Judge Patrick Rogers is fueled by gumdrops and rainbows.
"Can the girl with a dream voice sing happily ever after?"
Maybe, if I were a girl between five and fourteen years old with aspirations to become the next big teen pop sensation, I would love this movie. I'd show it at my sleepover parties before we all painted each other's nails and made cupcakes in my Easy-Bake oven. I'd swoon over the blonde heartthrob on the cover while lamenting the current state of my lacking gel pen collection. But you know, I have a penis, I don't have any kids, and I'm old enough to do a tax return. The Y chromosome in my body makes it impossible for me to picture myself as a pre-teen girl as I watch the film. If I could, I'm sure the ludicrously clichéd and subpar nature of A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song wouldn't bother me.
But I can't, and it does.
I had a dark and twisted childhood filled with screenings of Time Bandits and Total Recall. Cinematic fare for children back in the late '80s and early '90s was either Shakespearean (The Lion King) or like watching the Muppets dipped in LSD (Labyrinth). For better or worse, we enter this new decade with a generation of kids who possess an ever-decreasing attention span and a penchant for reality television. Kid's films, then, start to become all about bombarding the viewer with visual stimuli and sight gags in order to appeal to that ever-increasing need for instant gratification. Is it a bad thing to be a film that appeals to the status quo? No, not really. The movie-making business is not always about art; there's some money to be made. And what better way to do that than with an incredibly low budget straight-to-dvd movie that's going to appeal to just about every American girl. But should you still be ashamed to have made something so cheap and single-minded as A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song?
So here we have another movie aimed at kids who I assume were weaned on Adderall and too many hugs and kisses from their helicopter parents. But it's a niche that needs to be filled, no matter how hard the cynic in you cries out. Little girls need their fairy tales and dreams of becoming a singing diva, as much as young boys need Schwarzenegger. So, to the task at hand.
As it can plainly be seen, A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song is a modern retelling of that one little fairy tale about a girl and a glass slipper. The film also has a dash of Singin' in the Rain thrown in, which is a welcome addition. Our modern princess (Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars) lives in a shabby little hut in the backyard of her volatile harpy of a stepmother's (Missi Pyle, Galaxy Quest) mansion, wherein lives her materialistic stepsister (Megan Park, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) with the shining blonde hair and the hooked nose. Our princess is highly intelligent yet abused, helpful and resourceful yet disenfranchised. Then comes along the chiseled blonde boy (Freddie Stroma, 18.104.22.168) with his refined British accent and impeccable taste. After a few mishaps and misunderstandings, we all know where this story goes.
But this time around, the painfully overdone premise is injected with a very liberal dose of American Idol to get those preteen adolescents salivating. Our princess is actually a talented singer longing for stardom, while the prince is a lead singer for some cult favorite indie band. If I'm picturing myself as a little girl (which I should for your sake), it's a fun little twist on things. I get to watch an upbeat take on a familiar story complete with singing, dancing, and a nauseating teen pop soundtrack. The sense of humor coursing through this film is simplistic and flat, but it's aimed at mainstream teen culture; so complexity isn't exactly needed. The performances are in a similarly mediocre vein, although Lucy Hale is surprisingly good as the film's Cinderella. She has a lot more personality and spunk than you'd expect from those assembly line teen starlets that Nickelodeon and Disney spit out each year. But she's not exactly reaching for depth here either. It's like getting thrown a 50 mph fastball right down the plate and knocking it out of the park; sure you hit a homerun, but I'm sure Helen Keller could have hit that one too.
In terms of the DVD package here, it's nothing fascinating but gets the job done. Sporting a 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the visuals are flashy and vibrant but lack clarity. The Dolby 5.1 surround audio track is incredibly tame in terms of the back channels, choosing instead to pump everything through the front. But the musical numbers do sound crystal clear, so it gets that part right. In terms of the special features, we have a host of promotional featurettes that will be appreciated by the girls who will own or rent this DVD:
• Spotlighting Lucy Hale: Our New Cinderella
Ultimately, A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song is the kind of film you'll probably see on ABC Family in no time at all, because it's right in their wheelhouse of dumb yet accessible comedy/melodrama for vapid tweens. So, if you have no desire to foster your kids' maturity and intellect through the cinematic medium, by all means plop them down in front of the TV so you can get more important things done. If you like your children and think they're even moderately intelligent, maybe you should show them A Little Princess or The Princess Bride instead.
Guilty for continuing the status quo.
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