Ella Enchanted seems to want to exist in the same world of The Princess Bride, Shrek, and Monty Python. Sadly, this Anne Hathaway vehicle from 2004, (which premieres on Blu Ray on October 16th), plays like an watered-down version of those films, and is missing their subversive edge. Oh Hathaway has pluck, and there is some chemistry between her Dancy. However, the story often just feels like it’s trying to hard and the film’s general tone quickly wears out its welcome.
The storyline of Ella Enchanted is one built entirely around a gimmick, which is that Ella, when she was a baby, was given what probably rates as the worst gift of all time by her fairy godmother: total, unstoppable obedience. After years of dealing with this repugnant gift, Ella sets out to find her godmother, (played by Vivica A. Fox in total ham-bone mode), to hopefully free herself from her odious enchantment.
As you might expect what follows from this set-up is a stream of sequences which strive desperately for broad, family-friendly entertainment, some of which are more engaging than others and none of which really register as being anything aside from superfluous to the actual themes of the film, which circle around a simple coming-of-age story.
If the film has a saving grace it is in the form of Anne Hathaway, who seems perfectly comfortable existing in a colorful, goofy world and game for all of the “crazy hijinks” that director Tommy O’Haver and each of his five screenwriters put her through. And boy do they put her through her paces. From a silly, completely un-involving fight scene, (where Hathaway suddenly is endowed with a supreme affinity for martial arts), to a strange sequence where the character is forced to sing a rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” the actress carries the film through its whimsical foolishness with the strength of her good-natured charisma.
The other actors are competent, if unremarkable in their roles. Dancy, as the toothy Prince Charmont and eventual object of Ella’s desire, makes a fine beefcake and is able to establish a lively repoire with Hathaway. Cary Elwes on the other hand, despite being no stranger to this type of film, (having starred as the iconic Westley in The Princess Bride), is so egregiously stylized with his performance that one can’t help but be somewhat turned off.
However, Ella Enchanted is a film where arguably its design is even more critical than the strength of its acting. Director O’Haver is able to synthesize his film’s various aesthetic elements to create a visual presentation which compliments the storyline but does little to enhance it. Part of the problem here is probably financial; the film was only budgeted at $31 million dollars, a paltry sum for a fantasy/period piece in 2004. However, because of the jokey nature of the story, the tacky look of the costumes and the unconvincing effects work doesn’t detract from the experience.
In its new Blu Ray format Ella’s world looks great, with vibrant colors, (the hills of Ireland have rarely appeared so lush and green), and a soundtrack that rings out with clarity and strength. Even more impressive is the bonanza of bonus features that Miramax included with the film, such as: a fairly extensive “Making of” featurette, a music video of Kari Kimmel’s song, “It’s Not Just Make Believe,” and also a feast of deleted and extended sequences. The one negative of the bonus features would be the thirty minute “Red Carpet” special hosted by then teen heartthrob musicians, Kari Kimmel and Jessie McCartney. This feature contains basically identical “Making of” footage from the official “Making of” featurette, and is only occasionally broken up by some shots of the film’s stars arriving for the film’s New York premiere and doing their obligatory gushing.
Ella Enchanted was allegedly based on the bestselling novel by Gail Carson Levine, yet the changes are allegedly so dramatic that the existing film only bares a passing resemblance to its source material. Perhaps that is the best way to characterize the experience. The film is passable, albeit unmemorable, family-friendly entertainment. It’s a shame that Disney, in its lustful zeal to obtain adaptable properties, couldn’t be bothered to stick closer to storyline of the novel and not simply deliver a film that is a strikingly simple and silly story of a young woman coming into her own. But, hell, when you’re looking to reach the biggest audience and insure the greatest profit, simplify, simplify simplify is probably the name of the game. Those construction costs on Hong Kong Disneyland weren’t going to pay for themselves.