WE’VE just seen a live version of “Cinderella” in 2015 with Lily James in the title role, Richard Madden as the Prince, Cate Blanchette as the stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother.
Now, comes a new musical version from Amazon Studios with X Factor discovery Camilla Cabello as Cinderella, Nicholas Galitzine as the Prince, Idina Menzel as the stepmother and Billy Porter (Pray Tell of “Pose”) as the cross-dressing fairy godmother.
Is there really a need for a new retelling of the well loved centuries-old fairy tale? The songs here are not even all original, but a combination of cover versions of pop hits like Madonna’s “Material Gil” and Jennifer Lopez’ “Let’s Get Loud”, with some new compositions like “Million to One” by Cabello and “Dream Girl” by Menzel (although they’re nothing like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from the Disney animated version.)
This musical take is written and directed by Kay Cannon, who did the hit “Pitch Perfect” franchise, so those who loved that musical series will surely also appreciate this version. Cannon made her “Cinderella” a bit more contemporary. Critics in the U.S. tore it to pieces but we honestly found it quite watchable.
As like other movies these days, the cast is multi-racial, with whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians performing various roles. The performances and the singing can be infectious, intended for sing-along for those who know the cover versions.
As usual, Ella (Cabello) here is maltreated by her stepmom, Vivian (Menzel), and her stepsisters, Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) and Narisa (Charlotte Spencer.) Unlike previous versions, though, Ella here has an ambition: to be a fashion designer and gown maker with her own shop. She lives in the basement of their house and has three rats for friends.
The prince here is named Robert (Galitzine) and is a problem of his parents, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) and Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver), who want him to get married with someone that will expand the territory of their kingdom.
But of course, Robert prefers to only marry for love. Also, he has a sister here, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive), who has progressive ideas and sincerely wants to be of service to their country and help improve the lives of their poor people.
To help Robert find the girl he wants to marry, his father hosts a grand ball where all the women in the kingdom would be invited. In a public affair, Robert sees Ella when she climbs a statue and he then disguises himself as a commoner to look for her in the marketplace.
He sees her selling a gown she herself made and he buys it, also inviting her to attend the grand ball so she can meet the rich ladies there who might be interested in her creations. She makes herself a very nice gown but Vivian stains it with ink, telling Ella that only her own daughters can attend the ball.
Ella is depressed but a caterpillar that she has nurtured turns into a beautiful butterfly then transforms into her Fabulous Godmother or Fab G (Billy Porter), who’s garbed flamboyantly in gold.
He conjures a ravishing gown for her, complete with glass slippers and also transforms her three rat friends into footmen. So Ella gets to attend the ball where she meets a queen who offers to hire her to make all her gowns.
It’s apparent that this Cinderella wants an empowered heroine who has her own career, so when Robert offers to marry her, it’s not that easy for her to accept him as she wants to pursue her own feminist aspirations. She doesn’t want to be just dependent on being the wife of a prince. So how can they live happily ever after?
That becomes problematic, but don’t worry, this is still basically a fairy tale so all the kinks will be resolved amicably with the help of some splashy and colorful production numbers. Even characters who we think are useless, like Princess Gwen who’s been generally treated as a running gag, will prove to come in handy in solving all the problems in the story.
The performances are uniformly fine, with Cabello an endearing and captivating Ella bringing gravitas and confidence in her first movie. Galitzine, a British actor who has done many films and gets his biggest break here, is dashing as Robert. Both he and Cabello are gifted with great vocal pipes.
Idina Menzel (best known for “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” and “Let It Go” from “Frozen”) also does well as Vivian. The film also deserves praise for its lively jukebox musical treatments of past hits, like “Rhythm Nation” and “You Gotta Be” in the well choreographed opening number, and Galitzine’s rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” with a choir.