In this version, written and directed by Kay Cannon of Pitch Perfect fame, Cinderella is introduced as Ella who gets cinder smudges on her face while catering to her stepsisters (they’re funny) and stepmom (played by a stern Idina Menzel). Stepmom coaches the girls—primarily her bio daughters, and to a lesser extent Ella—to find rich husbands since, as she explains to Ella in a mean tirade and to her daughters by singing Madonna’s 1984 hit “Material Girl,” it’s the only way women can have security since they can’t work. But Ella’s unmoved, because as she’s belted out in a showstoppery number at the outset, she’s shooting to be a million-to-one success story as a fashion designer.
Meanwhile, at the castle, the handsome-but-unserious prince, played by dreamboat Nicholas Galzatine, is refusing to marry a titled princess from a nearby kingdom because he’s not in love with her. The king (Pierce Brosnan) suggests he find a suitable bride at the ball, the queen (Minnie Driver) agrees and our prince unenthusiastically goes along with the plan, expressed through his winning rendition of “Somebody to Love.” (Parents in the audience will enjoy the nostalgic warm feels recalling Freddie Mercury’s 1981 rendition with Queen). However, Prince Ne’er Do Well perks up when he spies a peasant girl—our heroine Ella, natch—in a crowd, sassing the king during a royal address. When the prince disguises as a commoner and chats Ella up in the town square, he’s ensorcelled by her plucky personality, creative ambition and candid assessment of how the townspeople regard him as a bozo. He suggests she come to the ball to meet wealthy patrons to buy her dresses, but doesn’t reveal his true identity.
Later, when Ella is dressed for the ball, her stepmother throws ink on her, ruining her dress. Poor Ella’s told to forget her silly fashion designing ideas and going to balls in general because she’s been promised as a bride to a local well-off but creepy suitor. By the time Ella’s Fairy Godmother shows up (played by the fabulous Billy Porter in a dress that looks like exactly what the Broadway and TV star usually rocks on red carpets), we’re ready for our girl to enjoy a little magical good luck. But how is she going to be swept off her feet by the prince, and also become a ball gown designer for the rich and famous? You’ll have to stream the flick to find out.