NEW DELHI: In the modern reimagining of “Cinderella”, every character and not just the titular protagonist gets the chance to follow their dreams and get their own happily ever after, says director Kay Cannon.
Cannon, who has also adapted the Charles Perrault story for screen, presents a more inclusive, feminist and humorous version of the fairytale that has seen multiple adaptations on screen and stage. For the 47-year-old writer-filmmaker her “north star” was that the motivations of Cinderella, who aspires to be a dressmaker, don’t change right from the beginning to the end of the movie.
Instead it’s the people around Cinderella, played finely by singer Camilla Cabello in her feature film debut, including her stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel), who start seeing things in a new perspective.
“The big theme of the movie is to have dreams and actively being able to go after them. Not just for Cinderella, but for everybody. That’s what I was trying to show that everybody should go after their dreams and we should be equal in that way. So, there are just different happy ever afters for all those characters,” Cannon told PTI in a Zoom interview from Los Angeles.
“The big difference in the storytelling, for me, was to give all the other characters a more three-dimensional vibe so they are not so arched. We are not into giving some form of punishment (as a moral of the story),” the filmmaker, who made her directorial debut with the 2018 comedy film “Blockers”, said.
While there are villains in real life too, people could “grow” if they make an effort to empathise with each other, she added.
“If we can understand how they were raised, what their point of view was, even if the people disagree the most, if we could have empathy and understanding, then we can grow. I hope people sing, dance and laugh and think ‘you know what, people should be allowed to have dreams. It’s not actually a bad idea’, and then watch the film again,” he added.
When Cannon boarded the project as the writer-director, she said she knew right away that she wanted the film to be set in “an inclusive and multicultural kingdom which was also steeped in tradition”.
In “Cinderella”, the royal family is headed by former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan who plays King Rowan, with “Good Will Hunting” star Minnie Driver featuring as Queen Beatrice, Nicholas Galitzine essaying the role of Prince Robert, and Tallulah Greive portraying Princess Gwen.
The director said that the specific detail about a white family being the royal family stemmed from the idea of an extremely multicultural kingdom which is on the precipice of change. “It is where the people of the kingdom are ahead of the royal family. Like big things are going to happen, we are at the tipping point. I wanted an equal amount of all the different races and genders,” she added.
As someone who has dealt with humour in her past writing credits like the “Pitch Perfect” films and the Fox series “New Girl”, starring Zooey Deschanel, it was only natural that comedy was a bedrock in Cannon’s “Cinderella”.
“It was very important for me to put comedy in the film because there have been so many great retellings of the fairytale through the years in movies and even musicals. For me, it was like comedy is going to make it different. If I could squeak out a bunch of laughs while also trying to tell a modernised story, that would be the difference.
” Growing up, Cannon said she found herself more connected to stories like Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” as opposed to “Cinderella”. “I liked the story of ‘Cinderella’ but didn’t gravitate towards it. I was not a princess-y girl who would wear dresses but my friends did. That’s because I couldn’t relate to her (Cinderella) being blonde haired and blue eyed. I’m dark haired and brown eyed. I was more of an ‘ET’ kind of a girl,” she said.
After she finished working on the movie, Cannon said her mother bought her the original Cinderella book with “a really cool, old cover”. “They are kind of reminding me of what it was,” she added.
But how much messaging is too much? Describing the process as “a bit of dance”, the director said all in all the team got close to hitting the right tenor. “In the previews, the audience will tell you if something goes too far, they are like ‘We get it’…There were times when I would get notes like ‘You’re just hitting it over the head too much’ and I would pull back for sure. But then a part of me would say I don’t really know if people know what the struggle is unless you label it,” she said.
The blend of contemporary songs, ranging from the covers of the greatest hits by Freddy Mercury, Madonna, Janet Jackson and Jennifer Lopez to the original tracks sung by cast members, and dance sequences tie up the two worlds of real and magical neatly, Cannon said.
Mychael Danna and Jessica Rose Weiss have been credited for the music. Emmy winner Billy Porter’s shining magical act as Fab G, Cinderella’s genderless fairy godparent, lent a “bigger fairytale feeling” to the story, she added.
“Breaking out into songs and dance makes it feel fantastical and fairytale-like. And yet the songs are very modern that we all know the words to. So (we needed a soundtrack) to bridge that grounded, realistic feeling with a more fantastical fairytale vibe. I just sort of vacillated between those two things,” the director said.
“Cinderella” will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on September 3.