© 2004 Ray Wong
Based on Gail Carson Levine’s Newberry novel, ELLA ENHANTED is a cross between THE PRINCE BRIDE, SHREK and CINDERELLA. The result is a romantic fantasy that is both fun-loving and neurotic.
When Ella of Frell is only a baby, her ditzy fairy Godmother Lucinda gives Ella a gift she simply cannot refuse: obedience. Ella has no choice but do everything other people tell her. After Ella’s mother’s death, her father remarries Lady Olga, the quintessential evil stepmother with two equally wicked daughters: Hatti and Olive. When Hatti figures out Ella’s unfortunate “gift,” Ella sets out to find Lucinda to take back the curse. She meets Prince Charmont, a kind-hearted knucklehead who has no clue of what being a future king means. Little do they know that his evil uncle Edgar is scheming to kill the Prince for the throne.
Together, Ella and Prince Charmont embark on an adventure, meeting elves and ogres and giants on the way. With the help of her aunt Mandy and an enchanted book, Ella has to find a way to undo her curse, fall in love with the Prince, save him and his kingdom, sing and dance all on the same day.
While the plot does seem somewhat complicated, the result is actually quite a simple tale. Director O’Haver (BILLY’S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN KISS) paints the film with a delightful, storybook look with a brisk, happy pace. Of course, no modern updates of medieval tales are complete without silly rock songs and pop culture references: the grand opening of a “mall,” civil right protests for ogres and elves, and a Queen song or two. The few musical numbers are actually the highlights of the film, including a sweet rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” by Hathaway (who knew she could sing?) Like in A KNIGHT’S TALE, this concoction of old and new works well together, creating a hip yet sincere confection that is sure to bring a smile or a chuckle. The editing, however, can use some work. There are scenes that look choppy, chaotic and disjointed. Fortunately, the script keeps the story light and cheery, avoiding the common sap that usually plagues such fairytales.
The cast is generally charming. Hathaway (THE PRINCESS DIARIES) has a knack for portraying headstrong fairytale heroines. Her girl-next-door appeal and sincerity serve her very well here. Dancy (BLACK HAWK DOWN) is a perfect Prince, reminding us of a younger Orlando Bloom or Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE), who in turn plays the role of the evil Edgar with sleazy charm and self-deprecating glee. The large, multiethnic cast gives us broad comedic performances that are suitable for this genre. Lumley (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS), in particular, is delicious but underused. Driver is suitably subdued as Aunt Mandy. Fox, however, is somewhat annoying as the ditzy Lucinda, and the comedic talents of both Nagra (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) and Mistry (THE GURU) are rather wasted here. The special effects range from cheesy to fabulous, giving us a general storybook feel. Overall, while the film lacks the edge of THE PRINCESS BRIDE or SHREK, it is an enchanting story that the whole family can enjoy.
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley, Jimi Mistry, Eric Idle, Parminder K. Nagra, Lucy Punch, Patrick Bergin
Director: Tommy O’Haver
Writers: Laurie Craig, Gail Carson Levine (novel)
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 5
Production – 7
Total – 6.7 out of 10