Rated PG, 113 minutes
The bold new musical version of "Cinderella" opens with Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation." Yes, you read that right. No doubt taking cues from such modern musicals as "Moulin Rouge," it's a delightful, joyous romp mixing contemporary sounds with a classic tale of love. While not flawless, more than works than doesn't and is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
Our heroine Cinderella (pop singer Camila Cabello, serviceable in her feature film debut) is an ambitious young woman, whose dreams are bigger than the world will allow, especially living under the auspices of a cruel stepmother (Tony-winner Idina Menzel, sublime as usual) and stepsisters (scene-stealers Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) However, with the help of her Fab G (Emmy-winner Billy Porter, memorably over-the-top in a very small part), she is able to persevere and try to win the love of her prince, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine).
The engaging "Cinderella" is a vastly entertaining, energetic musical surprise, and could've ended up badly in the wrong hands ("Rock of Ages" anyone?), but quite the opposite, with "Pitch Perfect's" Kay Cannon as writer and director, who turns the classic Cinderella fairy-tale on its head, filling it with silliness and lots of familiar, catchy pop tunes that somehow work. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack is the most memorable aspect, and who knew that Madonna's "Material Girl" would be a showstopper, boldly performed by Menzel.
It also helps having "Pose's" Billy Porter as the genderless fairy godparent, Fab G, who literally struts in with "Shining Star" and nearly steals the film in one extended scene ("even magic has its limitations" he says when asked why it isn't easier to walk in those famous glass slippers). It's inspired casting for sure, but then most of the cast is, with Baillio and Spencer as good daughter/sidekicks to Menzel, as well as an unrecognizable Missy Elliot as the rapping Town Crier. Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan are the King and Queen, who give a fun nod to Brosnan's bad singing voice from "Mamma Mia!"
As good as this iteration of "Cinderella" is, Cannon's tone is an overly busy one, rarely stopping to take a breath, but it occasionally gets a good pause from either Driver or Menzel. Cabello and British actor Galitzine are good, yet slightly bland as the leads, though everything and everyone around them is far from dull. All of the musical numbers are colorfully staged, however a couple of them, including Salt-N-Pepa's "Whatta Man," come across as a little awkward.
Still, there's more to enjoy here than not, with the impressive sets and lovely costumes also beaming. The charming "Cinderella" is a winner and a must-see for Menzel and Porter fans, who'll you remember the most. In theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime, it may be worthwhile to pick up the soundtrack too. Will leave you with a big smile.