big and failing. However, like most attempts to humanize Lady Tremaine, the sympathizing moment is more of a plot twist than it is a build up to the moment. All her cruel moments before her heart-to-heart with Cinderella in my opinion doesn’t really make up for her cruelty before. It wasn’t helped that Idina Menzel delivered her obviously cruel dialogue with a sense of softness and kindness to it that didn’t really put Lady Tremaine’s dialogue into reason. The attempt felt flat and it made Menzel’s performance seem weak, which is a shame because I think if they just went the villain route she could have performed that so much better.
And then there was the fumble of Prince Robert’s infinitely more qualified-to-rule sister, Gwen, who ends up inheriting the throne by the end of the film but was written more as an annoying #girlboss, progressive ruler who was used more for comedic relief than a dialogue on vastly more qualified women being upended and overlooked by men obsessed with power for powers sake. Which was a shame considering that it was hinted that her and Robert have a close relationship, a relationship that we never really get to see develop. I’m not exactly sure what they were trying to do with this character, and it didn’t seem like they could decide either. I guess that was my fault for expecting something more serious in a film that made it pretty clear it was poking fun at fairytale archetypes and tropes, but I can say the comedy they used Gwen for, like the rest of the comedy in the movie, never seemed to miss and it always kept me laughing.
I have to say, that although I went into the film completely blinded, I came out very much satisfied with almost all of the creative decisions the movie decided to take. It almost reminded me of a Scary Movie kind of situation. You know, a series of movies that pokes fun at its own genre, but I’d have to say that Cinderella (2021) did take it a step further in redefining the archetypes and tropes it made of fun. Rather than just being a comedy that offers no alternative to the absurd and hypocritical systems of power people take very seriously, Cinderella asks us to not only reevaluate said systems, but that we can have fun while doing so.