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Friday Film Review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted (2004)
Genre: Fractured Fairy Tale
Grade: B

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?

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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.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. cate
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 05:12:57

    This is a sort of a ho-hum film for me. It’s very definately a wet Sunday afternoon watch, and for me the book really is better than the film.
    Once again I found myself watching for the supporting cast – & they ARE criminally underused – rather than the leads.Sometimes ALL the best lines go to the supports rather than the leads, -and this is one of those films where they do.
    Hathaway & Dancy are sweet, but with a distinct lack of chemistry.
    For fans of the magnificent Lucy Punch – comedic actress par excellance. You could look no further than the second best series to pop off the TV screens last year(UK), & that’s Vexed. Written by Howard Overman(Misfits) & also starring Toby Stephens, it was quirky, funny & absorbing in a twisted way….& unfortunately the Beeb haven’t recomissioned it. BTW Sherlock was the best thing to be broadcast last year !

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  2. Jayne
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 07:14:42

    @cate: Why do networks always can the best stuff and leave the ho-hum for 3 more seasons?

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  3. fairyfreak
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 07:25:52

    I really liked this movie too, and was surprised that so many people were upset with it. I think it does help that I haven’t read the books, because I don’t really care if it’s different. To me, it’s just a fun, light singing-adventure movie with magic. :)

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  4. cate
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 07:36:49

    @Jayne:
    Dunno about the US but in the UK it’s called “the credit crunch” ! Plus I think the programmers want instant success, & are less likely to recommission slow burners than they used to !

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  5. LG
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 09:05:02

    This was a “C” film for me, and I almost didn’t read the book because of it. The book turned out to be so much better, though! I know I should have realized that the book and the movie were probably two different animals, but I’ve gotten so used to movies that at least try to be as much like the book as possible, to avoid angering the legions of rabid fans, that I figured that was the case with this film too. Not so.

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  6. FiaQ
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 09:26:50

    @cate:

    [re: Vexed] unfortunately the Beeb haven't recomissioned it.

    Greenlit Rights (responsible for Foyle’s War, Vexed and the Clooney film The American) closed the doors for good last summer. It’s unlikely Vexed will have another series. Almost all rights to GR’s productions are apparently still tangled with a legal dispute that will probably last for years.

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  7. library addict
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 09:28:10

    Didn’t even realize there was a book. I went and saw this in the theatre, and though I enjoyed it, have yet to purchase the DVD.

    Think I’ll put it on my wishlist.

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  8. Jane
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:11:06

    @library addict The book is awesome. Very pro girl.

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  9. Andrea S
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:43:36

    I have serious problems with this movie, but that stems mostly from the fact that this was my favorite book for about 8 years (until I discovered Jennifer Crusie). And they do so many things wrong if you’re expecting a faithful adaptation. The book and the movie are very different in feel and tone, but they have the same message about believing in yourself. So I would heartily suggest the book. It’s awesome!

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  10. Tweets that mention Friday Film Review: Ella Enchanted | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 11:02:24

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by rissatoo, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: Friday Film Review: Ella Enchanted http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2011/02/18/friday-film-review-ella-enchanted/ [...]

  11. cate
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:01:10

    @FiaQ:
    So no more Foyle then – damn ! Thanks for the info.

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  12. Ceilidh
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 14:08:58

    It’s definitely a fun movie and Anne Hathaway is always charming. It’s clearly taken from the Shrek mould of fairytale parodies which isn’t always a bad thing. Of course, it ain’t no Princess Bride (but that is my favourite book of all time so I can’t be neutral on that topic.)

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  13. EGS
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 17:30:55

    @Jayne

    You must read the book! It’s one of my favorites of all time. The movie just can’t compare, although Hugh Dancy is very pretty.

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  14. Kinsey
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 17:41:50

    I really need to read the book. I loved the movie because I like any movie I can watch with my daughter and nephews, all in the 7-9 range. There was enough sly humor for the adults, but nothing too risque for the the kids and they loved it.

    Not nearly as good as Shrek or Princess Bride, but that’s a high bar. And the kids don’t like watching Princess Bride with the grownups because we know all the dialogue and shout it out with the actors. The kids say it’s obnoxious.

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  15. Jayne
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 18:10:23

    @EGS: I’m getting the impression that I need to! Will have to hunt it down.

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  16. Jayne
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 18:11:50

    @Ceilidh:

    Of course, it ain't no Princess Bride (but that is my favourite book of all time so I can't be neutral on that topic.)

    Oh me too. I’ve loved that book for 30+ years.

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  17. Jayne
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 18:13:38

    @Kinsey: LOL, that’s a hard movie not to shout out dialogue to. They just need to watch it more so they can shout it out with you.

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  18. Marumae
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 19:43:49

    When I first saw this movie I turned my brain off to just enjoy the cheese and laughed hysterically and enjoyed every minute. Now that I’ve read the book (which was by accident I was bored one afternoon and picked it up and read it in like…a DAY which hasn’t happened in YEARS). I realize why fans of the book were so upset, still if anything because I saw the movie first I’m able to still enjoy it.:)

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  19. loreen
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 03:04:49

    I thought the film was forgetable, but the book was marvelous. One thing that I found odd about the film was the age of Ella/Anne Hathaway. The book is written for girls around 9 to 12, I believe. I don’t recall anything specific about the age of Bella, but she always seemed like a young teenager. She goes to school and has a very chaste first crush on the prince. Of course, to cast the movie with a star and make the romance palatable to audiences, the character had to be quite a bit older.
    What I love about the book is the humor and the wonderful word-pay. The vocabulary is quite sophisticated for a young reader, but the humor and the vivid characters keep them engaged. I read it with a 10 year old who delighted in the ogre language and poems.
    I highly recommend this book, regardless of how you felt about the movie.

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  20. Tabatha
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 15:45:28

    I hated the movie. However, I took the time to read the book. The movie was a slap in the face to anyone who loved the book. It’s borderline making fun of the whole story. It was as if the writers and director were trying too hard to make it a comedy which the book had just a darker tone compared to the movie.

    ReplyReply

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