Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale stars as Katie in A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, an attempt to modernize the Cinderella story for a tween audience. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about whether or not this direct-to-DVD film is for you. I’m not a teenage girl, so I can’t personally identify with Katie’s world, but I’ll try to be objective.
In this musical twist on the classic story, Katie is the Cinderella of the story. She has an amazing voice, but her wicked stepmother (Missi Pyle) makes her record tracks that her stepsister will lip-sync too. The cute new boy in school, Luke, has a father that happens to be a music producer, and I think you can figure out where everything goes from there. Obviously, he ends up falling for the wrong girl, and if Katie goes through with letting her stepsister take credit for her talents, then she could lose Luke forever!
Of course, I can’t really fault the film for it’s lack of originality because that lack of creativity is kind of the point. This is an adaption of a pre-existing story, after all. I’ve just always felt that if a filmmaker was going to adapt something, there should be a purpose. It should enhance the story, or at least let the alternate perspective provide a different insight into what’s already known. In this case, it’s almost like a paint-by-numbers picture, where they just drop story elements in piece by piece, matching what has come before, but in the context of their world.
Regardless, the filmmakers know their audience. There’s lots of pop music, eye candy for the highschool crowd, slapstick comedy (including a wacky scene where Katie gets locked out of the house naked), and some interesting dance numbers. They even throw in a decent Bollywood routine at one point. Basically, this feels like a film version of any popular Disney Channel program. That is, there’s lots of overacting and faux sincerity. But it knows what it is.
Solidifying this are the DVD extras, all of which play straight to the high school crowd. These include a feature called “Spotlighting Lucy Hale: Our New Cinderella,” which, truth in advertising, is a showcase on Ms. Hale and her abilities to channel the Cinderella-like character. There’s also a feature on Freddie Stroma, the “heartthrob” who plays Luke. Other features include a look at the choreography of the film, a behind-the-scenes look at the production from the perspective of the cast’s flip phones, and Hale’s music video, “Bless Myself.”
Basically, these are the features I would expect with a film like this. A lot of fluff, but all good-natured fun for the teenage crowd. This film won’t be winning any awards, but it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I haven’t watched the earlier entries in the Cinderella Story saga, but I can’t imagine this is any better or worse. It goes without saying that there’s no reason to watch this if you aren’t a teenage girl; however, if you are, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy.