Spoiler alert: If you think you know Cinderella, you don’t know this “Cinderella.” This story details specific changes made to the classic tale, including the ending, so if you’d rather not know before you watch it’s best to stop reading now and check out this interview with director Kay Cannon instead.
The latest “Cinderella” movie, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is not your mother’s fairytale. “This iconic story is told over and over again because it’s always for the new generation,” said its writer-director Kay Cannon. “I was excited to make a modern retelling for this new generation that’s significantly different from what I grew up with and what my mother grew up with.”
Although the pop-driven musical has taken its shots from a number of critics, Cannon stands behind the various changes she’s made, giving Ella some career ambition, closing a few logistical loopholes and tweaking the ending of the story: “If I were a kid now, I’d be happy to see this version of ‘Cinderella’ because I do think a lot of people will see themselves in her that maybe couldn’t before.”
Here are seven changes this “Cinderella” made to the well-known fairytale:
Ella’s designer dreams
In this “Cinderella,” Ella wants to make dresses and sell them as a means of supporting herself. This allows the character, usually a damsel-in-distress, her own ambition and agency. “Giving Cinderella some drive is just so that she can want more out of her life, and be able to actively go after it,” said Cannon.
It also solves the key problem of the basement: It’s no longer a place of punishment but a cultivated workspace. “She wasn’t put there by her stepmother; she put herself down there to work hard and make her own dreams come true,” explained Cannon.
That meet-cute moment
Rather than randomly catching each other’s eye in a town square, Ella and Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) don’t meet until after he notices her at the changing of the guard. It’s hard not to: Ella makes a scene when she climbs on a statue to get a better view of the event. “In that instant, he sees that she’s different from the rest of the people there,” said Cannon.
Intrigued, Robert — a reluctant royal who doesn’t really want to become king — lightly disguises himself and seeks her out in the village, where Ella is trying to sell a gown — a far-fetched ambition for a kingdom where women don’t own businesses. “Us ladies give birth, we run households — surely we can run a business?” she tells him. He ends up being her first customer.
Kay Cannon, writer of the “Pitch Perfect” movies, gives “Cinderella” a makeover in Amazon’s pop musical starring Camila Cabello.
A Fabulous Godmother
Ella wants to go to the ball not to romance a royal but to potentially sell another dress — a goal thwarted by her stepmother (Idina Menzel). She gets there with the help of a fairy godmother character: the nonbinary Fabulous “Fab G” Godmother, played by Billy Porter. The figure doesn’t appear out of nowhere, but from a caterpillar-turned-butterfly Ella rescued from a spider at the beginning of the movie. “You saved me, so now I’m here to save you,” Fab G tells Ella. “Do you want to go to the ball and meet a bunch of rich people who will change your life?”
Fab G magically outfits Ella in a dress based on one of her most ornate sketches, but otherwise, she pretty much looks the same. “She’s in this beautiful gown, but her hair is only slightly different and the makeup is only a little bit more,” said Cannon. “It’s not like she’s changing herself so much to please anybody else.”
Those glass slippers
Of course, Fab G also gifts Ella with a pair of glass slippers, but in this version she can only walk in them with the help of magic. That’s because of Christian Louboutin, who famously said, “I don’t want to create painful shoes, but it is not my job to create something comfortable. I try to make high heels as comfortable as they can be, but my priority is design, beauty and sexiness. I’m not against them, but comfort is not my focus.”
“That always stuck with me,” said Cannon of the quote. Writing the script, “it was like, let’s just call it out. Glass shoes would be uncomfortable, like you wouldn’t be able to move in them!” And when the magic wears off at midnight, Ella yells out, “Dress your feet for comfort!” and throws one shoe at a royal employee who is chasing her.
The royal ball
Ella attends the ball unnoticed by her stepmother and stepsisters thanks to Fab G, who also cast a spell so that no one would recognize her except for the prince. She’s immediately complimented by a visiting queen, who requests to see more of her work the following day.
It’s the opportunity she’s been waiting for, so after she falls in love with Prince Robert on the dance floor and he asks her to be his wife, she turns him down. “I don’t want a life stuck waiting from a royal box any more than a life confined to a basement,” she tells him. “I have dreams that I have to chase. So if it’s a choice, I choose me.”
“When you think about it, he’s going through the same thing she is, but in a very privileged way: They’re both in these boxes and they both want to escape them,” said Cannon. “That’s how they forge such a connection with each other so quickly. So he doesn’t really fault her for turning him down.”
Pop music’s Camila Cabello plays the princess-to-be ‘Cinderella’ in a pop musical based on the classic fairy tale. With Idina Menzel and Billy Porter.
Her stepmother’s backstory
The next morning, Ella is visited in the basement by her stepmother, Vivian, (Idina Menzel), who shares that she used to play piano and spent a month at a noted conservatory. “When I returned, my husband, he believed real wives didn’t act so frivolously,” Vivian says with tears in her eyes. “You may think me cruel, but the real cruelty would be for me to allow you to think you can be something you can’t.” Vivian then spots the leftover glass slipper and tries to convince Ella to marry Prince Robert after all, as a means of solving their financial problems.
Cannon added this Vivian backstory because “I didn’t want there to be any ‘evil’ in the movie at all. Vivian had these dreams, and her husband divorced her simply because she was trying to follow them. And then she remarries but he dies and she’s back to square one with an additional daughter.
“She had been taught to believe that marrying is the only way that you can improve your lot in life,” Cannon continued. “If you understand that about her, you see she’s not jealous of Ella or spiteful. Her advice is coming from a very emotional and tragic place, really.”
Vivian laments her lack of options in the original song “Dream Girl,” an angst-ridden track co-written by Menzel that acts as anthem for the women of the kingdom. “If you take it out of the movie, it’s a universal cry for all the struggle of not being recognized and appreciated for who you are, and the pain of someone telling you that your dreams don’t matter,” said Menzel of the song.
Prince Robert and Ella are then reunited and, after Ella gets hired by the visiting queen, Robert tells his parents — as played by Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver, they’re dealing with their own marital woes — that he and Ella are putting off marriage for travel. And that he’s renouncing his spot in the order of succession.
The king finally pivots his attention to Gwen, Robert’s younger sister who has been popping up in scenes with novel leadership ideas, and names her first in line to the throne. “That was an original character that I desperately wanted to have,” said Cannon of the princess, who was written with a young Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren in mind, “someone who has a lot of ideas and should be the leader but no one wants to listen to them.”
In the end, “Ella was the catalyst for all of this change and learning in everybody else around her,” Cannon explained. “Typically, in stories led by young women, they’re the one that does all the learning. But in this movie, Ella knows what she wants from the get-go. That’s also true of Gwen, and the ‘happily ever after’ part of it is that they both get what they’ve always wanted.”