Ella Enchanted
directed by Tommy O'Haver
(Miramax, 2004)

There's a reason that every year seems to bring at least one new adaptation of the Cinderella story -- it is, indeed, an enchanting story that speaks to the heart. Who doesn't love the plucky heroine? I oftentimes find myself pulling for the bad guys in films, but who in the world could ever like that evil stepmother or her awful daughters? Of course, Ella Enchanted isn't your traditional fairy tale, even though all of the important elements are there -- the fairy godmother, the prince, etc. Ella is not reduced to slavery by her stepmother, and she doesn't have any contact with cinders, but she does find herself effectively controlled by one of her awful new stepsisters.

Anyone who has read Terry Pratchett or watched Shrek 2 knows that fairy godmothers can do more harm than good, and the one in this movie (played by Vivica A. Fox) proves the point. Lucinda's gift to the baby Ella is obedience. You may think you've gotten some rotten gifts before, but the gift of obedience is the worst of the worst. Ella grows up with a strong mind and a beautiful heart, but she is helpless to refuse any request made of her. You can just imagine the kind of havoc one could wreak if one found out Ella's secret. Forbidden to tell anyone about her curse of a blessing, Ella eventually decides that she must seek out her godmother and beg her to take the gift back.

Ella sets out on her long journey in the days preceding the coronation of Prince Char (Hugh Dancy). Char is pretty much the Elvis of the realm, with young ladies in waiting breaking out into hysterics whenever he appears and, more often than not, chasing him down like hounds after a fox. He first meets Ella during one such chase, and he is immediately taken by this young lady who doesn't swoon in his presence; in fact, Ella has a thing or two to say to the young prince because she is opposed to his uncle's royal policies that discriminate against ogres, elves and giants. She knows what it is like to have to do something against your wishes, and that makes her most forthright in her political statements. As fate would have it, the two meet again, love blossoms, and the prince gets to see firsthand the unfortunate lives his non-human subjects have been forced into living. Eventually, they arrive at the castle, and fate's dark side decides to show up and torture the innocent Ella once again. The prospects go far beyond the ruin of her love life, however; they threaten the integrity and welfare of the entire kingdom.

Ella Enchanted is a somewhat unusual film. I daresay it's the only place you'll ever find "Cinderella" belting out a saucy version of Queen's "Somebody to Love," for instance. It's a little jarring to hear "Strange Magic" as the film opens, but you quickly grow to love the entire soundtrack (especially if you're an adult -- most kids won't recognize some of the classic tunes included here). I can't say the special effects are all that great, especially the ones featuring giants, but it is the story, not the special effects, that matter in this case, and Ella Enchanted really delivers. With its mix of humor and drama, it should appeal to most any viewer -- and you can't help but be won over by the beauty and talent of Anne Hathaway in the lead role.

Ella Enchanted succeeds admirably in delivering a new twist on a universally known story of good vs. evil. I wouldn't rank it up there with Ever After, but it's definitely one of the better Cinderella adaptations I've seen.

by Daniel Jolley
27 May 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.