Every few years, a studio tries their hand at telling the Cinderella story in their own unique way. Over the decades, the fairytale has been modernized, played traditionally, turned into musicals, featured in a musical and the list goes on. But there’s something they all have in common, a female heroine, glass slippers and tiaras. Enter Sneakerella, Disney+’s modern take that flips the script by giving us a male hero who’s really into sneakers — er kicks.
Sneakerella is the latest adaptation of the beloved story and is set in the magical land of…New York City circa 2022. It’s utterly familiar and extremely different from anything we’ve seen before. Instead of Ella, we follow El (Chosen Jacobs—Castle Rock, It), an aspiring shoe designer from a diverse neighborhood in Queens. Through flashbacks we learn about his mother who owned an independent shoe store but has since passed. El’s been on his own for years and now his frustrated and distracted stepfather (Bryan Terrell Clark—Snowpiercer) wants to sell the place and move the family back to New Jersey —much to the joy of his mean-spirited step-brothers (Kolton Stewart, Hayward Leach).
As El dreams up a way to save the store, he and his best friend Sami (Devyn Nekoda—Utopia Falls), head uptown to check out a new shoe release and unknowingly make friends with Kira King (Lexi Underwood—Little Fires Everywhere), the daughter of a basketball superstar and shoe mogul, Darius King (actor and four time NBA champ John Salley). Sparks fly as El shows Kira new and exciting ways to view their city and reveals the beauty of his incredible, close knit community. But the two part ways before she can get his deets. Darn! Fortunately, Fairy Godfather Gustavo (Juan Chioran) the neighborhood gardener is keeping his eyes on these two and has a few magic tricks up his sleeves!
Of course the story doesn’t end there and you can probably guess at least a portion of the rest. Sneakerella follows all the familiar beats, but in a fresh and original way and takes audiences on a really charming journey. While the subject of loss can be heavy, there’s plenty of joy and lightness layered in. Even the “evil” step-father trope has been updated to focus more on misunderstanding and less on cruelty making this one of the friendlier versions of the Cinderella story. And in keeping with Disney tradition, the film is a musical with a hip-hop score that’s high energy and fun, but likely won’t get stuck in your head after a single viewing.
The entire cast is wonderful and committed to the story, but it’s Jacobs who lights up the screen and has incredible chemistry with each of his screen partners, especially with Underwood’s Kira and Nekoda’s Sami. Jacobs sings, dances, and sells every bit of the character in a way that feels honest and genuine. He’s an absolute joy to watch. Underwood is also a triple threat and delivers a strong, confident female heroine that parents and kids will embrace. Kira is very much a part of the family business and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She may disagree with her parents and sister, but always in a respectful way.
One warning to parents: be prepared to find your children “improving” their shoes after watching this film. There are a few sequences showing El designing and decorating kicks that I can only imagine will get the creative juices flowing for impressionable, artistic kids. It’s all part of Disney’s plan to inspire the next generation of sneaker designers!
When compared to other Disney fare, Sneakerella is steps above Disney Channel Original Movies in terms of production, story and cinematography, and it fits comfortably alongside its Disney+ Original siblings. If you liked Clouds, Godmothered, Safety, Noelle, etc. you’ll have just as much fun with this updated, musical version of a beloved classic.
I give Sneakerella 4 out of 5 servings of Galaktoboureko.
Sneakerella premieres on Disney+ on May 13th