In this fairytale, the beautiful but poor Ella (Anne Hathaway) lives in a patchwork world made up of the modern world mixed with the ye olde worlde of fairytales. It's a bit like one of those kitsch towns full of guesthouses and gift shops, actually.
Ella's fairy godmother - a drunken fairy with a bad rep - blesses her with a dubious gift of obedience. Ella does everything she's ordered to, no matter how stupid or against her wishes it may be. And though she tries to keep her gift a secret after her mother dies and her father remarries an evil stepmother (Joanna Lumly), her evil stepsisters find out and use the gift against her.
This leads her to go in search of her fairy godmother, to get her to free her from the curse of obedience.
This meandering, camp musical comedy centres around Ella's attempt to throw off this gift, which has become a curse, and her fight against other evil people who wish to control her.
And yes! You guessed it! It all ends happily ever after. It's a fairytale. An over the top, tongue in cheek one that might just charm you against your better judgement, irrespective of your age.
Like "Shrek" and "The Princess Bride", much of the humour derives from characters taking on a modern sheen, and not always behaving as they would in the old Brothers Grimm tales. Ella isn't just a sweet girl. She'll also kick your arse at Kung Fu!
Serious themes - of oppression and the struggle against it - are included as part of the story, alongside the simple central story of Ella. But subtle, rounded characterisation is not director Tommy O'Haver's game. His bad girls are utter bitches, the goodies are angelic, the bad men are clever and evil, the good men are sweet and weak. And don't forget that it's a musical too! Every now and again, amusing spontaneous song and dance sequences stall the action.
The result is a bit busy. There are too many subplots, themes, characters, running jokes, and cinematic styles clashing in the same screen. It's a simple dish made with too many exotic ingredients, where fewer would have been more intriguing.
Luckily, those subplots, themes, characters and jokes are good light entertainment if you're not too much of a snob. The mix of animation and real footage is beautiful and smooth. And Anne Hatheway is any kid's dream of a perfect beautiful princess - or the archetypal girl next door - bright, sweet and docile.
So here's the point: sure the movie isn't perfect, and any grown up will be able to see where it's clumsily put together or that the humour is a little immature. But then again, catch a wake up, guys. No matter how attracted you may be to Hatheway, this is really NOT an adult movie.Ella Enchanted succeeds partly because the humour isn't too highbrow. Today's kids aren't stupid - they've got more media savvy than ever before. But they don't have "good taste". They're still kids. And the fact that Ella is watchable for the poor long-suffering parent / babysitter is a big plus.
This should be a big film for the spring holidays (and possibly a surprise gay hit too.)
- Jean Barker
What other critics thought:
"One of the smartest films for older children in quite some time, Ella Enchanted is a funny (and at times, politically pointed) take-off on the ancient conventions of fairy tales." - David Kehr, New York Times"Ella is under a spell that makes her obey all orders -- will someone please order Hathaway to stay pretty in better movies?"- David Elliott, San Diego Union-Tribune"Ella Enchanted" plays like a neighborhood playhouse version of "Shrek." With a bit of "The Princess Bride." And lots of "Cinderella."- Robert W Butler, Kansas City Star
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