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A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song DVD Review

A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011) DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song
Movie & DVD Details

Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Damon Santostefano / Writers: Erik Patterson, Jessica Scott (screenplay); Leigh Dunlap ("characters"?!)

Cast: Lucy Hale (Katie Gibbs), Freddie Stroma (Luke Morgan), Missi Pyle (Gail Van Ravensway), Megan Park (Bev Van Ravensway), Matthew Lintz (Victor Van Ravensway), Manu Narayan (Tony "Ravi" Gupta), Jessalyn Wanlim (Angela), Titus Makin, Jr. (Mickey O'Malley), Dikran Tulaine (Guy Morgan), Lucy Davenport (Ms. Plumberg)

Songs: Lucy Hale - "Run This Town", James Renald - "Not My Color, Not My Size", Missi Pyle - "I Ain't Gonna Leap", Lucy Hale - "Bless Myself", Lucy Hale - "She's Terrible", Oral Majority - "Out Here", Freddie Stroma - "Knockin", Lucy Hale - "Extra Ordinary", Fabio Legarda - "Party All Night", Big Pain Ticket - "Twisted Serenade", Lucy Hale - "Make You Believe", Manu Narayan - "Oh Mere Dilruba", "Ramon's Jam", Crazy Girl - "I Love the Way You Love Me", Freddie Stroma - "Possibilities", Oral Majority - "Knockin", Fabio Legarda - "Caribbean Girl", Missi Pyle - "Make You Believe"

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 6, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $27.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

Buy A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song on DVD from Amazon.com

Released to theaters in the summer of 2004, A Cinderella Story was a mid-range hit, Hilary Duff's last and biggest box office success as leading lady. In these times, that was enough to inspire a franchise.
Like Universal's Bring It On line and First Look's The Prince and Me series, Warner Premiere's Cinderella Story sequels target young females in the straight-to-DVD market. "Sequels" is perhaps a less appropriate word than "remakes", since each installment tells essentially the same story in different context with new characters.

Arriving in the wake of Step Up, 2008's Another Cinderella Story, starring Selena Gomez and Drew Seeley, focused on an aspiring dancer. Now, the all-new Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song gives us a different cable TV star (Lucy Hale of ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars") and another no-name Prince Charming (Freddie Stroma, "best known for playing Cormac McLaggen" -- who? -- "in the Harry Potter film series"), while applying the familiar fairy tale to high school students with singer-songwriter ambitions.

Just like Cinderella, present-day teenager Katie Gibbs (Hale) is seriously undervalued by her family, with whom she shares no blood relation. In Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle), Katie has the stepmother from Hell, a woman with a lot of money and little brains, who is fixated on having her legs elongated. Gail would like her vapid teen daughter Beverly (Megan Park, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager") to be her meal ticket, but, to put it nicely, Bev lacks a singing voice. Still, with the arrival of accomplished British record producer Guy Morgan (Dikran Tulaine) and the enrollment of his son Luke (Stroma) in the Wellesley Academy of the Arts where Gail is improbably dean, musical breakthrough is on everyone's minds.

Modern-day Cinderella Katie Gibbs (Lucy Hale) is locked out of her rotten step-family's house with only a welcome mat to wear. Vain stepmother Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle) is like a stepmonster to Katie.

When Gail discovers that Katie has genuine vocal and lyrical talent, she hatches a plan to exploit it for Bev, who can then score a big record deal through Luke and his father. Thus, Katie, reduced to living in a shed a short walk from the family mansion and having no say in the matter, must summon some creativity, only to pass it onto Bev. Of course, Katie develops real feelings for Luke, appreciating his musical tastes, secret songwriting abilities, and good looks. But Bev takes credit for the impressive demo Katie slipped Luke's father, so Luke is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt as she stumbles through a text message-coached dinner date.

This Cinderella's royal ball is Wellesley's Bollywood Winter Dance, where Katie catches Luke's eye but maintains her anonymity with suitable veil. Why do that instead of just coming clean? To honor the glass slipper and, more importantly, to extend Once Upon a Song to a standard feature length, perfect for ABC Family after the long end credits scroll of highlights and outtakes gets clipped. Will this air on ABC Family? No premiere has been scheduled, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Admittedly, I don't watch ABC Family, but I doubt Once Upon a Song would be a noticeable drop in quality there. That isn't any sort of compliment. Judged against the entirety of modern entertainment, this movie is pretty feeble.
It's watchable, but only barely so for those with any distance from the young, female demographic it's meant for. Most should find it stupid and annoying, to use some teen parlance.

Comedically and musically, there is not much going on of note. The writing is at the quality of lesser television, which describes most of the other output of scribes Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott, who return from Another Cinderella Story. (Scott did co-write a 1998 episode of "The X-Files", which by IMDb user rating ranks dead last among Season 5 and in the bottom eighth overall.) The direction by Damon Santostefano (Bring It On Again, Three to Tango, "The Adventures of Pete & Pete") will go unnoticed outside of this sentence. The acting is adequate, adding none of the pizzazz the script lacks and holding no promise for the future.

Though his father wants him to be a businessman, Luke Morgan (Freddie Stroma) also has some secret singing talent. On a dinner date with Luke, Bev (Megan Park) has to be coached via text.

I guess you can't expect much for something made quick and cheap with video and television in mind. If A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song was good, it would represent a seismic shift in our understanding of quality in the world of filmed entertainment. Good TV shows would have to be much better, movies would suddenly have to be outstanding. The smallest imperfection would have to be pounced on critically. We'd be so jaded by excellence that only the rarest work would inspire us. And so, the nicest thing about this movie may be that it has the decency not to topple established order and make you question everything you know.

I sort of assumed that a youth-oriented direct-to-video fairy tale line previously headlined by Disney Channel starlets would be as squeaky clean as Disney Channel movies and TV series. In fact, Once Upon a Song receives the same PG rating as its two predecessors, earning it for "language and some crude and suggestive content." Included in that MPAA statement are: a scene of Hale running around only in a welcome mat, a weird allusion to Colin Farrell's sex tape, and the single best line of the film, "My mom is a beyotch", uttered by Katie's mischievous young stepbrother Victor (Matthew Lintz), who isn't all bad, we learn.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Warner must have modest sales expectations for Once Upon a Song, because they aren't even releasing it on Blu-ray, the format they've been trying hard these past few years to make the home video standard. Still, the movie looks great in standard definition. The 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is sharp and clean, as it should be for something shot just a few months ago. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack makes light use of the surround channels, but it offers a clear and robust mix, accompanied by subtitles in North America's three most commonly spoken languages.

Life is great for Lucy Hale, according to Lucy Hale in "Spotlighting Lucy Hale." Lucy Hale and Freddie Stroma question one another in "Meet Prince Charming."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Once Upon a Song is treated to a good, appropriate slate of extras, which gives it more than what the vast majority of new theatrically-released Warner movies get on DVD these days.

"Spotlighting Lucy Hale: Our New Cinderella" (6:34) celebrates the star with remarks from her cast mates, choreographer, screen/songwriters, and herself. It complements the compliments with some behind-the-scenes footage and talk about the movie, the character, and the songs.

"A Cinderella Story: Meet Prince Charming" (7:42) offers more behind-the-scenes around its main attraction, which is Lucy Hale interviewing Freddie Stroma and vice versa. It's fun, casual, revealing, and not overly concerned with promoting the movie.

"Make 'Em Move: A Cinderella Story" (6:22) discusses the film's dancing in the opening dream number and Bollywood dance battle. The actors sound off on choreography, and we get a few glimpses of the process.

Megan Park supplies an up-close behind-the-scenes look with her flip camera contributions to "Flippin' On Set." Lucy Hale sings her heart out in black & white studio footage from her "Bless Myself" music video.

"Flippin' On Set" (6:24) shares footage recorded by the cast on the flip video cameras they were given. It's a more candid way of documenting production, although this piece also makes room for traditional talking head cast bits.

The extras conclude with Lucy Hale's "Bless Myself" music video (3:43),
which offers a standard blend of movie clips and black & white recording studio footage.

The disc opens with a long reel of trailers promoting Dolphin Tale, Happy Feet Two, Santa's Magical Stories, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD combo Ultimate Collector's Edition, "Pretty Little Liars": The Complete First Season, and Happiness is... Peanuts: Snow Days. Running a wide range from nauseating to inspired, these ads are not available from any menu. Nor are trailers for the previous two Cinderella Story movies, something that would seem to be a given.

Once Upon a Song is treated to a humble presentation. Par for Warner, the few menus (there isn't even one for scene selection) are all static, with the main screen alone equipped with some house music. There are no inserts or slipcover, and the keepcase is of the plastic-saving Eco-Box variety.

This movie's equivalent of Cinderella's royal ball is the Bollywood Winter Dance, where a shrouded Katie (Lucy Hale) anonymously impresses Luke (Freddie Stroma).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Branding is king in Hollywood today, which explains why a movie like A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song exists and with that title. Does it gain any prestige or notoriety that it wouldn't have as a standalone property? I guess so. It also recognizes and excuses the fact that it basically remakes two recent movies in a slightly different setting. The only viewers likely to enjoy this are those who are fans of the leading actresses and the ABC Family shows from which they hail. That is no inconsequential demographic; Lucy Hale alone has accrued over 500,000 followers on Twitter and other cast members number in the six digits. There have to be at least a few thousand in there who check out this DVD and like what they see. I am not one of them, but I do appreciate that the disc delivers a good feature presentation and a diverting half-hour of bonus features.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the Soundtrack: Amazon MP3, CD, iTunes

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Reviewed September 2, 2011.



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