Eye For Film >> Movies >> Ella Enchanted (2004) Film Review
Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski
Ella Enchanted takes place in a fantastic mediaeval town, not dissimilar in its cuteness and rolling hills to The Shire - a digitally enhanced Ireland, in fact - and opens with a twist on the Sleeping Beauty story.
Baby Ella, lovingly tended by her mother and hip auntie (Minnie Driver), is visited by stroppy fairy godmother (Vivica Fox), who bestows on her the double-edged gift of obedience. Whatever she is told to do, she must oblige - no exceptions.
It's not long before her mother dies, telling Ella never to reveal the nature of the curse. Daddy remarries hastily and nasty stepmother (Joanna Lumley) establishes herself in the household, bringing two daughters in the "ugly stepsister" mould, who soon discover Ella's secret and use it against her at every opportunity, causing misunderstandings and embarrassment.
Then the young prince of the enchanted land comes to town - pitched somewhere between old school knight in shining armour, royal brat a la Prince Harry and boy band star - with an entourage of screaming teenage girl fans to match. Stepsisters Hattie and Olive are his most devoted followers, but it's Ella who unintentionally attracts his attention and uses it to blast him for being too irresponsible for a future monarch. It's also an opportunity to lecture him on the appalling social conditions in the kingdom, created by his uncle, King Edgar. The inhabitants of this mock mediaeval land live in a state of apartheid, with forced labour and segregation imposed on the elves and giants.
Infuriated by the prince's interest in Ella, her duck-faced stepsisters take their scheming one step further, setting Ella up to shoplift and then blame her best friend. Ella realizes it's all gone too far and she must leave home to go in search of the fairy godmother to have her gift/curse retracted. She picks up a couple of sidekicks en route, including the prince, and the journey turns into a mission to free the oppressed people, as well as an opportunity for romance. What she hasn't bargained for is the interference of King Edgar, who is determined to foil her plans and use her as a weapon to assassinate his nephew and assume complete control.
This attempt at a fairy tale, with a contemporary moral, borrows from countless fantasy films - there is more than a nod to the Shreks, for example. The laughs are supposed to come from the usual pop culture references and lots of ironic cursing of the Brothers Grimm for inflicting dreadful stereotypes upon elves, dwarves, et al, but there's nothing new here.
The irritable Irish elf Slannen (Aidan McArdle) is a redeeming feature and Anne Hathaway is genuinely endearing as the wide-eyed, earnest heroine, but otherwise the star-studded cast is under-utilised - Lumley plays the usual upper-class tyrant and Eric Idle's appearance as narrator is all too brief, while Steve Coogan is given a few more lines, being suitably vicious as the voice of King Edgar's pet snake.
The plot, however, is too much of a hotchpotch to be captivating and the social conscience angle feels contrived. Adults will find it tiresome and kids are likely to see through it.
Take them to the panto instead.Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2004
If you like this, try:A Cinderella Story