April 26, 2004 -- “Ella Enchanted” is a sweet little anachronistic musical fairy tale along the lines of “Shrek,” except that most of it isn't animated. The soundtrack of the movie is loaded with pop songs, including a show-stopping song and dance rendition of Elton John's “Don't Go Breaking My Heart.” Another musical highlight is an enjoyable rendition of Queen's “Somebody to Love.” The movie is very lighthearted
The story, adapted from a novel by Gail Carson Levine, bears some similarity to the classic fairy tale, “Cinderella.” A beautiful young girl, Ella of Frell (played to perfection by Anne Hathaway of “The Princess Diaries”) has to protect her deepest secret at all costs. Her secret is that a magical spell was cast upon her as an infant, called “The Gift of Obedience,” which forces her to obey any order she is given. After her mother dies and her father remaries, Ella gains a couple of wicked stepsisters who figure out her secret and begin to use it against her. About the same time, Ella falls in love with a prince named Char (played by Hugh Dancy).
To gain the man she loves and to get out from under the spell that enslaves her to her unscrupulous sisters, Ella goes on a journey to find a fairy named Lucinda (played by Vivica A. Fox of “Kill Bill”), who put the spell on her in the first place. She hopes to persuade Lucinda to free her from the spell. Complicating matters is Char's uncle, Prince Regent Edgar (Cary Elwes of “The Princess Bride”). The evil prince has his own plans for Char and Ella. Prince Regent Edgar is aided by a snake named Heston. The snake motif is seen everywhere in the royal castle. Snakes encircle the columns in the main hall and they adorn the royal crest. Char is a nice guy, but very naive. Ella gets him to see all the evil things his uncle has been doing, like enslaving the giants. Ella is joined by an elf on her trip. Slannen the Elf (Aidan McArdle) would rather be a lawyer than a singer (Prince Regent Edgar has ruled that Elves may pursue no other occupation). Ella is also aided on her quest by a magical talking book named Benny (Jimi Mistry).
This fairy tale, of course, has a strong feminist message, with the oppressed woman trying to free herself from the tyranny of others. The way she finally overcomes the spell is a lesson in self-empowerment. The limitations placed on the giants, ogres and elves are all forms of racism, enforced by the state. While the whole story is politically correct with its message of diversity, it is not too heavy-handed and it is leavened with lots of humor. One of the best characters in the film is the animated snake (voice by Steve Coogan of “24 Hour Party People”) called Heston. It is a delightfully evil creature with plenty of personality. Hathaway is perfect in the role of Ella. Hugh Dancy is effectively clueless as the prince and Aidan McArdle is great as the obnoxious elf who would be a lawyer.
The art design, the sets and the whole look of the movie is bright and bouncy, a perfect visual punctuation for the music and story. It looks like a fairy tale should. While it does have one low-class flatulance joke, most of the jokes are clean. Much of the humor is derived from the characters. Like “Shrek” it also satirizes martial arts films, particularly “The Matrix,” with its slow-motion camera pivoting around the kung-fu action horizontally. The film also has a lot of fun with the rock star mentality of teens as young girls swoon over the prince, or chase him menacingly. One of these particular gags is the funniest in the movie. Overall, this film shares a lot of characteristics with the better animated Disney features. It is produced by Miramax, a Disney-owned company. This film rates a B.
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