Written by: Mira
Edited by: Martin
Visual by: Ethan
It has been 61 years since the release of Disney’s Cinderella, however, the story is thought to be over 2,000 years old. Throughout history, this Greek-originating fairytale has been adapted in different cultures, such as in China, Italy, and France, for storytelling and filmmaking. The most recent film adaptation is Cinderella (2021), starring world-renown singer-songwriter Camila Cabello as Ella. With such a long history behind the Cinderella story, how will this movie reflect its modern context while staying true to the essence of the fairytale?
Cinderella (2021) is a musical adaptation that aims to empower its audience through themes of self-discovery. Ella is an ambitious dressmaker who hopes to be a successful shop owner. She falls in love with Prince Robert, who, unlike Prince Charming, has a deeper backstory as he struggles with his princely duties. In place of the original Fairy Godmother is Fabulous Godmother, who encourages Ella to go to the ball against her stepmother’s wishes. Throughout the movie, music performances using famous songs including Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and originals such as Camila Cabello’s “Million to One” create excitement and convey the aspirations of characters.
The attempt to make the newest adaptation of Cinderella centering around empowerment is certainly a valiant one. Giving the classic Cinderella characters new backstories can inspire the audience and encourage them to follow their dreams. Unfortunately, multiple aspects of the movie are too underdeveloped to make this message effective and meaningful. The humor and musical performances overpower the narratives and themes rather than empowering characters.
However, this does not mean that the humor is not without merit. The line delivery between characters is filmed in such a way that all jokes seem natural. Specifically, Ella’s stepsisters, Malvolia and Narissa, are lighthearted and effortlessly humorous. Although the stepsisters are not evil like they are in the original fairytale, the humor in this case appropriately engages the audience’s attention.
Besides the humor though, the film’s lack of depth prevents any thorough development of characterization and storyline. Ella is a dress designer, but she is not depicted as knowledgeable or skillful since the dresses she designs are not appealing. Additionally, the stepmother’s characterization is inconsistent with her previous depictions of being evil: one moment she is throwing ink onto Ella’s dress, but the next moment she is telling Ella to follow her dreams.
The lack of original songs, in a musical adaptation, is also disappointing. Producers waste opportunities to communicate more profound themes when they haphazardly arrange a soundtrack consisting of songs by artists such as Madonna, Queen, and Jennifer Lopez for superficial use. The song choices are a scrambled effort to insert hit songs, even if they only vaguely relate to what the characters are experiencing in the moment. There is no direct tie to what is taking place, and the lack of meaningful lyrics is what makes the musical aspect of this film seem superficial. For example, Prince Robert sings “Somebody to Love” after he declares he wants to marry for love, not out of obligation. He sings this song only for the moment and does not try to connect to a deeper message. However, using an original song here would give Prince Robert more opportunities to tell his backstory regarding his struggles with royalty and how it impacts his views on love.
With all that being said, the biggest issue in this film is its failure to make its female characters empowering. For instance, Princess Gwen, Prince Robert’s sister, is passionate about being a good ruler, but the way she expresses her ideas makes her seem as if she is a joke. At certain points, Gwen blurts out her ideas and gets shut down, which ultimately undermines and depicts her passions as unmeaningful. In the end, Gwen becomes the future leader of the kingdom, because Prince Robert realizes it is not what he wants to do. Her parents appoint her to take charge not because of her intelligence or determination, but because no one else is available to do it.
In a similar manner, Ella wants to become an independent and successful designer; there is nothing wrong with giving her big dreams, but this adaptation adds nothing beyond Ella’s career goals and thus depicts her as cynical. Ella’s interactions are based solely on selling dresses, and the only non-business relationship she has with Prince Robert is cast aside because she believes it will put an end to her dress-making dreams. It is hard to imagine Ella forming closer relationships with others and discovering new passions if dressmaking is the only thing that drives her actions.
Overall, Cinderella 2021 is underwhelming. It is a good movie to watch for laughs, but the lack of depth behind characterization and the story as a whole leaves the movie devoid of any deeper meanings. The female ensemble, Ella’s stepsisters, and Idina Menzel as Ella’s stepmother are the only things that kept me watching the movie.
The attempt to modernize Cinderella is a valiant one, but in the case of Cinderella 2021, it falls short.
McKinney, Kelsey. “Disney Didn’t Invent Cinderella. Her Story Is at Least 2,000 Years Old.” Vox, 15 Mar. 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/3/15/8214405/cinderella-fairy-tale-history. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.