A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Entertaining tween fairy tale has obvious happy ever after.
  • PG
  • 2011
  • 85 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's central message (other than that cruelty will eventually be repaid by justice) is that you should never be afraid to follow your passion or use your gifts. Both Katie and Luke are suppressed by controlling (and in Katie's case abusive) guardians, but they persevere and are eventually able to show off their musical talent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The grown-ups are all negative role models: Gail is cruel and moneygrubbing, Luke's father is doesn't listen to him, and the guru is a quack. Katie is selfless but a bit too self-effacing; she doesn't ever stand up to her stepmother until prodded by Luke, who's a good role model for following your own dreams rather than those imposed on you by your parents.


An adult is briefly electrocuted, but she's not seriously hurt. A boy throws things at his teen stepsister and plays some malicious pranks on her.


Teens go out on a date and nearly kiss. Another couple flirts and ends up sharing a couple of kisses. The word "hot" is used a few times to describe girls. In one scene, a prank leaves a girl naked, but viewers only see her shoulders and legs. A boy makes jokes about "partial nudity."


Some insults like "idiots," "freakin'," "stupid," and "crap." The stepmother makes cruel comments about nearly everyone. She calls her daughter "untalented" and tells her stepdaughter that she'll never amount to anything. The stepmother also calls a girl "an Asian dwarf" and pretty much says something unkind every time she speaks. Her own young son calls her a "beeyotch."


An iPhone is shown in a couple of scenes. A mention of YouTube and other ways that musicians hit it big.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Gail likes her cocktails and in one scene acts drunk and then demands that Katie make her a "vodka tonic, hold the tonic."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is the third take on a familiar tale, A Cinderella Story. Like the first two movies, this one follows a talented-but-put-upon Cinderella stand-in who lives under the tyrannical rule of a mean stepmother. The teen romance is mild and only includes two sweet kisses, but the protagonist endures quite a lot of emotional -- and verbal -- abuse from her humorous-but-cruel parental figure. The stepmother character, however, gets hers in the end, and at the very least, this Cinderella has unexpected allies who help her triumph.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAZMtnMom June 13, 2019

Disappointing, not for young or tween aged girls

My 7-year old daughter and I chose this movie on Netflix. It looked cute and we also enjoy movies with singing. After watching it for about 30 minutes, I felt u... Continue reading
Adult Written byPepper M. June 13, 2019

Should've been rated PG-13.

In the first scene they use the word swear, later into the film the main character says "bitch", then not too long after that the main character is l... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old July 14, 2013

Once upon a song

It's like any other movie that kids go wild on; except with the word bi*ch included, which was really not necessary.
Kid, 12 years old January 1, 2012


THe whole story is obvious, so u wont miss much if you don't watch this. They say the B word a few times, and the mom makes countless orders to get her som... Continue reading

What's the story?

Katie Gibbs (Lucy Hale) is a gifted singer-songwriter, but before she can head off to music school for college, she must endure one final year under the emotionally abusive supervision of her "evil stepmother" Gail (Missi Pyle) and bratty stepsiblings. Gail, who's the headmistress of Katie's private school, has landed a star transfer pupil, Luke (Freddie Stroma), the handsome son of a billionaire music producer. A condition of his attendance is that Luke produce the school's annual talent show. When fame-hungry Gail realizes that Katie is much more talented than her own daughter, she forces Katie to sing songs that stepsister Bev (Megan Park) will lip-sync during the big show. Katie agrees, but watching Bev and Luke get cozy over her own songs nearly breaks her heart.

Is it any good?

This third installment in Warner Bros.' popular Cinderella Story franchise is as sugary sweet and entertaining as the others -- which is to say, fluffy and cute, not deep and enduring. Tween girls will delight in Hale (star of Pretty Little Liars) and Stroma's (who memorably played the cocky Cormac McLaggen in Harry Potter) attraction at first listen, and parents will approve of how their relationship develops in an almost Cyrano de Bergerac fashion -- a meeting of like-minded artists, not teens in hormonal overdrive.


Unlike other Cinderella adaptations, Katie's stepsiblings aren't always cruel, but the stepmother is completely cold-hearted. Pyle is definitely the movie's top scene-stealer, with her pinched smile and narrowed eyes. She's the kind of character actress who deserves a starring comedy or sitcom role but instead has to settle for these supporting gigs. Pyle's love-to-hate-her performance, combined with Hale and Stroma's adorable leads, makes this a perfect sleepover pick for girls who haven't graduated to PG-13 romances.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how family relationships are portrayed in this story. Does Katie have a healthy home environment? How does her stepmother treat her? Are kids sometimes treated this way in real life?

  • If you've seen the previous movies, how does this new installment compare to the other Cinderella Story films? 

  • How does Katie's family differ from the original Cinderella tale? Why do you think the stepsiblings are portrayed in a slightly more sympathetic manner?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales

Themes & Topics

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