Review: Cinderella and the Secret Prince

It seems like every time someone wants to make a low-budget fairy tale movie, their first thought is to come up with a new take on "Cinderella." One might think that after the extremely poor reception of Happily N'Ever After, this idea would have lost some traction. Yet, it seems that is not the case. Cinderella and the Secret Prince is a novel take on the classic tale that managed to escape my notice when it was released in 2018. Produced by a humble animation studio called Gold Valley Films, which only has four movies under its belt, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt like I did with Charming, another low-budget fairy tale film that came out around the same time.

I discovered Cinderella and the Secret Prince on Plex, a free streaming service with a number of obscure shows and movies. Though I wasn't expecting much, I found it surprisingly charming. It is very reminiscent of the Barbie movies from the early 2000s that take classic fairy tales and put their own spin on them. The first few minutes are just like the "Cinderella" fairy tale, but then the story pivots in a completely new and unexpected direction. The person who helps Ella is not the Fairy Godmother herself, but the godmother's young apprentice, Crystal, while the true Fairy Godmother is hiding a dark secret. Then it turns out that the prince who Ella danced with at the ball was an imposter, and the true prince is trapped in the body of one of her mouse companions. The rest of the movie focuses on her quest to restore the prince to his true form and get revenge on the witch who cursed him.

It isn't just the story that reminds me of classic Barbie movies. The way that the characters express themselves with their hand gestures, clever smirks, and innocent sincerity are all very nostalgic of how characters from old Barbie movies would move and speak. It isn't too surprising, therefore, that the actress Cassandra Lee Morris, who plays the role of Ella, is the current voice of Barbie's sister, Stacie, in the newer movies. While the animation looks older than something that came out in 2018, it's still charming with bright colors, expressive faces, and lovely medieval fashions that are reminiscent of Tangled and other Disney Princess costume designs. Ella is a warm and optimistic princess who treats her friends with patience and understanding just like the classic storybook character.

I would say this was a pleasantly enjoyable film if it hadn't been for the way it ended. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving a movie a sequel or two to provide its fans with more content, but when you end a fairy tale film with a completely contrived problem that's clearly on there for sake of forcing its viewers to watch the sequel, that cheapens the movie and defeats the whole purpose of watching it in the first place. The follow-up to this film, which was shortened from Ella and the Little Sorcerer to Little Sorcerer, came out last year, to give the movie a proper conclusion, but I'm too irritated with the way this one ended to watch it. Who knows if that one is even a proper conclusion? All I can say is that this movie would have had a perfect ending if it had only finished a few minutes earlier.

At this point, I'm not really sure how to feel about this movie. It's an aesthetically pleasing low-budget "Cinderella" adaptation with many unexpected twists and turns, but the ending left me feeling so unsatisfied that I have no desire to watch the sequel. At least they followed up on their cliffhanger, unlike The Other Kingdom, a series I watched recently that ended on a huge cliffhanger with no follow-up. I would only recommend Cinderella and the Secret Prince to people who are feeling nostalgic for the older Barbie films so long as they are aware that it is the first of two parts and are willing to watch Little Sorcerer afterward to finish the story.


Anonymous said…
One interesting thing albo Gold Valley Films is that they actually produced more movies, but for some reason they stopped "claiming" some of them and even deleted them from their website. Among those were "The Little Mermaid: Attack of the Pirates" and "Snow White: The mysterious father".
Lisa Dawn said…
Ooh, those sound like they could be really interesting if they're not sequel bait!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hm, it looks like IMDB lists both of those as Chinese movies, whereas this one is listed as American, so they might be made by different branches of the company. They also look like lower quality films.
Anonymous said…
Oh, they definitely are of lower quality, and in my opinion Cinderella movie is much better. Still, I gave them a try since I love retellings, and that's how I found out about Gold Valley Films in the first place, since they produced fairytales. I don't know about branches, but I remember these old movies were listed on the website once, together with movies like 'Kung Fu Mulan' that is still there. Little Mermaid and Snow White movies were also very poorly received, so perhaps they wanted to move on from them once they started to make more 'ambitious' projects.
Sugar said…
It's funny how small studios are betting on plots that are more reminiscent of traditional princesses. Russia is also trying with movies like the one you reviewed a while ago or "The Nutcracker and the magic flute" which I haven't seen yet but from the pictures it looks more like a traditional retelling rather than the Disney feminist story (which I was disappointed in a lot...frankly I was hoping to see an interracial romantic couple between Clara and the Nutcracker).
China seems to have joined the party as well with Kung fu Wa (Kung fu Sock in English), a magical girl series that is somewhat reminiscent of the 90s (the energetic protagonist, the calm female best friend, the serious love interest who at first doesn't wants to work with the girl...)Her bright pink hair and taste for kittens and girly things were refreshing among so many children's/middle grade shows that seem to say it's out of style for girls.
Also the cultural differences are notorious, the protagonist is less than 13 years old (she could grow up in the following seasons) but the series clearly implies that she and her friend Hao have an innocent crush on each other, it was nice to see a girl and a boy working together side by side and themes of family and friendship portrayed with a moral without being preachy. I enjoyed this Discovery Kids series much more than the same Star vs. or Miraculous Ladybug, I shouldn't be surprised Regal academy from the same creator as Winx was also aimed at children and it was good, or your dear princess Sofia ;D
Lisa Dawn said…
I just watched the first episode of Kung Fu Sock, but I'm not a fan of the Steven Universe style animation. I liked the main character in Regal Academy but haven't watched much of it because it was such an obvious knockoff of Ever After High.
Sugar said…
They look alike but I like Regal Academy more, the rose cinderella character is quite adorable at the time I was stopping watching Star vs after the protagonist became absolutely selfish and full of teen drama so Rose cinderella was her nice version.
I guess I'm the kind of person who doesn't really care if two movies or two shows look alike (I don't even care if they look like copies sometimes copies are better hahaha) there are just plots I like magical academy, descendants of fairy tales, the portal to another magical world, the chosen lost princess who is more of a clumsy girl... or selfish and then changes.
I think it's the mark of growing up with magical girl shojo series from the 90s...they had too many things in common with each other hahaha (for example Sailor Moon and Wedding Peach). As long as it's a cute, sweet series, with a coherent plot (no matter how childish or simple it may be), with a nice protagonist and some romance, I'll take it with me.
Lisa Dawn said…
That's true. That wasn't the only reason I stopped watching it. I also preferred the pretty colorful character designs of Ever After High to the cheap-looking CGI of Regal Academy. I definitely understand the appeal of the main character, though, since shows like that normally have angsty protagonists who don't want to be there.
This is a very amazing film. I like animation movie very much.

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