As a 15-year-old girl, you’d expect there to be nothing for me to gain by watching eight hours of the same preteen-aimed musical romance drama movie. And you’d be right because all I have now is bitterness.
The Cinderella Story Series is composed of five movies loosely related by the same title and attempts to modernize the classic story of Cinderella. In short, this just means none of the screenwriters have to try to come up with a new conflict while writing a basic “love at first sight” 90-minute songfest. The first movie came out in 2004 with the latest in October this year.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
Synopsis: Sam Montgomery (Hilary Duff) is a simple high school girl, unpopular and living as a servant to her step-family. However, things start to look up for her when the romantic boy (Chad Michael Murray) she’s been anonymously emailing back and forth wants to finally meet at her school’s masquerade-themed Halloween ball.
This movie is so obviously a product of its time that even its basic premise makes me laugh. Given the internet-paranoid time period this movie was made in, I almost expected this film to suddenly shift tones and make her “email boyfriend” actually a serial killer, but nothing as interesting as that would happen in this movie.
Instead, we have the obvious Cinderella themed conflict in that her step-family doesn’t want her to go to the ball and would rather force her to stay home to work at her late father’s diner. Through the combined forces of her “wacky” male best friend and her stereotyped to hell and back sassy and aggressive black friend, Sam can be convinced to go to the ball, realize her prince is some popular guy named Carter on the football team who already has a girlfriend, and perform her dramatic losing-her-slipper themed exit.
Except here, she actually loses her phone and surprises me into laughing for the first time during the movie, which the fart and fat jokes had sadly failed to do earlier
At this point, you would have thought you were blessed to be at least three-fourths of the way done with the movie, but all of these events happen at the 30 minutes mark, as it seemed that the writers were struggling to make the intended 90 minutes. This is essentially the point where they extend the drama of her “prince” trying to find her for as long as possible.
One of my biggest takeaways from this film was the strange but unsurprising way it decided to portray its romance.
Of course, you can’t expect to take much away from “love at first sight” plots, but this movie doesn’t even treat the premise as appealing. Sam’s father falls for her step-mother the exact same way in the opening scene and apparently couldn’t figure out she was a gold-digging nightmare whose sole personality trait was the fact that she had breast implants.
Sam got into her weird email relationship a month before she met Carter when he was still in a relationship. This was something that only ends when he breaks up with the other girl a few hours before the ball. I can’t say either of them are models of romance.
In the end, the male lead’s decision to get with Sam only makes sense because all other women in this film are portrayed as idiots, gold-diggers, clingy and insufferable, or self-absorbed.
If you really needed proof of the film pushing a “girls vs girls” mentality, look no further than the scene where the two main characters are playing 20 questions with each other and Carter asks: “Big Mac or rice cakes?” When given the obvious answer, it’s like no other girl could have said they liked hamburgers. In a later scene, Carter will literally describe her as “not like other girls, who are obsessed with beauty and appearance.”
Like sure, let’s begin teaching the preteen audience of girls that they should devalue each other, believe themselves superior on an arbitrary basis, or legitimately believe all other women are thoughtless as soon as possible.
In the end, this movie is essentially just outdated in its messages. If anything, despite how I wrote about this movie, I didn’t actually despise it as much in comparison to the others. Some short scenes were comedic, the supporting characters were somewhat endearing, and I applaud the writers for, for some reason, writing not one but two near-death scenes for the stepsisters. What a brave choice.
Another Cinderella Story (2008)
Synopsis: Mary Santiago (Selena Gomez) has to hide her talent and love for dance from her abusive step-family, yet finds she can’t anymore when Joey Parker (Drew Seeley), a famous pop star, sets up dance auditions for her highschool.
Selena, why must you trick me into, just for a second, believing that I am watching anything else. Anyone reading this should just watch Wizards of Waverly Place instead. Go see if you can find her cameo in Spy Kids 3D: Game Over. Maybe just get excited about the new Dolittle move she’s going to be in. Go think about something else.
This movie marks the precedent of two rules. One: every following movie must have a pop song to engage their audience every six minutes (I counted! There are 11-15 songs in each 90-minute movie!) and two: every movie must begin with a dream sequence in which the Cinderella character is singing a pop song with so much production value put into it that you’re basically just watching a music video, only for her to wake up to her step-family screaming at her. Weirdly specific.
Interestingly enough, they don’t make our Cinderella a wannabe singer right off the bat like the next three movies, but a dancer. Which led to way more visually appealing scenes for my monkey brain to focus on than the future option, which is singing autotune and pretending it looks natural.
She drops her “Zune” as the glass slipper by the way, and I absolutely had to look up what that was. These movies are dead-set on dating themselves.
Aside from the fact that Selena Gomez was the main character in this one, I can’t find anything to write about. It was incredibly unremarkable in a way that I found myself invested in the “black supporting characters” romantic side plot way more than I could focus on the main romance. This likely just makes it the ideal movie to distract your seven-year-olds with if you want something simple but engaging in a “there’s lights moving around on the screen” type of way.
The only thing I really liked about this one would be the scene where it’s just Mary sitting in her room eating sliced pickles out of the jar because she’s sad, and I think it’s the only realistic depiction of teenage girls in this series. That and the fact that the main characters purposely broke the step-mother’s legs at the end of the movie. Metal.
A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011)
Synopsis: Katie Gibbs (Lucy Hale) connects with the son of a famous music director, Luke Morgan, (Freddie Stroma) through their love of singing. However, after getting caught by her abusive step-family, she is forced to help her step-sister lie and fake her singing ability so that she can get Luke to fall in love with her step-sister instead.
Honestly, I was surprised that one of these movies actually decided to try, and out of all of them, it was the third one.
The summary doesn’t really sell it, but that’s because all the good parts of the movie are not focused around the romantic plot (and we’re going to sidestep the fact that the “prince” this time just so happened to be British instead of American just as 1-Direction was getting popular.)
There’s also a different family dynamic: a step-mother, one step-sister, a step-brother, and their hired help, an Indian guy whose purpose in the family is to be stereotypically Indian and spiritual. Don’t think about that last part too hard though, because he actually turns out not to be a racist stereotype in the end.
Here’s what I actually like about this: they (attempt to) give the step-siblings character development!
Well, really only for the step-brother, as the step-sister apparently has to remain morally ambiguous for when at the end of the movie she is publicly ridiculed for the mistakes she’s made (as in, for being manipulated by her mother.) We’re clearly not supposed to actually feel conflicted or bad for her.
As described, this story follows the Cinderella, Katie, as a singer who can’t show her talents so that her comically untalented and narcissistic step-sister can attempt to have the spotlight. The fact of the step-sister being untalented is hammered home constantly by the step-mother, as she is an awful person who, contrary to the other films, tears down her own daughter to make her do what she wants.
This actually cements her as a real narcissistic parent villain. Much more of the financial manipulation and the emotional abuse happens to Katie of course, but it was surprising to see her written like this, in a fashion where maybe they’re trying to make the conflict three dimensional.
Since it’s literally a preteen film, she’s still a goofy character with cartoonish self-centered monologues and PG-friendly insults, but she also says the line “You know nothing can kill me” when she’s introduced, so the producers really toe the line here on making an actually threatening character.
The development of the brother Victor really only goes from “rat child” to “slightly enjoyable rat child,” but as I was impressed by the decent parts of these movies, in the end, I could not care less.
The introduction to this barely preteen kid is through his hidden camera system through which he stalks everyone in the house. He then proceeds to steal Katie’s clothes and force her to run outside naked until she bumps into Luke. However, he later realizes he’s been neglected all his life and joins forces with Katie to foil his mother’s plot to mold her daughter into a pop star. And also the Indian guy joins them too. And ends up tasering the step-mother off of a ledge at the end. 10/10.
A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (2016)
Synopsis: As Tessa (Sofia Carson) is brought with her step-family to a VІP musical audition for the play “Cinderella” as a servant, she longs to show off her talent for song and dance. When the famous actor/singer Reed West (Thomas Law) turns out to be the male lead, her competition for getting into the play becomes harder than expected.
My sanity crumbles. The writers have abandoned their souls. The plot is so meta that they literally spell out for you which character is supposed to be which role. There’s a dead dog gag. Poop jokes are available at every turn. At one point every single background character just starts dancing in the cafeteria so that the main characters can go have a Highschool Musical-esque dance sequence/montage for four minutes that in no way contributed to furthering the plot, but I was still forced to sit through anyway. They didn’t even try to give the female lead a full name.
The last note I have in my notebook for this one is “I have third-degree, second-hand embarrassment,” and I think that’s all I need to write to get my point across. But I have to walk through it anyway.
If anyone was wondering about the “dead dog gag” by the way, I mean they use a dog prop throughout the movie, and the joke is that the step-mother neglected it until it died. It looks fine in the movie because it’s a fake dog, but I liked to imagine every time it shows up that they’re playing with an actual dog corpse just to keep my mind entertained.
They essentially reverted back to everything that I hated in the first movie (cheesy conflict, one-dimensional villains that never have their motives explained, kindergarten-level comedy, girls vs girls mentality) combined with song and dance every five minutes.
The conflict is slightly different, as Tessa has to hide from her step-family that she has auditioned for the musical. This is done through her “disguise” as a done-up blonde British girl as opposed to the dark-haired jean hat-wearing motorcycle enthusiast not-like-other girls American she truly is.
I realize that a lot of the points of this movie were frankensteined from other 2010 pop sensations as we have:
- Hannah Montana alternative persona/the following “being in two places at once” hijinxs
- The aforementioned Highschool Musical dance interlude
- The near replica Pitch Perfect audition scene
- Another British male lead to satiate that One Direction thirst
A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits also follows one of my least favorite tropes in kid shows: secondhand embarrassment. The last scene, where Tessa is trapped in her room so that her step-sisters can perform her part as Cinderella in the play, is literally about ten minutes of step-sisters screeching at each other, the step-mother awkwardly hitting on Reed, and Tessa struggling to get through a vent while all of this is happening in front of the audience watching the play. This was possibly the longest scene I’ve ever had to watch in a movie.
When she finally falls out of the vent, reveals herself as actually American, and professes her love for her prince, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.
A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (2019)
Synopsis: Kat Emerson (Laura Marano) is working through the holiday season as an elf at “Santaland” where she can best show her vocal talent to an audience of children lined up to see Santa. While her step-family constantly abuses her emotionally and financially, she finds solace in the new guy to the job, Dominic Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), a Santa actor.
This Christmas movie was released in October of this year. I don’t know how else to explain how unwatchable this is.
Holiday settings are a very cheap way to make a relevant movie (not that they didn’t fail on that front. Why did they release it so early?) The way they try to incorporate this aspect in their movie is as uninspired as a Hallmark film. Now I will give them this: they didn’t set the movie during Christmas and abandon it there. They made extra sure that every part of this movie is relevant to Christmas. Essentially, every character just cares a whole lot more for Christmas than any real human being does.
Here’s a brief timeline: Cinderella has her weird pop song opening scene, but now with Christmas lyrics and without even the minimal effort previous movies put into their opening scenes. She snaps back into reality. She has to carry her step-family’s things, falls, spills Starbucks on herself, and gets posted on the internet by her step-sister so she can have the conflict of being bullied and called “Starbucks girl” because they can’t use any stronger or realistic language.
At this point in time, I just want to advocate for an R-rated Cinderella Story so that the writers can truly shine and actually illustrate high school bullying. And also be able to make the Cinderella go Carrie on her step-family.
There’s a scene where her step-family is actively breaking the only things that she has of her father and at this point I was thinking, “Just lose it!” Unfortunately, this is still a PG romance. I’ll have to live with her getting revenge by getting the guy and humiliating her family in front of one person.
Maybe it’s just the fact that I had just powered through the last three movies in succession before this one, but the last 30 minutes of this movie made me want to put my ability to see or hear anything out of commission. However, I would love to see other people attempt to get through this movie’s discount 2000’s Disney movie production and autotune for the 90 minutes of its runtime while actively focusing on its every detail to take notes.
Sadly, I was not able to get through the last 10 minutes of this movie. I was weak. I had lost all my brain cells, only for them to be replaced by a headache during Kat’s autotuned finale.