You probably didn’t imagine in your wildest of dreams that one day someone would make a film with a fairytale character as celebrated as Cinderella and turn it into a murder mystery. The famous story of Cinderella going to the ball is probably known to most fairytale aficionados. While Netflix’s latest Japanese import, titled Once Upon A Crime, is essentially a retelling of that famous fairytale, there is a pretty wild twist, which makes the film one of the weirdest things that I have seen in a while. It is right there in the title itself: in this Cinderella story, a “crime” happens. And that crime is investigated by none other than Red Riding Hood, who basically takes on the role of a mystery-solving detective. In what should be considered one of the most ambitious genre mashups, you get a taste of fairytale and murder mystery in the same place, believe it or not. The film interestingly brings up a lot of references from the fairytale and smartly infuses all those into its murder mystery narrative.
Before going into all those references in detail, we are going to do a brief summary of what happens in Once Upon A Crime. Despite Cinderella being the focal point, this story actually belongs to Red Riding Hood, who is out on an adventure. The tale begins with Red coming across the wicked witch Barbara, who offers her a new pair of shoes, but thanks to Barbara being quite inept in her shoe-conjuring skill, Red ends up with a pair worse than what she already had. She ditches Barbara and soon comes across a worn-out Cinderella who is really sad about not being able to go to the ball. Cinderella tells Red about her evil stepmother and two stepsisters, Anne and Margot, who treat her terribly and deprive her of everything she deserves. Cinderella has nothing fancy to wear to the ball, which effectively means she can’t get near the good prince and look beautiful. Her stepsister, Anne, also has her eyes on the prince, and the stepmother suggests Anne wear new hair and consult a stylist in order to make her bid for the prince strong enough.
Upon hearing Cinderella’s sob story, the wicked witch Barbara comes forward to help. Red and Cinderella both get fancy dresses from Barbara, and their shoes are changed to glass slippers, thanks to Barbara’s niece Tekla, who magically appears at the perfect time. The two of them soon reach the ball with a pumpkin carriage ridden by a mouse.
The ball is where the familiar story takes an unfamiliar turn as Red and Cinderella get tangled in the middle of a murder. The victim happens to be none other than the royal hairdresser, Mr. Hans. From there on, Once Upon A Crime embraces the murder-mystery genre, and Red becomes the person who will unravel the shocking truth.
All the Fairy Tale References Explained
Despite the story being strangely original, the film keeps using a lot of references from the actual fairy tale, including characters like Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. In case you are wondering about the references made by the film, here is a detailed clarification of all that.
Red and Cinderella: Let us start with the obvious one. These characters are possibly two of the most prominent fairy tale characters ever. There have been millions of takes on the character of Cinderella before Once Upon A Crime, but this one is different because the Cinderella of this tale is both a victim of abuse as well as a schemer. In a great twist, it is Cinderella who turns out to be the murderer of the hairdresser. The murder was in self-defense, though, as the hairdresser promised to make Cinderella beautiful, and instead of that, he tried to do his creepy thing. Despite the killing being an act of self-defense, Cinderella’s plan to frame her half-sister Margot as a clear act of revenge was definitely a plan she hatched, for which she is taken away by the authorities by the end. Her dream of wooing the prince also goes haywire, as opposed to the other Cinderella tales.
As far as Little Red Riding Hood goes, I personally find this fairy tale character more interesting than Cinderella. This is another fairy tale that has been adapted so many times, but the version we see in Once Upon A Crime is obviously much different from the ones we know. Red does wear the signature “red cape” here, but the wolf, which is present in most Red Riding Hood stories, is missing in this one. Also, Red is the detective in this weirdly strange whodunit, and the way this film ended, we might even get a bunch of sequels.
The Glass Slippers: This is obviously a big Cinderella reference, as, in the story we have known for ages, Cinderella is given these slippers by “The Fairy Godmother.” They are, in a way, a sign of Cinderella’s fortune turning into something great.
In Once Upon A Crime, the slippers make an appearance, and Cinderella and Red are gifted them by the wicked witch Barbara’s cousin Tekla. In this tale, though, the glass slippers become one of the prime reasons for Cinderella eventually getting caught by Red, which implies that the slippers make right Cinderella’s fortune after all.
The Fairy Godmother: Now, this is an interesting one. “The Fairy Godmother” is a staple fairy tale character who usually has magical powers and helps the protagonist in trouble. Cinderella wouldn’t have been able to go to the ball if there was no TFG (I hope you don’t mind the abbreviation).
Once Upon A Crime does give the reference, but the film tweaks things a bit by bringing in wicked witch Barbara instead. Barabara’s niece Tekla also comes into the fold; in fact, Tekla is the one who conjures up the glass slippers for both Cinderella and Red with her magical skills.
The Pumpkin and the Mouse: We all know the story of TFG turning a pumpkin into a carriage and a mouse into a chariot for Cinderella so that she can go to the ball without getting her beautiful dress and fancy shoes dirty. That story makes a way here, as Barbara, the TFG equivalent of the film, manages to do the same for Cinderella and Red with her magic. This is a very clear reference to the fairy tale that you’ve always known.
Other References: There are tons of other fairy tale references in the film as well. The ball, Cinderella getting abused by her evil stepmother, her dream of getting married to the good prince, Gilbert, and even the prince choosing Cinderella in the ball—all of these manage to make their way in. Of course, in this tale, Cinderella turns out to be a criminal instead of a princess who ends up living happily ever after. And Red Riding Hood emerges as a true detective, who confirms by the end that this is only one of her stories. Considering how much I am invested in it now, I can’t wait to see the next one.