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Ella Enchanted (PG) (2004)

Miramax

Official Site

Director: Tommy O’Haver

Producer: Jane Startz

Written by: Laurie Craig and Karen McCullah Lutz, & Kirsten Smith and Jennifer Heath, & Michele J. Wolff; from the novel by Gail Carson Levine

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley, Patrick Bergin, Jimi Mistry, Eric Idle, Parminder K. Nagra, Lucy Punch, Jennifer Higham, Aidan McArdle

Rating:

Mothers, this is the film you want to take your children to see: It teaches girls how to be strong, boys how to be chivalrous, and future directors/producers how to create the next Hallmark “Movie of the Week.” It’s trite, it’s obvious, it’s kitschy—it’s a kids’ flick. While grown-ups may be tempted to roll their eyes a time or two-million, Ella Enchanted will be lauded by tiny people everywhere.

Anne Hathaway plays Ella of Frell, a sweet but opinionated girl who has been cursed since birth with the “gift” of obedience. No matter what she wants, Ella cannot refuse a direct order, a fact which her wicked stepsisters Hattie (Punch) and Olive (Higham) take full advantage of. Desperate to have control over her own life, Ella embarks on a journey to find her fairy godmother (Fox) and revoke this treacherous gift, making friends along the way with a legal-minded elf (McArdle), a magical book named Benny (Mistry), and the hunky Prince of the kingdom himself (Dancy). Will she be able to free herself before ogres eat her, the step-snitchers plot against her, or the Prince’s evil Uncle Edgar (Elwes) enslaves her? Okay, so we all know the answer to that one, but let’s just pretend for the kiddies’ sakes, alright?

What is interesting about this movie compared to others of the fantasy genre, is how O’Haver mixes the fairy world with the modern realm. Mall openings, wooden escalators, a fanatical Prince Char fan club—all poke fun at our own capitalist, pop culture existence. At one point Ella’s stepmother Olga (Lumley) contemplates a new magic potion made from bats and oxen that promises to instantly restore her youth. It is called, of course, “Batox.” Corny, yes, but amusing all the same.

While Hathaway may not be the world’s best dancer (you’ll see what I mean), she definitely makes up for it with likeability. Even when the lines are sickly sweet, rhetorically exaggerated, or just overly “yeah right,” she still manages to come off quite charming. That said, the rest of the performances were depressingly ho-hum. I was especially disappointed with the very brief, very unremarkable spotlight given to “Absolutely Fabulous” star Joanna Lumley, who plays Ella’s evil stepmother. Rather than exhibiting the sharp but slightly off-kilter wit for which she is famed, Lumley is instead forced to play a rather stereotypical evil stepmother role. Likewise, Cary Elwes’ unscrupulous and manipulative Edgar leaves much to be desired. If you’ve seen one royal murderous power-freak, you’ve seen ’em all. Many of the roles are inflated like this, in fact, as are the movie’s humor and plot. My only advice to the adults in the audience is to just remind yourself throughout the overplayed Matrix/Crouching Dragon shots: This is for kids, this is for kids, this is for kids…

What kills me the most about this movie, though, is just how far the content strays from its original form. Based on Gail Carson Levine’s award-winning children’s book, the movie version of Ella Enchanted preserves only about 5.5% of this first story. In fact, the screenplay crew pretty much gutted the entire thing like a freshly hooked catfish and left nothing behind but some names and the vaguest of character descriptions. I really hope Levine got a good deal in selling her rights to the tale, because otherwise I would be p-i-double-sed about the outcome. The book is five hundred times better than the movie (as usual), and I heartily encourage all Harry Potter and Narnia fans like myself to go pick up a copy.

Despite the movie’s stretching of artistic license and the occasional overacting, Ella Enchanted is still what I would like to call “cute.” Characters are respectively nice or mean, pretty or ugly, sincere or manipulative, and although there is some major conflict and misunderstanding in the story, of course it all comes to good with a schmaltzy love scene and the end. While Ella Enchanted will never be the next Shrek, it is a welcome and appropriate solution to that rainy day boredom when nothing is on TV, the thunder keeps rattling your panes, and the kids have run out of things to break.

—Emily Younger

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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