Miramax // 2004 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 12th, 2012
A fairy tale adventure for the hero in all of us.
"It will only hurt for a moment, I promise. I'm a fast eater."
Ella (Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married) is one of the nicest people in the magical kingdom of Frell. Unfortunately, she is cursed with a horrible affliction that causes others to take advantage of her on a regular basis: she is unable to disobey any order she is given. As such, she often finds herself doing the bidding of her wicked step-sisters Hattie (Lucy Punch, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and Olive (Jennifer Higham, Cassandra's Dream). Eventually, Ella determines to find the misguided fairy (Vivica A. Fox, Independence Day) who gave her this "gift" and persuade her to remove it. Along the way, she encounters the dreamy Prince Char (Hugh Dancy, Adam), the villainous Prince Edward (Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride), the legally-minded elf Slannen (Aiden McArdle, Me and Orson Welles), a handful of ogres, a nasty snake and other colorful figures.
Though nearly every review of Ella Enchanted was quick to compare the film to The Princess Bride (it's another playful fairy tale riff that features Cary Elwes in a prominent role), it feels much more inspired by the Shrek franchise: it leans a bit too heavily on anachronistic pop songs, it already feels pretty dated and it has a bit more of an emotional hook than you might expect. The movie is corny, lightweight stuff, but there are just enough sturdy performances and charmingly earnest moments to lift the film above many other entries in the "fractured fairy tale" subgenre (which has seen an exceptionally large number of awful entries -- admittedly, many of them straight-to-DVD efforts -- in recent years).
There's no question that the film's strongest element is Anne Hathaway, who never rolls her eyes at the material or phones in a poorly-written scene. Her consistent energy in spite of the inconsistent material is somewhat reminiscent of her earnest work as James Franco's co-host of the 83rd Academy Awards (though the film thankfully gives her a good deal more to work with than Franco did). Hathaway has been miscast frequently and has taken some unfortunate roles over the course of her career, but she's never been a lazy or uninteresting actress. Thankfully, Ella is a very comfortable fit for her, as Hathaway's boundless enthusiasm and good-natured charm are built into the character's DNA.
There's plenty of potential in the film's premise (a girl can't disobey anyone) for hilarity, though the film fumbles the idea as often as not. Yes, there are laughs to be had from the physical comedy it inspires (observe Hathaway's amusingly ungainly writhing after Elwes commands, "Shake your booty!"), but the film unfortunately requires its characters to be kind of stupid on too many occasions. With some careful phrasing, Ella could easily work her way out of many of the predicaments she finds herself in. The villains are similarly dense in their failure to find foolproof ways to prevent Ella from wriggling free of their schemes. Even more disappointingly, the film's climax contains an underwhelming out-of-left-field solution to the assorted problems the plot presents.
Still, it's a good-natured movie that occasionally manages to conjure up some genuinely clever moments. The film jovially inserts as many puns and silly punchlines into the dialogue as possible, and every now and then the right delivery will make you smile. In one entertainingly nutty moment, a group of giddy teenage girls begin literally kissing the ground Prince Char has walked on. "Stop tonguing the foyer!" the tour guide sternly commands. There's also a joyful little sequence in which Hathaway delivers an impromptu, immensely appealing cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love." She's no Freddy Mercury, but I defy you to find me someone who is.
Ella Enchanted (Blu-ray) features a stellar 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that offers excellent detail and vibrant colors. Unfortunately, it also highlights the film's rather shoddy CGI -- granted, the sinister snake looks quite strong, but the rest of the digital stuff? Not so much. Depth is solid and flesh tones are warm and natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is reasonably strong, with the pop songs coming through with particular vigor and the action sequences proving pretty immersive. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the typically flighty underscore is well-served. Supplements include a commentary with director Tommy O'Haver and actors Anne Hathaway & Hugh Dancy, a typically fluffy "The Magical World of Ella Enchanted" (28 minutes) featurette, another piece on the "Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special" (23 minutes), some deleted/extended scenes, a Kari Kimmel music video and a DVD copy.
Ella Enchanted's jokes and digital effects have lost some punch over the last few years, but it's still a modestly charming effort that should prove a fun ride for younger viewers and a perfectly tolerable experience for parents.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Music Video
* DVD Copy