If it feels like there haven’t been quite enough happily-ever-afters in your life lately, “Cinderella” has a whole mess of them.
Spoiler alert, maybe, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that grime-smudged Ella cleans up her act and meets a prince in Kay Cannon’s modern take on the fairy tale. What’s new is how Cannon, who wrote the equally fast-and-funny “Pitch Perfect” as well as episodes of “30 Rock,” lays out blissful futures for everyone in what’s easily the happy-endingest movie of the year.
You know the drill. Ella (Cuban American singer Camila Cabello, giving her sweetness an edge) must sweep up after her sisters. And her mother Vivian, played by Idina Menzel in this rewritten tale, won’t let her go to the ball. Her fairy godmother, redubbed Fab G and played by Billy Porter (always best in small doses, he’s used judiciously here) still shows up to transform mice into footmen who take a disguised Ella to the ball, where she meets said prince.
What’s different is that Cannon cares about why these people would behave so despicably. Rather than attributing the infighting to vague one-up-womanship, Cannon puts a feminist twist on her “Cinderella.”
Tormented Vivian’s behavior, in particular, calls to mind that Madeleine Albright quote about there being “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Meanwhile, Beatrice, the mother of Prince Charming — er, Robert — chafes at being royal arm candy, much like current ex-members of the British monarchy, pointing the way to more fulfilling possibilities for Ella and other women (as Beatrice, Minnie Driver is the sharpest talent in the movie).
Even Ella’s gift for clothing design feels fresh because of its acknowledgment that women have not always been in charge of their own fashion destinies: Those glass slippers, for instance? Impossible to walk in. And corsets? No, thanks.
A fairy tale can get snoozy as it chugs toward the climax we always knew was coming but Cannon’s storytelling instincts keep this “Cinderella” lively. Almost like one of those elaborate falling-domino videos, it’s thrilling to watch story lines coalesce in the movie’s final minutes, when it’s as if she’s a behind-the-scenes Oprah, giddily declaring, “You get a happy ending and you get a happy ending and you get a happy ending ...”
The only thing gumming up the works is the music. Instead of “In My Own Little Corner” or the rest of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic score, Cannon’s version repurposes pop songs originated by En Vogue, White Stripes and Earth, Wind & Fire. They’re fine but they don’t add much and one recurring choice — “Rhythm Nation,” complete with a version of the militaristic choreography from Janet Jackson’s original video — feels out of place in this buoyant context.
Most of the songs, though, suit the empowering message of this “Cinderella.” As does this detail: “Cinder” is a nickname given to her by her sisters. Her first name ain’t “Cinder.” It’s “Ella.” Ms. Ella, if you’re nasty.