Pretty young Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway), is given the gift of obedience by a feisty fairy when she is just a baby (useful for the parents), but as she grows into a young woman, she learns that it's more of a curse, especially in the hands of a wicked stepmother, Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley) and her two wicked and ugly daughters (Lucy Punch, Jennifer Higham). It's more a gift to them than to Ella, as they use it to manipulate her ... out of their way to the Prince. The girls try to ruin her relationship with the hunky and popular Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), who is about to inherit the throne, following his father's mysterious death. Char's scheming uncle Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) is keeping the reins of power warm, and has passed oppressive laws that makes the giants, ogres and elves of the kingdom second class citizens. Elle tries to correct the politics but her biggest challenge is ridding herself of the obedience curse so she can be her own self-powered self. And perhaps get the boy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is surely a time for cinematic fantasy and fairy tales, a time to ignore the haters of this world and to escape to a world where human decency is triumphant, and bad people are just made rather ill, not killed in bloody battle. Isn't it better to ridicule the baddies than to riddle them? Anyway, that's the sentiment Elle Enchanted encourages, with its all-out fantasy approach. There is nothing restrained about the film's plunge into its own imagined world, from the opening shot to the text graphics in the closing credits.
This fairy tale is set in a world that is at once medieval and contemporary. The familiar icons and idioms of the 21st century are re-badged for the period: the wicked stepmother (Joanna Lumley) has her face fixed with Batox - a combo of bat and ox blood. (There must be something in the communal air in Hollywood; the wicked stepmother in A Cinderella Story, which sets the same story in contemporary Los Angeles, the wicked stepmother also wears a Botox joke ...)
In this film, princes, fairies, witches and elves roam the grassy valleys, the forbidden forests and the staggering castles of yesteryear. It's an oddly appealing world, and one which creates a suitably hip-and-historic environment. The effect of all this design is to suspend our judgement and give us time to tune in. It is all one big notch away from reality - and much less harmful than taking drugs...
The film has loads of charm, and even though it is aimed at youngsters, I found it totally absorbing, its sincerity and its humanity outweighing any cutesy factor. It avoids being schmalzy, so that we can enjoy the goodness without having to pay the soppy price.
Anne Hathaway has built a career on this sort of role - but that's because she's great at them. Hugh Dancey is a poor man's Hugh Jackman (no disrespect intended - quite the contrary) and the supports are all terrifically enthusiastic, from Joanna Lumley's high voltage stepmother to Aidan McArdle's comic Elf.
Tommy O'Haver's direction is an excellent example of fitting style to function and the technicals are wonderful - especially the snake. (You'll just have to see it...)
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ELLA ENCHANTED (PG)
USA / Ireland / UK
CAST: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancey, Cary Elwes, Patrick Bergin, Steve Coogan, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle, Joanna Lumley,
PRODUCER: Jane Startz
DIRECTOR: Tommy O'Haver
SCRIPT: Laurie Craig, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, Jennifer Heath, Michele J. Wolff (novel by Gail Carson Levine)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John de Borman
EDITOR: Masahiro Hirakubo
MUSIC: Nick Glennie-Smith
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Norman Garwood
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 2, 2004