A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song



Entertaining tween fairy tale has obvious happy ever after.
Popular with kids
  • Review Date: September 6, 2011
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 85 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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."

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

DVD release date:September 6, 2011
Cast:Lucy Hale, Megan Park, Missi Pyle
Director:Damon Santostefano
Studio:Warner Bros.
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Princesses and fairies
Run time:85 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:language and some crude and suggestive content

This review of A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written byAmy Unruh January 20, 2012

Too wordly, bad example for children.

I'm not sure how the sexual innuendos have escaped people so far, but I noticed them and my husband and I did not appreciate them. We don't have kids, but would not have allowed them to see this film if we did. One line I remember is when the stepmother is telling her daughter that if she is successful, she can get a pool shaped like Colin Farrell, and then she can see ALL of him. It is said in a very suggestive way. The music is nice, even sassy, and the voices are really great. That's about all I was able to enjoy. Good moments in the film were quickly ruined by rampant Hinduism (though a bit fake and made fun of), bare bellies, and a lead guy who can't tell the difference between a blonde with green eyes and a brunette with brown eyes. I was offended by the unnecessary scene of the girl getting locked out of the house naked and then welcoming the lead guy character with a welcome melt around her. He seems so sweet, except that he says her appearing like that is (another innuendo) a "Gift from God," and then promptly forgets about her when her stepsister ushers him inside the house and closes the door on the "Gift from God." He is too quickly interested in the stepsister, which makes me wonder at his moral character. I think the scene that offended me most besides the naked scene was the ball scene. This is a high school dance! And the boys were, of course, fully clothed while the girls were mostly in bikini-type tops with bare middriffs and belly dance pants and skirts starting at their hipbones. The dancing was quite sexy in parts and highly inappropriate for a PG-rated movie. The alcohol use was over the top, but it was portrayed negatively. I must say that I did like the ending. I thought it was a great way to end the film, as the music was the best part of the film.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written byadelani December 3, 2011


i think it is a great movie
What other families should know
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byNinja Tuna November 7, 2011

B word is not needed

This was a WONDERFUL movie with a WONDERFUL soundtrack, but it does use the 'B' word. I don't know why in the world they had to do that. I think the movie would have been even better without it. Still pretty good, though. I don't think that six year olds should listen to the b word, but I had to rate it on everything else, not just one bad word. And the part where the little brother takes her cloths is also not needed, but funny for older audiences.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide