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Disney+ Review: Sneakerella

May 13, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Sneakerella, the latest Disney+ Original Movie, is a modern, gender-swapped take on Cinderella, that updates the setting to Queens, New York, adds a selection of upbeat hip-hop songs, and centres around sneaker subculture.

This sounds like a bit of a mad gambit, but Sneakerella actually works as a bright and surprisingly enjoyable musical. Instead of just being another live action reboot, the film offers a somewhat fresh reimagining of this classic story, with a few nods to Disney’s animated Cinderella to boot.

The main character is El (Chosen Jacobs), a sneakerhead working in the stockroom at his family’s shoe store in Astoria, whose real dream is to design his own kicks. The shop belonged to his late mother, who instilled in him his love of shoes, and is now run with an iron fist by his stepfather (Bryan Terrell Clark). And, in true Cinderella fashion, El’s cruel stepbrothers Zelly (Kolton Stewart) and Stacy (Hayward Leach) mercilessly taunt him and make him do all of their work.

When El sneaks away with his best friend Sami (Devyn Nekoda) for a classic sneaker relaunch, he meets a girl named Kira (Lexi Underwood) while waiting in line. The two spend a magical day together, with El showing her around his part of the city, but they part with no way of keeping in touch. Little does he know that Kira is the daughter of former basketball star Darius King (John Salley), who runs a family sneaker empire in need of fresh ideas.

We can predict where the story is going from earlier iterations of this classic tale, but it’s fun to watch as Sneakerella reimagines familiar plot points (the glass slipper, the fancy ball, the midnight deadline, etc.) to fit its modern setting. This includes a “fairy godfather” in the form of Gustavo (Juan Chioran), a kind older man who tends to the local community garden and serves as the film’s narrator.

This is not to say that every element of the film is equally smooth. Sami feels underdeveloped as a character. She is supposed to be openly gay, but her identity is reduced to a single line about having a girlfriend and a pride button on her backpack. The production also feels stagey at times, and the more fantastical flourishes can come across as a bit cheesy, especially against the more grounded setting. The whole thing has a sort of TV movie sheen to it, and was clearly developed for streaming (it feels like a Disney Channel Original Movie, which will surely be a feature, not a bug, for some viewers).

But it’s hard not to get somewhat caught up in Sneakerella‘s glossy mix of modern hip-hop musical and classic fairy tale, and director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum (Aquamarine, Ramona and Beezus) keeps the story moving at an engaging clip despite the 111 minute running time. Jacobs carries the film with a spirited and likeable performance as El, and Sneakerella delivers a number of fun dance numbers and toe-tapping original songs, including a climactic rap battle.

Sneakerella is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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