Ella Enchanted (2004)
Genre: Fractured Fairy Tale
I’d been toying with watching this movie for a while, ever since I got in the Cinderella kick, but negative comments about its adaptation from the book always put me off. But then I thought, “Jayne you haven’t read the book so what do you care?” Into my Netflix queue it went. Though I have some reservations about it – which are the type which emerged afterwards as I thought more about it – it’s a film that I think would be especially good and empowering for younger girls to see.
Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) was given – cursed with? – the gift of obedience by the Fairy Lucinda (Viveca Fox) who is known for her bad gifts to newborns. Ella has to do whatever anyone tells her and everyone around her who loves her has to watch what they say. This wasn’t so much of a problem when her mother was alive but after her death, Ella’s father (Patrick Bergin) marries a vile woman (Joanna Lumley) with two terrible daughters Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive (Jennifer Higham) who quickly discover the curse and use it to their advantage.
There reaches a point when Ella has had enough and sets off to find Lucinda and make her take back the “gift.” Along the way she again meets Prince Char (Hugh Dancy), with whom she had an earlier run in, an elf (Aiden McArdle) who wants to be a lawyer but who is forbidden by the harsh segregation laws put in place by Char’s uncle and guardian Edgar (Cary Elwes), as well as ogres and giants also discriminated against by those laws.
As they travel to Lamia for Char’s coronation, Ella and Char start to fall in love and Char begins to see the effect Edgar has had on the kingdom. But Edgar isn’t about to lose his hold on power and after meeting Hattie and Olive, he devises the perfect plan to eliminate Char. Can Ella stop his evil intentions, save the man she loves and overcome her curse?
The opening song of the film, “Strange Magic” by ELO, told me immediately that I would love the music used. Another favorite of mine, “Somebody to Love” by Queen, is turned into a show stopping performance for Ella and there’s a fabulous group effort at the end to a catchy “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” which is a strange choice for a wedding but bouncy to watch nonetheless.
This a fractured fairy tale in the vein of “Shrek” or “Princess Bride” and a lot of the fun is catching all the references, puns and jokes slyly inserted in not only the dialogue but also the background sets. Let’s just say the Grimm Brothers don’t come off well. I’ll be honest and say I don’t think it quite matches either of those other films but obviously a lot of effort and care was put into it. Ditto for the sets as a whole which are fabulous as well as the stunning opening sequence. Watch how the Miramax illustration merges into and becomes a medieval world. And since it’s a fairy tale world the waltzing, line dancing, red ninjas and “Batox” didn’t bother me at all.
It’s also an obvious YA girl empowerment vehicle. Ella defends herself and saves others though Prince Char does lend a hand a few times. Ella also ends up being the one to save Char – which even though it’s only once, to his rescuing her twice, is done when it counts – and finds the inner strength to break the curse of her “gift.” She’s the one who opens Char’s eyes to the injustices in his kingdom and, I’m pretty sure, will always be the brains and heart of his reign. But I like that Char knows from the start that Ella is a strong personality and loves her for exactly who she is. She’s the one who makes him want to be a better king and man.
All the actors do a marvelous job in their roles though I think Minnie Driver, Viveca Fox, and Parminder Nagra are criminally underused. Lucy Hatch is a stand out as the crueler sister who is also the leader of one of Char’s “boy band” fan clubs. It’s nice to see Lumley again in a role reminiscent of Ab Fab and Cary Elwes as the opposite of himself in “Princess Bride.” But one of my favorite “characters” is actually CGI – Steve Coogan as the voice of the sinister mix of Kaa and Shere Khan from “Jungle Book” – Heston the snake.
I watched this a few days before writing the review and thinking back on it, the film might be a little too earnest in its efforts to be PC, empowering and inclusive. The overall message is a great one but I found the ‘days after’ feel a touch too sweet. But, in an about face, I also think it’s a film that rewards repeated viewings – as I found myself when I watched parts of it with the commentary track on. It’s snappy, happy, toe tapping fun. Perhaps a little silly yet “Charmant” all the same.