Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Charming When It’s Not Excruciating, Ella Enchanted Illustrates How Anne Hathaway Got To Be A Superstar!

The Good: Funny, Charming, Good acting
The Bad: Agonizing tone for much of the first half, Terrible special effects
The Basics: Ella Enchanted is an early Anne Hathaway film that illustrates her talent for picking plucky characters with moxy while still creating something surprisingly enduring.

Last weekend was a pretty good one for me in many regards. My wife and I had time together and we had just enough money to do some fun things, like go out to dinner together and take in a movie. The rest of the weekend, we stayed home and watched new (to us) DVDs and as a fan of Anne Hathaway’s work, it was a good weekend for me. Our Friday night date night was an opportunity for us to see One Day and the next day, we got out Ella Enchanted, which is one of Hathaway’s early works I had not yet seen.

Ella Enchanted is another “fairy tale rework” story, in a vein similar to Ever After (reviewed here!) or Shrek (reviewed here!). The fundamental difference for the Shrek analogy is that the references to non-fairy tale aspects tend to be lampoons of modern culture as opposed to general pop culture jokes. Like so many movies I am encountering this month, Ella Enchanted is based upon a novel that I have not read. Thus, this is a rather pure review of just the film with no comparative analysis.

Born to a family that includes a house fairy – one with very limited powers – the baby Ella is introduced to Lucinda, a powerful fairy who is known for giving terrible gifts, and she starts to cry. Offended, Lucinda gives Ella the gift of obedience and from that point forth, she is unable to resist any direction from anyone at any time. Her mother, after years of trying to undo the curse, dies and Ella, her father and Mandy the house fairy do their best to get on. Ella, for her part, has a best friend at school and – despite a few altercations – has grown up not particularly maladjusted and liberal. Her work to stop the enslavement of the giants, however, grinds to a halt when she gets two new stepsisters.

Hattie and Olive are cruel to Ella, with Hattie quickly realizing that Ella has to do anything she says. Hattie also has a pretty big crush on Prince Char, who is soon-to-ascend to the throne. Char visits Frell and runs into Ella while running away from Hattie and other fangirls. When Ella decides she absolutely must get the curse broken, she sets off to find Lucinda in the company of Slannen the elf who wants to be a lawyer and Mandy’s boyfriend/book Benny. When ogres capture the group, they are rescued by none other than Char and they journey together to the land of the giants with Ella challenging all Char thinks he knows.

Ella Enchanted starts fine, then has a pretty gruesome middle, but works well in the latter half, making it easy to recommend. Some might disagree with my assessment of the film as somewhat excruciating in the middle, but I have a high level of empathy. As such, it is exceptionally difficult for me to watch people being tormented and Hattie soon realizes just how easy it is to torment Ella and get her to do things the otherwise kind and obedient Ella would never do. Those scenes, where Ella is forced to steal, tell off her best friend and do other things very much outside her control are in many ways harder to watch than the later scenes wherein Char’s uncle Edward realizes Ella’s vulnerability.

Outside the tone becoming especially oppressive in the middle, Ella Enchanted is hampered some by the special effects. Edgar is accompanied by a snake, Heston, and the CG never quite looks right. Director Tommy O’Haver ought to be applauded for the attempts at visual grandeur, but in the same age as The Lord Of The Rings, it is hard to believe so many shots could look exactly like what they were; obvious bluescreen compositions.

That said, much of Ella Enchanted works. The movie is entertaining and Ella is an endearing character. I’m not much of a fan of voiceovers, but Eric Idle’s position in the film as the narrator actually works in this modernized fairy tale. Similarly, O’Haver picks decent musical choices, so Ella singing Queen’s “Somebody To Love” fits remarkably well as do the dances from the giants. Ella Enchanted is fun and it has a decent theme, which makes one wonder why it did not resonate more at the time of its release. Ella Enchanted is a reasonable treatise on the importance of free will and it stands as a pretty safe tale for children to learn the lesson and a very entertaining reminder for adults.

Ella Enchanted employs a decent cast for the task. Cary Elwes gets farther away from his charming protagonist from The Princess Bride as Edgar, though anyone who saw his work in the final season of The X-Files will be unsurprised that he can pull it off here. Lucy Punch is perfectly hideous as Hattie, which means she lands every insult and snide gesture perfectly. Hugh Dancy is more than just good-looking as Char. As has become his habit, he starts the film with a character who appears to be just another pretty face before turning into someone serious and interesting. Dancy is decent at bringing realization into his characters’ eyes and in Ella Enchanted his moments of epiphany are believable because of Dancy’s performance.

As for Anne Hathaway, her acting in Ella Enchanted is less physically demanding of awkwardness than her role from The Princess Diaries, despite a lot of similarities in the character’s arcs. Hathaway is wonderful, as always, as Ella of Frell, but where she truly excels is in the singing. When Hathaway sings in Ella Enchanted it completely upstages her acting. One only hopes she never tries to become a pop star, but for a scene or two in Ella Enchanted, Hathaway radiates as if she already is a pop diva and it works.

Ultimately, Ella Enchanted is diverting, even if it takes a little time before it becomes fun.

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
One Day
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Bride Wars
Rachel Getting Married
Get Smart
The Devil Wears Prada
Brokeback Mountain
The Princess Diaries


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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