Movies like Disney’s Sneakerella allow me to rest in the idea that the kids really are alright. One one hand, fairytales are classic tales full of heroism, romance, action and usually a moral lesson at their heart. On the other hand, they are often heteronormative, misogynist, lack any diversity and some of the endings are more nightmarish than any fairytale should be. The effect of these films and stories can’t be denied. Millions of little girls want to be princesses and millions of little boys want to be valiant princes.
On the surface this can be cute, but what it can also do is set up a lifetime of unrealistic expectations and ultimately it cuts a lot of people from the narrative. Lately we’ve been seeing new takes that introduce diversity and inclusion in well honed tales. Even films like Disney’s Enchanted and Tangled poke fun at the old tropes and rework them to be more empowering to girls and inclusive of different races and ethnicities.
Those films walked so Sneakerella could run. Director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum took a script that had several writers of color, women and from the LGBT+ community. The story is full of joy and fantastic original songs by the stars themselves. The movie stars Chosen Jacobs as ‘El’, a young sneaker fanatic who happens upon a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams. After spending a magical day together in Queens he finds out that ‘Kira’ (Lexi Underwood) is none other than Kira King, heir to the Darius King (John Salley) dynasty.
El along with his best friend Sami (Devyn Nekoda, a young queer street kid who shares El’s passions for fresh kicks) hatch a plan to get El into a party where Kira will be. With the help of neighborhood icon Gustavo (Juan Chioran) and a little bit of magic, El is ready for a memorable night. He just has to make sure to keep an eye on the clock.
At 1 hour and 52 minutes the film is a bit long, but it packs a lot into runtime. We understand El’s current family situation with his overbearing step-father and lazy and conniving step-brothers, but the heart of El’s family dynamic lies in his neighborhood and the community that his late mother helped grow with her small business.
Just like every teenager, El has dreams and just like every teenager in a Disney film, those dreams were stoked by a parent who is now dead. El’s desires are shaped by his late mother whose light he’s missed until he meets Kira. They’re relationship is adorable and what’s more important is that while they are besotted with each other, it doesn’t get in the way of each accomplishing their goals. They support each other equally and find they get along best when they’re honest with each other.
It’s refreshing and fun and I highly recommend it for kids.
That said, as an adult (and elder millennial), I can safely say this is a movie for children. The music is very modern, and the styles are that special form of ridiculousness that Gen Z and Gen Alpha thrive on. The relationships between the parents and children (both positive and negative) are very modern and filled with obedient though sometimes rebellious (within reason, of course) tweens. Is Sneakerella a bit saccharine and blindingly optimistic? Yes, but it imparts important lessons in entertaining ways and the songs are addictive and fun. You may regret hosting your niece’s sleepover and having to watch this on repeat, but you won’t regret the self confidence and inspiration young viewers get from watching this delightful story.
Disney’s Sneakerella is streaming now on Disney Plus.
Be sure to check out my interviews with the cast!