Ella Enchanted (2004)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Hathaway is a charming heroine, but the simple storyline gets overwhelmed by silly gimmickry.


Movie Info

Adapted from author Gail Carson Levine's award-winning children's book of the same name, the Miramax-financed modern fantasy Ella Enchanted is directed by Tommy O'Haver and stars The Princess Diaries alumna Anne Hathaway. Ella (Hathaway) lives in a magical world in which each child, at the moment of their birth, is given a virtuous "gift" from a fairy godmother. Ella's so-called gift, however, is obedience. This birthright proves itself to be quite the curse once Ella finds herself in the hands … More

Rating: PG (for some crude humor and language)
Genre: Kids & Family, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Michele J. Wolf, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, Jennifer Heath, Michele J. Wolff
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 24, 2004
Box Office: $22.8M
Runtime:
Miramax Films - Official Site

Cast


as Ella of Frell

as Prince Charmont

as Prince Regent Edgar

as Fairy Lucinda

as Dame Olga

as Sir Peter

as Hattie

as Benny

as Narrator
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Ella Enchanted

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Critic Reviews for Ella Enchanted

All Critics (123) | Top Critics (36)

A thoroughly charming performer with a bracing freshness about her that carries the film, [Hathaway] establishes credible chemistry with Brit thesp Dancy.

Full Review… | April 27, 2004
Variety
Top Critic

An overcalculated fusion of Shrek and The Princess Bride with all the smarts replaced by smartass.

Full Review… | April 20, 2004
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Endearing, enduring, with just a few bits of crude humor

Full Review… | December 24, 2010
Common Sense Media

Anne Hathaway is the cheery spark in this glitzy girl's fantasy story from screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith ("Legally Blonde").

Full Review… | May 4, 2009
ColeSmithey.com

The Narrator begins and ends the story talking about how fairy tales transport us to another place, but the sad fact is that Ella lets us stay right where we are.

September 22, 2006
Christianity Today

Avoids a misstep common among girl-empowerment flicks, which often emasculate the male lead to make the heroine truly heroic… manages to make both leads appealing.

Full Review… | September 16, 2004
Decent Films Guide

Audience Reviews for Ella Enchanted

British films often have a reputation for being creaky, twee and altogether more modest than their American counterparts. Ken Russell's mother used "a British picture" as shorthand for any film that was drab and dreary, in contrast to the glossy Stateside offering available when she made those comments in the 1930s. Sometimes critics on this side of the pond attempt to embrace, defend or reappropriate this creakiness, usually as a defensive criticism of Hollywood. We defend films that don't quite work on the grounds that at least they're not as sanitised, manicured and anodyne as American fare.

Ella Enchanted is a classic case in point where our common sense, objective reaction comes face to face with this apologetic tendency. There is a lot about Tommy O'Haver's film which is creaky, or half-cocked, or just a little bit twee. It feels like a film out of another time, before the goalposts for fantasy and fairy tale cinema were irreversibly shifted by Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. But in spite of all its flaws, the film is ultimately a passable affair which does have one or two surprises in store.

The most natural point of comparison within the fantasy genre would be Stardust, another British (or part-British) film in which the somewhat second-rate production values are ultimately trumped by our empathy for the characters. Purely on a cast level, Ella Enchanted boasts a slightly more A-list roster, with future Oscar winner Anne Hathaway in the lead and fantasy veteran Cary Elwes as our villain. But Stardust is drawing from the well of fantasy tropes more deeply and affectionately, while Ella Enchanted is essentially a romantic comedy in a period frock, with magic.

Both Stardust and Ella Enchanted are aimed very consciously at more of a family audience than The Lord of the Rings. While the films achieved similar certificates from the BBFC, Peter Jackson's trilogy is darker, more multi-layered, and altogether more ambitious. It's not just that he has a bigger budget to play with, or that J. R. R. Tolkien's books are longer and more complex: it's that his ambitions for the characters and what they represent are greater and more fully realised. Stardust and Ella Enchanted are much flimsier affairs, whose appeal comes from whimsy and escapist enjoyment rather than anything more profound or visceral.

Don't presume, however, Ella Enchanted is a film with nothing between its ears. Strip away the fantasy trappings and you discover a film about women taking charge of their own destinies. Our heroine goes through her entire life being at the mercy of other people, most of whom exploit her for their cruel, near-sadistic satisfaction. She obeys because she has no choice, her gift (or should that be curse) reflecting a world in which women are often denied the agency or independence they deserve.

Considering that the film is at its heart a frothy romantic comedy (with big dollops of pantomime), the way in which it approaches this idea is surprisingly sophisticated. A lot has been written about how misogyny is caused as much by women shaming other women as it is by the actions of men, something which is reflected in the film. Many of Ella's tormentors are other women, who pick on her because they are jealous of her, insecure about themselves or too lazy to improve their lot in life. And unlike some of Hathaway's subsequent rom-com run-ins (for instance, Bride Wars), the film avoids just degenerating into one long catfight, in which all the women are fighting amongst themselves and all the men are completely innocent or oblivious.

When doing publicity for this film, Hathaway said that one of the reasons she liked it was the way in which it "makes fun of itself for being a fairy tale". It's certainly the case that the film is attempting to poke fun at many fairy tale tropes, including the lack of agency in some of the roles accorded to women. Ella's sisters are clearly inspired by the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, and there are vague nods to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty when the lovers first meet. But the film doesn't act too deferentially towards these elements, putting a sense of fun over any form of fidelity.

Unfortunately, this tactic of sending up the fairy tale trappings has the side effect of bringing the film's creakiness to the fore. There are some nice visual touches along the way, such as the escalator in the mall which is made of wood and cranked by hand. But the film lacks the edge or energy of Shrek both in its vague desire to be satirical and the strength of its relationships outside of this. Much like The Princess Bride, it ends up wanting to have its cake and eat it, and it isn't as funny or as well made as Rob Reiner's film.

A great deal of Ella Enchanted plays out like a ramshackle pantomime. I've spoken before about the shared roots between pantomimes and fairy tales, and so this is not entirely a surprise. But unlike Sleeping Beauty, the pantomime spirit here comes out in how shakily the film is assembled, both aesthetically and narratively. Pantomime is driven by characters reacting to events rather than acting in spite of them, but many of the obstacles our characters face are shoddily executed.

The scene with the giants is a very good example of this. The sequence puts us in familiar fairy tale territory (Jack and the Beanstalk and all that), and we have a romantic element to drive the plot forward. There are some good, fun moments, the best being Hathaway's spirited and convincing rendition of Queen's 'Somebody To Love' (like Les Miserables, it's all her own singing). But we also have to deal with the bad forced perspective and the ropey CG effects which make the film look like it was made in the 1950s.

Many of the scenes with Cary Elwes fall into the same camp. Elwes is a versatile actor, and he does do lip-curling antagonists rather convincingly. But everything about his character is made a little bit more ridiculous than it needs to be, right down to the laughable size of his massive staff. While Elwes works hard to make it look like he's not telegraphing the plot to the audience (which, of course, he is), you're always left wondering whether his appearance is a sly joke or simply a poor piece of design.

Much of the blame for this lies with the director. Tommy O'Haver is at best a nuts-and-bolts filmmaker: he's well-meaning, and can make a plot move for a certain amount of time, but his visual decisions are unconvincing and often derivative. In this case he is ill-equipped to create an absorbing fantasy universe, in which every piece has a logic behind it or represents a compelling idea. In his hands the fantasy world feels like a parade of half-finished concepts, endless sidekicks and poor special effects.

As far as the performances are concerned, O'Haver does fare a little better. As with his previous film, Get Over It, he does give his female lead the room she needs to express herself; like Kirsten Dunst, Hathway's presence gradually grows and her comedic potential increases as the film goes on. It's not exactly a career-making performance, nor is she playing against type in her Princess Diaries period of roles. But she's charming and capable, and does manage to carry the story on her own.

Much like Get Over It, however, many of the supporting cast don't get the same amount of flexibility. Lucy Punch has gradually carved out a niche for herself in Hollywood comedies, but here she's largely one-note and regularly over-eggs it in an annoying way. Joanna Lumley is the ideal choice for the wicked stepmother figure, but she's less convincingly wicked here than she was in James and the Giant Peach. Jimi Mistry doesn't get as much screen time as his work on East is East would lead us to expect, and Eric Idle's narration is as flat and superfluous as his Stardust counterpart.

Ella Enchanted is a passable romcom in a fantasy outfit which will entertain young viewers quite happily over its running time. While aspects of its characterisation are sophisticated and it is sporadically good fun, it is far too creakily mounted and limiting in places to be given a clean bill of health. Stardust remains the superior family fantasy, but for a quite afternoon in with the grandchildren, there are worse things you could throw at them.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

A funny, unconventional fairy tale that goes Passably Bollywood. Anne Hathaway does some really nice crying and singing.

aliceinpunderland
Alice Shen

Super Reviewer

½

Great for little girls and whilst the art direction was brilliant, not much else was.

StarCrossedVoyager
Sophie Burgess

Super Reviewer

Ella Enchanted Quotes

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– Submitted by Frances H (17 months ago)
– Submitted by Junica R (3 years ago)

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