(KGET) — There have been numerous versions of the Cinderella story told through film, TV and stage productions. The variations have ranged from animation to showing racial diversity.
That’s why another project based on the tale of the glass shoe-wearing young woman doesn’t immediately induce waves of raptor. It’s more like here we go again as “Cinderella” opens in select theaters and through the streaming service of Amazon Prime Video starting Sept. 3.
That initial reaction didn’t factor in the clever and whimsical touches used to tell the story by director/writer Kay Cannon. The Emmy-nominated Cannon – best known for her work on the “Pitch Perfect” movies – adds some modern juice to the classic fairytale to create a version that stands out in a crowded field.
This musical adaptation has all of the familiar elements from the young heroine (Camila Cabello) being deeply mistreated by her wicked stepmother (Idina Menzel), mice turned into footmen, a handsome prince and those uncomfortable glass slippers. Cannon elevates each of those familiar facets to a fun level with music and humor.
The main change has to do with Cinderella. One of the most famous lines delivered by Ed Asner as Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was when he told Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) that she had spunk and he hated spunk. Grant would certainly hate this Cinderella as she is the spunkiest version to date.
Cuban-born singer Camila Cabello turns in a surprisingly strong performance as the title character. Unlike other versions, her Cinderella is less of a damsel in distress and more of a confident artist who wants to make a dress as a designer. She’s not dreaming of a handsome prince to marry but of a time when women can own their own businesses in the progress-stalled town.
There was never any doubt Cabello would be able to handle the musical aspects of the role, but it is the way she can play the spunky role and her good sense of comic timing that give her all the tools to make this production work.
Cannon doesn’t limit the transformation of this story to Cinderella. She gives the tale a fabulous kick with the casting of Billy Porter as Cinderella’s godmother. Porter’s time is limited but his arrival is like a meteor strike because it hits with such force.
Other changes include making Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) more like a modern day celebrity who is less driven by the need for power and more into expanding his life options. This ends up being a nice fit with the modern-thinking Cinderella.
Even the King and Queen are given royal makeovers. Pierce Brosnan’s King Rowan has a bit of Don Quixote in him as he battles the windmills of political and romantic change. Minnie Driver’s Queen Beatrice is a perfect match as she eventually finds the courage to express her own progressive views.
One of the biggest changes is creating a storyline where the evil stepmother comes across as slightly sympathetic. It’s not enough just to change the story but it does make the character richer. And, casting Menzel gives the movie one of the most powerful singing voices on the planet.
A major attraction of this “Cinderella” is the use of music. The majority of the musical numbers are contemporary pieces including “Rhythm Nation,” “Material Girl,” “Shining Star” and “Somebody to Love.” This is the best use of modern music in a classic setting since “A Knight’s Tale” two decades ago.
There is room to argue that another live-action version of “Cinderella” wasn’t necessary. That argument gets muted by the smart casting of a very likable Cabello in the lead role and the selection of performers like Porter and Menzel who illuminate every scene they are in.
Toss in a smart script that gives the tale a modern twist, a strong dose of comedy and plenty of places for some really strong music and there are bountiful reasons this “Cinderella” should have been made.
Even if you feel like you have seen all the “Cinderella” versions you would ever want to see, make sure you find it in a theater or on the streaming service. It’s proof that a familiar story can be retold countless times as long as the new edition is so fresh.
Cast: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter.
Director: Kay Cannon
Rated: PG for suggestive material, language