One of the most popular fairy tales that pretty much everyone is familiar with, is the magical tale of Cinderella. A young girl who was tormented by her step-mother and step-sisters until she fell in love with a Prince and left her old life behind. Introduced to the world of fiction by the Brothers Grimm, the story has been adapted and modified and has been presented to us in many different ways.
So here’s me ranking some of the live-adaptations of different versions of Cinderella.
7. Another Cinderella Story (2008)
Mary Santiago is taken in by the self-absorbed, fading pop star Dominique after her mother, who was one of Dominique’s dancers, dies. Mary is nothing more than a slave for Dominique and her two daughters. She is an aspiring dancer, and dreams to study at the Manhattan Academy of Performing Arts. She is constantly bullied by Bree and Britt as well as their snobbish friend Natalia.
Joey Parker, teen sensation and pop star, returns to high school for his senior year. At a masquerade party, Joey dances with Mary and is incredibly impressed by her. Mary leaves in a hurry as she fears Dominique will find out that she sneaked out, and she leaves her Zune (music player) behind by accident. Joey tries to find his mystery girl with the help of the Zune. Mary wants to tell Joey the truth, but is blackmailed by Bree and Britt that they would reveal a rather embarrassing secret of hers if she spoke up.
Aside from the obvious criticism of the huge age gap between the main leads, the movie in itself is not majorly award worthy. The characters come across as rather flat and on occasion, as caricatures rather than characters themselves. Dominique and her daughters seem to shift between cunning and dense from time to time. Literally every girl in school is obsessed with Joey, giving this whole situation a Wattpad vibe. While Joey and Mary are great dance partners, they don’t get enough screen time together as just people.
The good part is that the audience doesn’t have to wait till the end for Joey to find his ‘Cinderella’, which is a tad bit more satisfying than holding your breath for the reveal till the ‘last act’. Also, for a movie based on dancing, the main leads, Selena Gomez and Drew Seeley can really move. The dance scenes are fun and entertaining. The movie does score some points in it’s humour as well. Overall, it is a fun watch if treated as a light-hearted, modern teen adaptation of the Cinderella fairytale.
Also, if Selena Gomez’s ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’ gets stuck in your head for days, you are not alone.
6. A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song (2011)
Katie Gibbs is a teenager who gets treated like a servant by her step-mother and even lives in a shed outside the house. She dreams of becoming a singer and sneaks her demo CD into the bag of a records company president, Guy Morgan. Her step-mother lies to Morgan, and claims that the demo actually belonged to her daughter, Beverly. She threatens to take away the money saved up for Katie’s future, and Katie is forced to lip sync for her step-sister. Amidst the chaos is Luke- Guy Morgan’s son. He falls in love with Katie’s voice and lyrics, and is led to believe that both the voice and words actually belong to Beverly.
The movie seems confused in terms of its romantic plot. While Luke is moved by Katie’s lyrics, which he initially thinks are Beverley’s, he is easily swayed and shows an equal amount of interest in both girls almost at the same time. The attempt at showing his dilemma, that he doesn’t want to follow in his dad’s footsteps could’ve been executed better.
Try not to cringe at the scene of the dance, which is supposed to be the defining moment in Cinderella’s story. While Katie and Luke connecting through a song whilst sitting by the fountain is sweet, the hybrid Indian plus Arabian outfits and stereotypical Indian dancing was unnecessary. The movie could’ve also done without the random Indian stereotyping sprinkled here and there.
It does score in some areas. While Katie’s crush on Luke is part of her troubles, she never loses sight of her future. It’s also rather nice that what Katie leaves behind is not a shoe or any other object, but rather the memory of her voice, with which the ‘Prince’ tries to find her. Additionally, the movie has some great songs, barring that one attempt at a hindi song, which is so bad it’s kinda good. Songs like ‘Run this town’, ‘Make you believe in me’, and ‘Bless Myself’ are incredibly catchy.
5. A Cinderella Story: If The Shoe Fits (2016)
Tessa dreams to be a performer but is stuck with her step-mother, Divine and her daughters, who treat her like a slave. She is a mechanic by profession and an expert at her job. Divine brings Tessa along as an assistant for a private audition for the play ‘Cinderella’. Divine hopes for one of her daughters to land the lead role, which will be opposite the famous popstar Reed West, and will help them get noticed by talent scouts. Tessa auditions while disguised, so that her family doesn’t recognize her. She also ends up spending time with Reed as herself when she is asked to fix a bike which serves as an important prop for the play.
Tessa’s step-family is not only cruel, but is terribly dense and outlandish. It is slightly improbable that her step-sisters rehearsed with her for hours, but couldn’t recognise her simply because of a wig, a fake British accent and a little make-up. Oh, and a mole on the cheek, because what’s a disguise without a mole?
It is impressive, however, that the entire movie is mostly focused on Tessa trying to achieve her dream. Even when she suffers from heartbreak, she is brave enough to act opposite the man who, according to her, caused it. Reed was impressed with Tessa’s alter-ego, Bella, when it came to her skills.
But he fell in love with Tessa for who she really was. He fell for the person instead of just the artist. Moreover, Tessa and Reed were given enough scenes for the audience to witness a connection between them, making the romance believable. The overlap and constant parallels between the play and the lives of Tessa and Reed, was a great way to structure the plot around the original fairytale.
4. Cinderella (2021)
Ella lives with her step-mother and step-sisters. She lives in the basement of her house and is treated poorly by her family. She dreams to design dresses for a living, and spends her time in the basement stitching dresses and designing them. Her dreams aren’t the most easy to accomplish, since women can’t own shops in the kingdom. Prince Robert is being compelled by his father to get married and step up to become king. Ella meets the Prince, who’s disguised as a commoner, and he promises to help her with her goal if she comes to the Royal ball. At the ball, Ella and the Prince start to fall in love and Ella is left with a choice- her dream or her love.
Essentially a musical, this movie is a perfect example of great ideas being poorly executed. The movie attempts to shed light on the plights, concerns and dreams of women. And for that it deserves praise. However, by adding in too many issues at once, the movie fails to portray even one in a proper manner. Instead of letting the plot slowly unveil the circumstances, everything is handed to the audience on a Royal platter.
The fact that the Queen has no say in anything, or that Princess Gwen wants to rule the kingdom, was all too on the nose with it’s portrayal. Subtlety means nothing in ‘Rhythm Nation’, evidently. The concept of the Princess inheriting the throne was a beautiful one, but in the end seemed to serve only as a solution to Prince Robert not wanting it. The humour felt forced on more than one occasion. The step-sisters added almost nothing to the story except that you couldn’t have a Cinderella movie without them.
It was a refreshing change however, to see the step-family didn’t outright hate on Ella. The step-mother had more substance, and was a defeated woman instead of a cruel one (which doesn’t really explain why she made Ella live in the basement). Prince Robert wasn’t the perfect, polished Prince. Sometimes coming across as idiosyncratic and silly, he was fun to watch and charming in a very real way.
The diversity in the cast and the inclusion of Fab G were welcome elements. For a musical, the movie made sure to have some powerful voices cast such as Camilla Cabello and Idina Menzel, even if some songs fall flat in terms of lyrics and composition. And, as mentioned, the intended message of the show- for women to follow their dreams and be their own person- is well appreciated.
3. A Cinderella Story (2004)
Sam Montgomery lives with her step-mother Fiona and step-sisters after her father dies in the Northridge earthquake when she was a child. Fiona takes over all the property and hires Sam in her father’s diner. Sam works and studies diligently and obeys Fiona’s orders in hopes of going to Princeton University. She strikes a friendship with a guy on a Princeton-based chatroom, and the two of them bond incredibly well.
Unbeknownst to her, her online friend ‘Nomad’ is actually Austin Ames- one of the most popular guys in school. When Sam finds out about Austin, she is hesitant to reveal her true identity as she fears he would not like the real her, since he’s one of the ‘cool’ kids. Meanwhile, Austin is conflicted as he and his father have very different ideas about his future.
The first of its kind and a cult classic, this modern adaption of Cinderella has both the charm and the tropes of a teen movie in the early 2000s.
Sam’s character is strong and enduring and knows when to put her foot down. She is also a dreamer, but doesn’t sit around to make those dreams come true. Instead, she works hard for them. While the most popular guy in school, Austin appears to be forcefully squeezed into a social system he wants nothing to do with. The compulsion and sometimes, suffocation that can be caused by a high school social hierarchy is portrayed effectively, if not subtly.
The metaphor of the drought to Sam’s problems in life leaves the audience wishing for it to rain. The school dance is one of the best moments of the entire movie. The supporting characters, such as the people working at the diner and Sam’s best friend Carter are also endearing in their own ‘early 2000s’ way.
Tropes like the popular girl trio, a tiny mask that conceals your entire identity, and cognitively slow step-sisters do exist in this movie, but they are not enough to ruin the complete viewing experience.
All in all, this movie spells out one word in all its glory: nostalgia.
2. Cinderella (2015)
Ella lives with her parents on a large farmhouse. Their lives are filled with happiness, till her mother passes away. Ella grows up with her father. After a few years, her father marries Lady Tremaine, who has two daughters of her own. While away on a business trip, Ella’s father passes away. Tremaine shows her true face as she shifts Ella to the attic and starts to treat her as a servant. Her daughters are just as miserable towards Ella.
Once, while Ella is out riding, she meets Kit, who doesn’t reveal to her that he is actually the Prince. They take a liking to each other in the little time that they get. Ella meets him again at the Royal Ball. But with both Tremaine and the Grand Duke scheming against their union for their own personal reasons, things get troublesome for Ella.
The movie was intended as a live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated movie Cinderella. Thankfully, it is not a frame-by-frame adaptation of the animated version. For one thing, it would look really odd watching live-action mice stitching up dresses and throwing cats off of windows. I mean, Lucifer was mischievous but he was just a cat. Cats are mischievous. They like to play. Throwing him out of the window was a bit excessive. Seriously, why?
But, I digress (Cat person problems).
The live-action adaptation brought a bit of depth to the characters as compared to the animation. Cinderella’s sweet and resilient nature, and her faith in what her mother taught her- ‘Have courage and be kind’, make her a likeable character. The Prince was given character and appeared more believable as a person rather than a prize at the Royal Ball. He comes across as smart and kind-hearted. He even has his own nickname, which frankly is a lot more appealing than ‘Charming’.
This Cinderella movie is not heavy on plot. But it doesn’t fall into the category of ‘simple is boring’. Rather, it’s simplicity lends it a kind of charm and beauty. The aesthetics of the film are lovely. The ball scene is adorable and mesmerising at the same time. Kit and Ella make you want to root for them over and over.
If you’re looking for a sweet, feel-good movie with not a lot of plot to keep up with, this is the one for you.
1. Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
Unlike most other movies on this list, Ever After: A Cinderella Story does not contain elements of magic and fantasy. Nor is it a modern adaptation of the fairytale. Instead, it comes under historical fiction and is set in Renaissance-era France.
In nineteenth century France, the Grand Dame meets with the Brothers Grimm and narrates the story of her great-great-grandmother, who she claims is the real-life Cinderella- glass slipper and all. She narrates the story of Danielle, who lived with her father on a farmhouse. Not long after her father remarries, he passes away. Whilst he is breathing his last, he showers affection on Danielle instead of his new wife, Baroness Rodmilla.
Ten years later we are introduced to an eighteen-year-old Danielle, who is being treated as one of the servants by her step-mother and step-sisters. Meanwhile, Prince Henry of France runs away from the castle and encounters Danielle, who initially mistakes him for a common thief. She runs into him again when she dresses up as a Comtesse to help one of the house servants.
Henry becomes fascinated by her, and the two meet a couple of times before falling in love. Standing in the way of their union is the Baroness and her plans to get her eldest daughter married to Henry, an ultimatum for Henry to find a bride in five days or to get married to the Princess of Spain, and- most important of all- Danielle’s lie about her identity.
The movie has some elements and references from actual history, such as the Brothers Grimm, some names of royalty and Leonardo Da Vinci- along with his paintings.
Ever After: A Cinderella Story makes for an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming viewing experience. The cinematography and aesthetic portrayal of fifteenth century France, with the dresses and costumes to add, seem to transport you to that time.
Both Danielle and Henry feel like real people instead of perfect characters walking out of a perfect fairytale. Danielle is not demure or anything that resembles a damsel. Instead, she is fierce and outspoken. She manages to rescue herself and the Prince on different occasions. She tolerates the Baroness’ abuse in hopes of being accepted as a daughter, showing a vulnerable side of her. She can sometimes get ahead of herself and act recklessly instead of bravely.
Henry is curious and sometimes a little slow. However, he accepts his mistakes, is quick to learn and is open to new experiences. He is also witty and rebellious. He too is not without flaws. He is quick to dismiss Danielle the minute he finds out she is a servant, is not instantly forgiving of her lies, and that makes him real. However, he realises where he has erred and apologises, and that makes him ‘charming’.
The chemistry and pacing of Danielle and Henry’s romance is perfect, as it never feels too fast or too slow. Library dates and sharing stories by the fire- they couldn’t have done it better. Additionally, the step-family is not over-the-top or plain evil for no reason at all. Rather, bitterness and ambition is what fuels their harsh treatment of Danielle. No scene or dialogue in this movie ever feels unnecessary.
If everything I’ve just mentioned doesn’t pique your interest, here’s a fun fact- Danielle’s ‘fairy godmother’ is Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
It can never be understood why Cinderella, out of all the fairy tales in the world, is the one with the most adaptations. It could be because a story about a girl escaping an oppressive household is satisfying. It could also be because a fairy godmother solving problems and giving out glass slippers for free is everyone’s fantasy. Or perhaps it’s the simple overall plot that allows for as many modifications as one desires.
One might think that if you’ve seen one Cinderella movie, you’ve seen them all. But if you check out some of them mentioned in this list, you’d be surprised.