Sometimes I like to watch dumb movies on Amazon Prime while I’m sewing, knitting, or folding laundry. For a while, every time I started browsing for mindless entertainment, I’d be greeted with ads for their original movie, Cinderella, described as “a modern movie musical with a bold take on the classic fairytale.” Hoo boy.
I held off on watching it for a while, because I knew it was going to be a train wreck. But I’m kind of a sucker for Cinderella retellings, and when I finally decided to see what the fuss was about, I was shocked to learn I’d misjudged it. For you see, Amazon’s Cinderella is not a train wreck.
It is a dumpster fire.
The utter crapitude of this movie is truly mind-boggling. It’s morally, logically, and artistically abominable. The fact that it currently has a 3-star rating on amazon is an insult to all the wholesome, honest 3-star products on these here interwebs. I’m not even going to put a spoiler warning on this review, because that’s kind of the point. I want to excoriate this piece of dreck so thoroughly that no one will ever watch it again. And I’ll do it without even touching on the drag queen fairy godmother. Y’all probably know how I feel about it, anyway, so we’ll leave that can of worms (caterpillars?) closed.
We’re essentially hammered over the head with the movie’s message during its sarcastic rendition of the standard “Once upon a time” opening. The aforementioned magical individual informs us that the story takes place in a land of tradition, where people have been doing things the same way for generations. Okay. We get it. Traditions bad! Progress good! What follows is two hours of being punched in the face with these themes over and over and over.
The traditions in question, of course, are gender roles—albeit gender roles taken to an absurd extreme never seen in the history of humanity. Evil stepmother Idina Menzel is at odds with Ella, of course, but because she’s jealous of her ambition—she wants to be a clothing designer instead of getting married, which is the whole purpose of women in such regressive cultures as these. Stepmother Elsa refers to Ella’s desire to engage in the business world as “blasphemy.”
Do these people think anyone really feels this way about women? Even in scary traditional cultures, women have always contributed to their families economically—helping manage family businesses, pulling their weight on the farm, and yes, taking on the essential task of keeping house and raising children (it counts, yo). Even the scary, regressive Bible encourages this in Proverbs 31:24.
24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
That sounds like exactly what Ella’s trying to do, and it’s somehow illegal in this kingdom, where female servants in the palace literally wear Handmaid’s Tale uniforms. Because this kind of dystopian culture has only ever existed in these people’s twisted fantasies.
The stepmother’s coming from a place of love, though. Oh yes. Her emotionally scarring backstory is that her husband left her for wanting to pursue the piano. Learning to play an an instrument is universally accepted to be a beautiful, perfectly feminine pursuit. Furthermore, you’d think music would be a valuable skill for even a woman to have in a kingdom known only as the “rhythm nation,” in which most of the backup band members to the town crier/rapper are women. Not to mention prominent orchestra members at the ball.
Not content to punch the viewer in the face repeatedly with one message, the movie adds a bratty teenage princess whose sole purpose is to lurk wherever the other royals are discussing grownup stuff, pop out, and say “Is now a good time to discuss [insert environmentalist/anti-capitalist/ talking point here]?” It wasn’t funny the first time, and it got less funny with each subsequent incident.
Ella herself is insufferable. Portrayed by Camila Cabello, she is the least sympathetic and charismatic individual in this movie—including the mice-turned-footmen, who have an entire scene where one of them figures out how to relieve himself in human form. Every word that comes out of Ella’s mouth is sarcastic and occasionally crass. She’s slovenly by choice, and her stepfamily is—not unreasonably—always getting after her about her ratty hair, dirty face, and general lack of interest in basic hygiene. She makes her stepsisters look sweet and charming by comparison. We’re supposed to boo and hiss when Stepmother Elsa tells her, “Smile. Girls are worth more when they smile,” but I found myself wishing she would crack something other than a superior smirk once in a while.
Ella’s stepsisters are described as “obnoxious” and “self-absorbed,” but these are better descriptors for Ella herself. Instead of losing her glass slipper in her flight from the castle, she takes it off and viciously lobs it at the butler’s head. This is not the Cinderella we know and love. The beloved fairy tale is about a kind young woman, beautiful inside and out, who endures degradation and disappointment without losing faith that it will all work out somehow. This bratty girl is nothing like her, and I just can’t bring myself to root for her.
In my opinion, the worst moment of the movie occurred close to the end. Once Prince Nobody rejects the throne and promises to trail after her as she pursues her passion around the world, she’s asked to describe their relationship, and answers, “We don’t have to put a label on it. Maybe just…in love?” Because even after the prince dedicates himself to helping her achieve her dreams, the tradition of committing to a romantic relationship is too regressive for this #girlboss. The explicit theme of this story is, “I choose me,” and she’s not going to let love, commitment, or any of the things that make life really worthwhile slow her down.
This movie bills itself as a musical, but the several moments of original composition hardly qualify as music at all. Mostly they just clumsily shoehorned bad pop songs wherever they kinda sorta fit. You can tell they’re going for “Woke Ella Enchanted” here, even cramming in Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” although from the preceding scene, Prince So-and-so doesn’t seem particularly interested in a relationship—just avoiding the ones his father is trying to arrange. The strongest connection I felt to a character in this movie was when the stepsisters exchanged awkward, embarrassed looks when their mother started singing, “Material Girl.”
The writing was also irredeemably terrible. We’re talking two hours of absolute gems like these, spoken with straight faces:
“I know you’re angry with me for yelling at you. I hate to break it to you, but kings yell.”-King Patriarchy
“Excuse me, your highness.”-Queen Anti-Patriarchy
“‘Your highness’ was the man whose blood I spilt to take this crown.”
“So this is the…fountain.”-Jane Austen, probably
“Do you have a…fountain where you live?”
“I don’t. I just have…streaming water, sometimes.”
“You guys are boys? I always assumed you were girls…because veryone knows mice are girls and rats are boys.”-Ella, an intellectual
And then there was this sea monster schtick. Early in the movie, Prince Whatsisname is listening to an unfortunate young woman detail her plans for an arranged marriage in a scene badly ripped off from Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law—lacking all of the writing skill, of course. The woman—it’s insulting to compare her to Steris; I apologize—holds up a map, showing that if they marry, their lands will be united, extending their influence all the way to a sea monster in the corner. I thought it was kind of a funny line at first: ha, ha, medieval fantasy map with a sea monster. But they just keep using the same joke over and over and over. They refer repeatedly to “the domain of the sea monster,” suggest that the prince marry the sea monster instead of the non-Steris Steris character, etc. The debacle culminates in the king declaring, “I want the sea monster!” and later singing to his wife (whom he has offended), “You are more important than any sea monster to me!” For the love—find another (intentional) joke. You can do it.
I count the two hours I spent watching this movie as net wasted—which is surprising, because I spent those hours making my daughter this dress:
This pretty well illustrates what’s wrong with Cinderella, actually. If you allow yourself to get distracted by the ideologies the movie is trying to promote, you’ll miss out on the most beautiful, magical parts of your life. Ella might go on to be a famous, successful fashion designer, but I’m betting she’ll never know the joy of sewing imperfect dresses for her own little girl, while she climbs up on her lap and grabs the thread off the sewing machine. And for the first time since watching that movie, I’m starting to feel sorry for her.
I’d give this movie one star—zero, if I could. Amazon, next time you decide to make an adaptation, you might want to consider preserving some of what makes the original good (please remember this as you work on the Lord of the Rings series you’re currently butchering).