April 22, 2004

Ella Enchanted

Print More

Think of a live action Shrek, The Princess Bride on speed with an all-brunette cast, and what results is Ella Enchanted, a Cinderella-story for the bubblegum pop generation. Vibrant and effervescent while mixing the old with the new, director Tommy O’Haver’s latest film is a fresh new romp through a familiar world, one that we have known since childhood.

Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) is given the gift of obedience as a baby, but her gift is often a liability. Things get considerably worse when her father remarries and Ella finds herself saddled with not only a new stepmother, but also two stepsisters. Since this is fairytale land, the word “evil” is a mandatory adjective to accurately describe all of Ella’s new relatives. Determined to get her gift revoked, Ella sets out to find her fairy godmother. With a talking book named Benny (Jimi Mistry) as her guide, Ella meets a prince named Charmont (Hugh Dancy), his morally ambiguous uncle, Prince Edgar (Cary Elwes), and an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle).

Sounds pretty cookie-cutter generic, right? Except that Ella is far from the fantasy/romance of our young adult novel days. Unlike other fairytales, Ella is not a vehicle of escape from the harsh realities of life, but instead attempts to strengthen its connection with the real world. With a pop culture reference every three lines and a snarky critique of modern life every four lines, Ella is very aware of reality.

Hathaway is delightful as Ella, with a plucky, Jennifer Garner-esque appeal that makes her prone to both kind gestures and righteous heroics. Far from being a damsel in distress, Hathaway would more likely roll her eyes at such theatrics. Her Ella is more comfortable fighting for the freedom of the oppressed or charming herself out of dangerous situations with fast thinking and a razor-sharp wit.

Dancy’s curly-haired, leather pants wearing Prince Char (as he’s called by adoring fans) is a modern-day teen celebrity afflicted by “I just want a normal life” syndrome. When not running frantically from rabid fangirls, Dancy is busy furrowing his brows in attempts to have different expressions. So Dancy’s prince left a lot to be desired, but the movie is geared more towards promoting girl power than true love.

What often makes a fairytale great is its villains, and Ella is choc full of the good stuff. When not slightly rolling his r’s in true snobby, upper-crust fashion, Elwes (now a brunette) is busy perfecting his Evil Expression. But the charm of Ella is that evil to Prince Edgar means forcing Ella to do the hokey pokey against her will. Ella’s bitchy and air-headed stepsisters (as in, one is bitchy and one is air-headed) also don’t disappoint, both skillfully portrayed as entirely unpleasant.

Yes, there are dance numbers. Yes, there is singing. And yes, everyone pairs off romantically in the end, save for Ella’s One Dimensional Ethnic Friend, Areida (Parminder Nagra). But despite its lapses into mediocrity, the film remains bubbly and fun — a smile-inducing ray of sunshine. With a simple and elegant lesson of, “you can accomplish anything,” the movie reminds us all that there is still magic in the strength of the human heart.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Red Letter Daze Movie Editor