Ella Enchanted is a 2004 British-American film based on Gail Carson Levine’s 1997 novel Ella Enchanted. The book itself is based upon Cinderella but now with the addition of mythical creatures like ogres, elves, and fairies. It has been said by critics that Ella Enchanted, the movie, varies so much from the book that people should be “regarding the movie as a separate creative act.” The movie follows Ella who was given “the gift of obedience” by her fairy god mother as a child. She spends most of the movie being controlled by various characters, from her step-sisters to the king of the kingdom.
The main plot point of the novel is her journey to get the spell reversed which in the end she releases herself from the spell and then helps the prince. Anne Hathaway plays Ella and Hugh Dancy plays Prince Charmont, who end up getting married. For how terrible this movie was, they did well with what they had to work with. This movie aims for Princess Bride self-awareness and the kind of anachronistic comedy lately popularized by the Shrek movies but rooted in the British stage “panto” tradition.
There were cheesy dance numbers and a couple oddly placed outbursts of song, despite the fact that this isn’t a musical. Or at least it wasn’t for most of the production. Anne and Hugh had great chemistry, which was essential because they end up getting married in the end after they fall in love after a disgustingly short amount of time. Both had what their specific role called for and a good comedic timing. Anne has the child-like purity but also the confidence and smarts of a mature young woman that was needed to play a 19-year old where Hugh had the charisma, looks and intelligence to be the believable heir to a kingdom.
The actual film itself was horrendous. The use of green screens and special effects to create the setting and the creatures like giants and ogres were trivial and very primary. Elves are just Jewish guys in green tights. Giants are normal people (some of them in mini-skirts) projected up on a green screen behind the primary actors. Ogres are fat guys with blue spray paint on their heads. They tried to make this fairy tale more relatable to modern times by changing the wardrobe from actual medieval wear to tacky 70s rip offs for the ladies and cartoon-ish attire for the men. Incorporating modern technology into this movie didn’t help it any either.
With a crank-powered wooden escalator to an emergency button that dropped ninjas from the roof (that resembles the likes of a fire alarm), it was tacky and confusing. Though, Ella Enchanted avoids a misstep common among girl-empowerment flicks, which often feel compelled to emasculate the male lead in order to make the heroine truly heroic. This approach backfires, of course, since it’s unsatisfying for the heroine to wind up with a wimp who doesn’t deserve her; she needs a worthy suitor.
The film satirizes the teen-idol-worship culture of its own target audience with scenes of screaming maidens swooning over dashing Prince Char, while the more sensible Ella protests injustices committed by Char’s nefarious uncle. Of course Char is intrigued by Ella’s lack of interest in him, and she in turn begins to respond to his attentions. Ella is meant to be seen as a feminist-like character that cares about equal rights and disinterested in appealing to the prince with her appearance or actions, which is pretty cool to see in a children’s film. Seeing how the book is based on Cinderella, I think it’s quite an improvement in role models. Cinderella was just obedient and cried a lot but Ella works to fix her issues determinedly.