Cinderella-themed movies seem to be the dramatic gauntlet young TV stars must run before officially graduating from the tween scene. Think Hillary Duff, Selena Gomez, Brandy and even Anne Hathaway. Now it’s Nickelodeon stars Keke Palmer’s and Max Schneider’s turn to step into those shoes — here a pair of shiny metallic high-tops — to make the transition. “Rags,” Nickelodeon’s musical version of the Cinderella tale, is every bit as cliched as the others, albeit with a gender twist. Still, a fun soundtrack from Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, great dance numbers, and appealing leads compensate for the overwhelming sense of been there, done that.
Schneider stars as Charlie, the put-upon stepson forced to clean up at the nightclub that used to belong to his musician mother. Since she passed away, his opportunistic stepfather Arthur (Robert Moloney) has run the business into the ground, but plans to make money off his two sons, Andrew (Keenan Tracey) and Lloyd (Burkely Duffield), by promoting them as the next big boy-band. Problem is Charlie has all of the talent, but none of the luck.
Kadee Worth (Palmer) is daughter to a record mogul and already a star. Under the watchful eye of her tycoon dad Reginald Worth (Isaiah Mustafa), she isn’t allowed to walk her dog Trumpet without a chaperone, let alone write her own songs. Even her romance with pop star Finn (Avan Jogia) is more of a PR move than a personal attachment.
With a little push from fairy god-dude Shawn (Nick star Drake Bell), Kadee and Charlie strike up a friendship when he gets a job as a janitor at the record company. It isn’t until a national talent contest that anyone gets to hear Charlie’s alter ego Rags perform in disguise. Not knowing his real identity, Kadee spearheads a search to find the real Rags, and well, viewers have no doubt where the fairy tale will go from there.
The story, from Nick Cannon (who has a decent-sized cameo) and Jason Fuchs, is really just a vehicle to showcase the assembled talent. The real fun comes from the performances, especially the dance numbers choreographed by Rosero McCoy, who knows just how to showcase these stars.
Schneider shines best in tap/Broadway numbers like “Things Aren’t Always What They Seem.” Palmer, who dons a producer’s cap for “Rags,” also does a nice job, proving she can survive the teen gauntlet with the best of them.