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Miramax Pictures presents
Ella Enchanted (2004)

Char: Ella of Frell, you're not like the other girls.
Ella: You have no idea.

- Hugh Dancy, Anne Hathaway

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: August 31, 2004

Stars: Anne Hathaway
Other Stars: Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley, Aidan McArdle, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle
Director: Tommy O'Haver

MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor and language
Run Time: 01h:35m:58s
Release Date: August 24, 2004
UPC: 786936244892
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-A-B C+

DVD Review

A mish-mash of Cinderella, Shrek and The Princess Bride, Ella Enchanted follows the adventures of Ella (Anne Hathaway), a young girl cursed at birth by her fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox) with uniform obedience—anything someone tells he to do, she instantly does (though her mother knows this, it doesn't stop her from making dangerous statements like "Dig in and stuff your faces!" at the girl's birthday party). Ella's odd behavior makes her something of an outcast, and she becomes more isolated after her mother dies (mom, by the way, makes things very difficult for Ella by ordering her never to reveal her curse).

Still, all is well for a time, and Ella amuses herself by protesting the oppressive and discriminatory rule of the duke (Cary Elwes, in a role opposite his iconic turn in The Princess Bride), who has overrun the kingdom after the mysterious death of his brother. Meanwhile, his nephew Prince "Char" Charmont (Hugh Dancy) is a teen idol ignorant of the burden he will face following his impending coronation.

It's not hard to predict where the story will go once Ella decides she's had enough of the curse and ventures off to find her fairy godmother to get it reversed. But there are some clever, amusing sidebars along the way, including a visit to a community of enslaved elves (all Jewish, by the way) forced to sing and dance for the man and encounters with ogres and giants, before Ella finds happiness and, maybe, true love (riiight... "maybe").

Reportedly the film takes some liberties with its source material, a popular children's novel of the same name from Gail Carson Levine. I couldn't say for sure; I haven't read the book. But it is clear that the five screenwriters for the Miramax production were heavily influenced by the sly, sarcastic fairy tale send-up Shrek—in many ways, Ella Enchanted dances to the same beat, right down to the rousing karaoke-inspired finale (though Hathaway presents a much more appealing pop star package than Donkey). The results are mixed, and Ella is never as funny or as touching as Shrek and its sequel, but the formula still works. Children will enjoy the heroine's quest to find herself, and adults will chuckle at references to property disputes between giants and humans, a medieval shopping mall (with hand-cranked escalators), and a civil rights march protesting "ogrecide." Though it falters here and there, it's generally great family entertainment in the literal sense; everyone will find something to like about it.

Director Tommy O'Haver (Billy Hollywood's Screen Kiss, Get Over It) maintains a sunny, upbeat tone, but at times the material gets away from him and spirals out of control. A few tussles between the heroes and a band of ogres are poorly staged and amateurish; a scene at a wedding banquet for a party of giants is shrill, bordering on annoying. There are also far too many sunny, Disney-pop productions of 1980s dance hits populating the soundtrack—hey, Miramax, your marketing is showing (did I mention the album is on sale at a Wal-Mart near you?). But for the most part, the blend of romance, humor and special effects goes down easy, and the 96-minute film rarely drags.

Much of the charm is due to the strong cast, including the striking Hathaway in a role that makes wonderful use of her intelligent wit and comic timing. It's a broad performance in many ways, and Ella isn't exactly a three-dimensional character, but the actress nails the pathos of a girl forced to follow the orders of others, unable to bloom and grow on her own. Hugh Dancy is fine as her prince, but he's a little dull for someone every maiden in the kingdom is supposed to have the hots for. The supporting cast includes most of the big names—Vivica A. Fox and Minnie Driver as dueling fairy godmothers (though no "straight edge" action from Fox this time, Kill Bill fans), AbFab's Joanna Lumley as Ella's abusive stepmother, even Monty Python legend Eric Idle as the narrator. Whatever lapses there are in the screenplay are easily forgiven with such a strong cast.

And then there's the fairy tale ending, which encourages girls like Ella, who feel they have no choice but to do what others tell them to do, to find their own voices and think for themselves. Not a revolutionary message, perhaps, but a happily ever after all the same.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Ella Enchanted, like most new releases, looks nice on DVD. Bright colors, good detail, litle grain and a mastering job devoid of digital artifacts. A fine-looking image, despite a few instances of shimmer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mix is pretty active for a comedy, with frequent surround use to augment the wide front soundstage. Unfortunately, the pop songs on the soundtrack tend to overpower the dialogue at times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Princess Diaries 2, Cheetah Girls, Around the World in 80 Days, Bionicle 2
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Tommy O'Haver, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Kari Kimmel music video It's Not Just Make-Believe
  2. "Prince Charmont's Fan Club" set-top game
Extras Review: The only really worthwhile extra on this disc is a fun commentary with director Tommy O'Haver and stars Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. Recorded on the eve of the film's premiere, the three discuss all the fun they had making it and how much fun the cast was, and oh gee, what a fun movie. They're cute, and the track is fairly interesting despite the general lack of substance, and what do you expect from a movie like this anyway.

Other than that, there are 10 deleted/extended scenes and an alternate ending montage that offer a few decent jokes and excised moments. The documentary The Magical World of Ella Enchanted is pretty fluffy. Hathaway and Dancy act as the bantering hosts for a kid-friendly, glossy promotional making-of piece, with all the requisite plot teases and interview segments.

The Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special is even less substantial. Hosted by the Disney Channel throwbacks (run, kids, the Mouse owns your souls!), the 23-minute piece rehashes everything in the making-of, but with the added hype of an inside look at a "Hollywood premiere!" Exciting.

The "Prince Charmont's Fan Club" game is a fairly simple memory exercise, but successful completion warrants you a brief extra clip revealing hidden faces tucked into the special effects shots throughout the film. Finally, there is a music video for some other Disney approved faux-talent and a gallery of trailers.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A somewhat shrill but likeable family fantasy, Ella Enchanted is a clever girl power fairy tale in the vein of Shrek. The Miramax production is, if nothing else, much more intelligent than most of the dreck pumped out by sister company Disney (including the profitable but creatively bankrupt Princess Diaries saga, which also stars Anne Hathaway). Judging by Ella's failure at the box office, I don't think the actress will be adding another franchise to her résumé anytime soon, but the film holds up nicely on DVD.


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