Cinderella by way of TikTok has arrived, with a new, non-Disney musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale on Amazon Prime Video. But this anachronistic re-imagining of the story doesn’t remotely understand the audience it’s talking down to.
You know the story: Long ago in a far-off kingdom, an obedient and beautiful young woman is bullied by her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters, then escapes because of a fairy godmother, a glass slipper, and a charming prince. But what if Cinderella’s evil stepmother (Frozen’s Idina Menzel) were more of a Jane Austen mom, worried that marrying rich is the only path for a woman’s happiness? What if the stepsisters aren’t ugly, so much as insecure? What if Cinderella doesn’t seek salvation through some posh prince, but through her own creative desires? On paper, this sounds promising. In execution, Amazon’s Cinderella is absolutely unwatchable.
Writer-director Kay Cannon thrilled critics and audiences with her debut Blockers, which tells a raunchy but heartwarming story of parents and teens. However, she also created the forgettable Netflix series Girlboss, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that her idea of female empowerment already feels vintage.
Pop star Camila Cabello headlines as Ella, who dreams of leaving behind her basement apartment and demanding step-family to become a fashion designer with her own shop. The fashion she creates is ugly, full of frills and flourish with no sense of sophistication. Even the big ballgown that’s meant to be a moment of style spectacle — and is described in the film as “pure fantasy” — looks at best like a pricey prom dress. More troubling, however, is how Cannon trades in the validation of hooking a prince in favor of the validation of commercial success. The focus on Ella’s dressmaking isn’t on the pride it brings her, but on how she could make money at 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 fret not, Ella still hooks the prince, though he’s not all that. Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) has no interest in politics, becoming king, or much of anything beyond “gallivanting with his band of merry bros.” At least, until he sees Ella. Then he turns into pick-me boy, dressing down to impress and buying a gown from Ella to win her attention. Does he believe in her work, or is he just hot for her? Who’s to say? He’s as poorly developed as he is blandsome. He has no ambition beyond attaining Ella, which is not exactly a fairy-tale romance by today’s standards.
Lucky for the kingdom, his sister Princess Gwen (a plucky Tallulah Greive) is constantly spouting progressive proposals (Sustainable energy! Welfare programs!) when she isn’t lurking about the castle, scrounging for a literal “seat at the table.” However, that’s all she does. She’s a one-note joke, but it’s funnier that she’s meant to be inspiring.
Lip service about feminism abounds in Cannon’s script, with speeches about self-love, social justice, and standing up to men in power. But the narrative undercuts these platitudes. Cinderella’s success as a dressmaker comes because of her proximity to wealth. Even her “Fabulous Godmother” (Billy Porter) recognizes that, declaring, “Rich people… will change your life!” He also insists she wear uncomfortable high-heeled glass slippers, because “Women’s shoes are as they are. Even magic has its limits.” See, it’s funny, because it’s impossible to fight or even disagree with painful gender norms!
The film also hits one of the self-doubting stepsisters with body-positivity messages, but the filmmakers notably target the skinny one (Charlotte Spencer). Meanwhile, Cinderella mocks fat people with regressive stereotypes. The heavier-set stepsister (Maddie Baillio) is clumsy and described as “obnoxious,” and when she’s feeling hurt, she turns to food for comfort. James Corden (who also produced) co-stars as one of Cinderella’s three mouse friends. And as with Cats, his jokes center around his weight, his loudness, and his insatiable desire for food.
Amazon’s Cinderella also mines queer culture for the most mainstream bits, to bring in a sheen of inclusion and glamor. The mice make shady asides while Ella sings. Recalling RuPaul’s Drag Race, a brigade of wannabe queens dripping in eleganza lip-sync for their lives to win the favor of a judging royal. Then, of course, Porter sashays in with a bold orange outfit that would be well-suited to his red-carpet highlights reel. But the Fabulous Godmother is little more than the Magical Sassy Black Friend, whose sole purpose is to give Ella life-changing advice while making her come off as cool by proximity.
On top of all this, the musical numbers are woefully disappointing. The choreography is uninspired, offering nothing mesmerizing, much less memorable. The pre-existing songs that were chosen often feel unmotivated, with lyrics that have little to do with what’s onscreen. (“Seven Nation Army” sung by a sulking prince at a ball is a particularly bizarre choice.) The songs written for the movie fare better, especially when they give Menzel a chance to bring her Broadway dazzle to the fore. But the cinematography feels careless, with poor coverage and lighting that often leaves characters’ eyes in shadow. 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 movie is astoundingly bad. It’s full of halfhearted ideas, blah fashion, and stale stereotypes. In a clunky attempt to make it feel modern, 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.’” Plus, there’s no sense of flow to the narrative. Scenes collide from one into another without grace, which is all the more noticeable in a musical.
Perhaps it’s so disjointed because the filmmakers felt that Gen Z has embraced TikTok so fully that it doesn’t demand flow. It’s easy to picture a producer pitching this to Amazon with “Kids today just want dance numbers, fashion, and social justice, delivered in bite-sized morsels!” But TikTok users show more uniqueness in their dancing, more nerve in their politics, and more talent in their fashion than this studio movie can muster. It’s frankly galling that a princess movie is this utterly lacking in grandeur. All Cannon has delivered is a cringe-worthy eyesore that’s deadly dull and intellectually shallow.
Cinderella releases exclusively on Prime Video on September 3.