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47 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If Ella is not enchanted then Anne Hathaway certainly is, August 27, 2004
This review is from: Ella Enchanted (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
There are two things that colored my perception of "Ella Enchanted." The first is that I just saw "A Cinderella Story" a couple of weeks ago, and since that was the worst movie made on the Cinderella theme in the history of the world anything else was going to look a lot better in comparison. But then director Tommy O'Haver has the advantage of being able to mine the gold from Gail Carson Levine's beloved children's novel, which provides enough creative sparks to make this movie something different. If you are going to tell the Cinderella story over again then you need to have a twist that justifies the effort, and "Ella Enchanted" has a couple of those.

Second, this really is a movie aimed at kids. I say this because the key twist in this story is that when Ella is born a rather second rate fairy named Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) gives her the gift of obedience. This means that every time somebody tells Ella to do something, she has to do it. Now, for kids, younger kids, this is a truly nightmare scenario. Parents and other adults are always telling you to do something: what if they could MAKE you do whatever they wanted? Endless chores, homework, and probably music lessons would be your fate, which is essentially what happens to Ella when she grows up to be Anne Hathaway.

Hathaway is the star of this film and what promise she showed in "The Princess Dairies" is fulfilled her as she plays Ella as more of a civil rights advocate than a would be fairy princess. This is because in the other fun twist the regent, Prince Edgar (Carl Elwes, playing for the other side this time having done the hero bit in "The Princess Bride"), has ordered all the elves, ogres, giants and other non-humans to live in the forest, at least when they are not serving as slave labor in behalf of the kingdom. Ella knows this is wrong and while every other eligible maiden in the land is throwing themselves at the feet of Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), Ella is more interested in giving the heir a piece of her mind on the eve of his coronation.

Since this is a take off of a sort on Cinderella we have to have the wicked step mother (Joanna Lumley) and her daughters, the mean one, Hattie (Lucy Punch), and the stupid one, Olive (Jennifer Higham). One of the most problematic elements in the story is where the good and kindly father (Patrick Bergin) marries the wrong woman. When the fairy tale was first told it was commonplace for widows and widowers to marry (it worked well for young Abraham Lincoln), but now adays the logic of such marriages is a hit and miss proposition: we buy it in "Ever After" and we laugh at it in "A Cinderella Story." At least Ella's dad is not dead but simply off on business while his new wife and step-daughters treat Ella like she was a maid who gets dirty from the cinders in the fireplace.

I saw this 2004 film is aimed at kids because the injustices that Hattie heaps on Ella are going to drive the young ones right through the roof. I am old enough to know that things will work out for Ella in the end and I suspect most kids will know that too, but I am also old enough to want Hattie to get more of a comeuppance than she does in this film (or its alternative ending). But then I also know why the original Cinderella wore glass slippers (I cannot explain it because children might read this review; if you ever read the original story of "The Little Mermaid" then you know that most of the classic fairy tales talk a walk on the dark side).

There are lots of creative little touches that help this film along. Mandy (Minnie Driver), the inept house fairy who tries to look after Ella, has a boyfriend named Benny (Jimi Mistry), who is trapped in a book. Open the book and Benny can show you where somebody is and what they are doing, which becomes helpful as Ella tries to find Lucinda to take back her gift and help save the day at the end of the film. What I really liked is how the enchantment is broken, which worked on at least two significant levels, which is two more than you usually get in a Hollywood film.

The only reason "Ella Enchanted" is not a truly superb film is because we have seen bits and pieces of this fractured fairy tale approach in things like "Into the Woods" and "Shrek." I would also toss out a working hypothesis that there are only so many variations on the Cinderella theme that you are willing to admit to the first level. For me that would be "Pretty Woman" and "Ever After" (having Hector Elizondo or Leonardo Da Vinci in the fairy godmother role appeals to me), but for young kids they might fall in love with "Ella Enchanted" in the same way.

Anne Hathaway makes that easy to do, especially when her character is forced to belt out a cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love." She has those big eyes and that bright smile and spins enough magic in this movie to make up for a by-the-numbers wasted sequel like "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." Obviously she needs to break out of the "princess" mode and her next film, "Havoc," should provide that: she plays a wealthy L.A. teen who imitates the gangsta lifestyle of hip hop culture with her friends and then encounters a gang of real Latino drug dealers in the big bad city. Yep, that should break Hathaway out of the princess rut.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 29, 2006 9:36:45 AM PST
a reviewer says:
Sure, Ella is sweet, but in a disgusting manner. She's stuck up, and always gets her own way. This reveiw makes the movie out as a very sweet and cute fairy tale. The heroine is cute, the average Damsel in Distress. But if you don't like average fairy tales, don't watch this one
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