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A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 9/6/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/5/2011

I realize that "update" and "new spin" are candidates, but is there a word which means taking an old, classic story, such as a fairy tale, and placing it in a modern, or different setting? Filmmakers have been doing this forever, and for good reason -- the stories are already familiar to the audience and there's usually no fees for the story rights. So, if this has worked in the past, wouldn't combining two classic stories yield twice as much success? That seems to be the thinking behind A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song.

Katie (Lucy Hale) is not a very happy teenager. She lives with her step-mother, Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle), and her step-siblings, Bev (Megan Park) and Victor (Matthew Lintz). Since her father's death, Katie has been treated like a servant and is forced to live in a shed outside of the house. She is constantly doing the bidding of Gail and Bev, and must often babysit the insane Victor. Gail is the headmistress of Wellesley Academy and does allow Katie to attend school there. Katie dreams of being a singer, but Gail is far too focused on herself and Bev to notice. Bev wants to be a singer as well...but she can't sing. When record mogul Guy Morgan (Dikran Tulaine) enrolls his son, Luke (Freddie Stroma), in the school, Katie sees her chance and slips a demo in his briefcase. Guy contacts Katie to congratulate her, but Gail intercepts and claims that it was actually Bev singing. Gail then forces Bev to provide music to which Bev can lip-sync. Meanwhile, Katie wants to prove to Luke that she can sing, not only because of his connections, but because she's attracted to him as well. Will Katie's star ever shine?

It's obvious from the title and the synopsis that A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song is an updated version of Cinderella, where the stepdaughter must suffer at the hands of her step-mother and step-siblings while Prince Charming hovers in the background. The movie takes these elements and not only places them in a modern setting, but makes it a semi-musical as well. However, that's not where it stops. As Katie must now provide a voice for Bev, the story also borrows from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. There's a clever scene where the famous "one person hides in the bushes while the other one talks" schtick is updated with text messaging.

A movie like A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song is fighting an uphill battle, as it is going up against other movies which have mined this same territory. Films like Ever After and Roxanne have taken a more sober and creative look at these classic stories, and been very successful at it. However, that's not to say that this movie is not without its charms. Writers Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott, along with Director Damon Santostefano have managed to create a nice balance in the movie. Let's face it -- this is aimed directly at tweens and teens, most of whom are probably familiar with Lucy Hale from her role on The CW's Pretty Little Liars. The movie wants them to identify with Katie, swoon over Luke and like the music. Was it successful in this? I guess, as my daughters seemed to like the movie, with my older daughter saying that it was better than she expected.

However, as an adult, I found these aspects of the film to be very tired and hackneyed. Changing the emphasis of the story from physical beauty to musical talent didn't do much to make it feel new. Also, there were times when A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song felt shoddy as Wellesley isn't identified as a performing arts school until the finale (that information would have been helpful) and the school dance, meant as a stand-in for the ball from the original story, comes out of nowhere in the middle of the movie. Bev is underwritten and never comes across as mean as the movie wants her to be. But, there is something here for adults and that something is Missi Pyle. I've always found her to be funny and she's in a completely different movie here, playing the narcissistic and delusional Gail. Her monologues are priceless and I loved her flashback. The scene with her guru features a slew of jokes which go by very quickly and produce some solid laughs.

It was until I began this review that it dawned on me that A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, was most likely meant to be seen as a “sequel in name only” to the 2004 Hilary Duff film A Cinderella Story. I haven’t seen that movie, but I can tell you that there’s no relation. What we do get is a movie which is surprisingly watchable, but never rises above its station as a direct-to-video entry. The primary story will be appealing to its target audience, while others can completely ignore this and enjoy the supporting players. I wasn’t impressed with the music, but as Hale won the children’s version of American Idol back in 2003, she can sing, and the tunes aren’t completely awful. In the end, A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t go house-to-house trying to give it a glass slipper.

A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song makes me wonder how that one guy knew the words to that made-up song that other guy was singing on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look very good for a DVD, as the film is filled with bright tones, and the image is never overly dark or bright. There is some mild blurring at times, but the picture is solid and shows good detail. The DVD holds a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We don’t get many exciting audio effects here, save for the music, which sounds very good, as it fills the speakers and provide a nice subwoofer thump. Otherwise, the stereo and surround effects are merely adequate.

The A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song DVD contains a surprising number of extras for what is I believe a made-for-TV movie. "Spotlighting Lucy Hale: Our New Cinderella" (7 minutes) profiles the young actress who stars in the movie. We get comments from the cast who describe what Lucy is like, as well as quotes from Hale herself who talks about her career and her work on the movie. "Meet Prince Charming" (8 minutes) has Hale interviewing actor Freddie Stroma who talks about his role, and we see some on-set footage. Choreographer Michelle Johnston talks about the dancing in the film in "Make 'Em Move" (6 minutes). We get to see a nice amount of rehearsal footage here. The cast members were given Flip cameras so that they could capture the feel behind the scenes, which we see in "Flippin' On Set" (6 minutes). The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Bless Myself" by Lucy Hale.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long