When Ella was born, a wayward fairy named Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) bestowed upon her the gift of obedience. However, like many of Lucinda’s gifts, it didn’t turned out as planned. As she grew up, Ella found herself doing whatever anyone said whenever they said it. It turned out to be more of a curse than a gift. After her mother dies, her father (a rather lumpy Patrick Bergen) remarries. Enter the evil stepmother, sharply played by “Absolutely Fabulous” alum Joanna Lumley. By her side is a pair of evil step-sisters.
When Ella’s step-sister Hattie (Lucy Punch) discovers Ella’s curse, she uses it against her, eventually driving Ella away to find Lucinda to lift the spell. Along the way, Ella encounters a “Wizard of Oz” menagerie of friends, including a non-singing elf, Heidi Klum the giant and the foppish prince whose evil uncle Edgar (Carey Elwes) is ruling the country. Ella uses her charm to help Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy) discover his true duty to the kingdom and free the fairy tale creatures under Edgar’s rule.
“Ella Enchanted” really doesn’t take itself seriously. In fact, it so doesn’t take itself seriously that it has a negative impact on the film. There’s too much mugging at the camera and acting goofy. Jennifer Higham’s performance as the other step-sister (who appears mildly retarded rather than evil) bordered on being insulting. Instead of acting dim, she acts like a moronic squirrel on speed.
Carey Elwes takes Edgar so over the top that it makes his cheese-filled performance in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” look like he was performing Hamlet for the Queen. Elwes apparently doesn’t understand that even as a goofball villain – like John Lithgow’s tour-de-force as Lord Farquaad in “Shrek” – has to be approached in a serious manner. Alas, it seems that director O’Haver found Elwes and Higham’s performances funny on set and through that might translate to film. It didn’t.
Even the immortal Eric Idle was wasted as the narrator of the film, showing up two or three times to speak in poorly constructed iambic pentameter. Of course, considering Idle’s last comedy tour was known as “The Greedy Bastard Tour,” it’s clear he’s not above just doing a gig for a paycheck.
“Ella Enchanted” tries to turn fairy tales on their ears with inside jokes like hotels named “IV Seasons” and other colloquialisms mixed in with the medieval culture. Even if these sort of things appeared in the original book (which I haven’t read), it’s hard to think the filmmakers weren’t trying to cash in on the popularity of “Shrek.”
But the biggest bone in the throat for me with this film was the actual premise. I’m sure this was explained better in the book, but in the film, I just couldn’t buy the fact that no one ever figured out Ella’s curse earlier. I honestly found myself halfway through the film having problems getting into the characters because there were so many potential problems with this curse. It would have made better sense if Ella received the “gift” in her adolescence instead of having it all of her life – which is how the movie is advertised.
Ella’s character isn’t the only one with problems. It is so obvious how Edgar killed his brother to usurp the throne that Prince Charmont is just plain silly for not seeing it. No amount of naïveté can explain how blind Charmont is. Additionally, the social commentary is incredibly heavy-handed and not well disguised. The film paints Ella as a radical student who would be much more at home in college during the 1960s.
Still, “Ella Enchanted” actually has a lot of heart during the few times it tries to tell a story. Strip away the goofy costume choices, the silly “Shrek” rip-offs and the schmaltzy overacting, and there is the core of a decent fairy tale romance. Anne Hathaway, most famous for “The Princess Diaries,” gives soul to Ella and acts circles around many of her co-stars. She has the potential to be her generation’s Julia Roberts if someone would just cast her in a decent role. Unfortunately, Hathaway is wasted in this story that tries so hard to be clever and misses its mark.
The mentality of the movie seemed to aim a little low, missing its core “Princess Diaries” audience and becoming pure Disney Channel fodder to follow “Boy Meets World” reruns. I’m sure pre-teen girls and younger will like it, but the entire make-up of the film was far too childish for my tastes.
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