Once upon a time there was a movie that never should have been made...
To say that Ella Enchanted is a wretched movie doesn’t quite do the film justice. After all, this is not just a fairy tale story told badly, it’s also a fairy tale story that manages to take all the acting abilities of its formidable cast and drain them of all talent and simultaneously massacre pop music hits of several decades. You have to admire a movie that can manage all of that, although I suggest you admire it from an extremely long distance away.
Anne Hathaway stars as the titular Ella, a girl who was, as a baby, gifted with the trait of obedience by hapless fairy Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox). As Lucinda has a penchant for turning people she’s unhappy with into squirrels, Ella’s mother and their household fairy Mandy (Minnie Driver) are unable to get Lucinda to rescind the gift and Ella is stuck growing up having to do whatever she’s ordered to do. This gets her into zany antics as we see her turn into a human blur when told to “hurry up”, or awkwardly comply with instructions to “bite me” from an upset classmate. However before too long Ella’s mother passes away and Ella is left alone with her curse, even though her household fairy is still around.
Ella’s father remarries, giving Ella an evil stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and two evil stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Jennifer Higham). Lets see... evil stepmother, two stepsisters... next we must need a prince - enter Prince Char (Hugh Dancy), a British Chris O’Donnell look alike, clad in leather pants and followed by an impressive stalking fan club, of which Ella’s stepsister Hattie is the president. Currently Char’s Uncle Edgar (Cary Elwes) is ruler of the country; Char’s father met an untimely and mysterious death, putting Edgar in the throne and causing him to ban elves, ogres, and giants from the kingdom. Because ripping off Cinderella and Hamlet isn’t enough for the film, this banning of mystical creatures allows the film to try and put in an underlying message about equality. You see, Ella is a metaphor for free will and civil rites. A slave to whoever offers her a command, there is nothing Ella desires more then freedom - a freedom she also desires for the mystical creatures. In that quest for freedom, Ella sets out to find Lucinda and get her to repeal the curse. Along the way she joins up with a scarecrow, a tin man... okay, maybe not. Would you believe an elf that wants to be a dentist? No? Okay, how about an elf that wants to be a lawyer? Seriously - she befriends Slannen (Aiden McArdle) an elf who wants to be free from the elvish stereotype of entertaining and study law.
It isn’t long before Ella encounters Prince Char, and despite her better judgment she falls in love with him. With Ella’s help... *sigh*. You know what, forget about the story. If you haven’t noticed it’s just an amalgamation of several other fairy tales and children’s stories all put together. If you can imagine it, so did they. Char’s uncle? He’s evil and wants to murder Char so he can continue to rule the kingdom. Ella’s enemies? They discover her curse and use it against her, and nowhere along the way does anyone think to command Ella not to follow instructions that may cause harm to others. In the end it’s a fairy tale and it’s safe to expect everything will end happily ever after... except for the actors who have to put this on their resume.
You see, the story is so contrived there really are no surprises in it. Sure, it’s a kids movie, but parents have to sit through the movie, and it’s unlikely they’re going to expose their children to something that is this painful for an adult to watch. There’s no cleverness to the film whatsoever, which is a shame. They come so close to making clever references, and always drop the ball. If you cast a movie with people from other fairy tale type stories like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) or Eric Idle (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) you should use that type of thing. For instance, at one point they say “There hasn’t been a rabbit attack since... well, never”. Why not turn this into a Monty Python reference? You have Eric Idle in the film, surely some of the parents watching the movie have seen that. They’d get a kick out of the reference. Nope - nothing. Instead talented actors like Elwes, Hathaway, and Driver are left with nothing to do, often looking bored or in disbelief of signing up for this flick.
If the story isn’t bad enough, and the acting isn’t bland enough, the film has the audacity to attempt to use a more modern soundtrack. Songs such as “Walkin' on Sunshine” and “--” are grievously murdered to set the tone for parts of the movie, while Freddie Mercury rolls over in his grave as “Somebody to Love” is used for a central musical number in the film. It’s not that Hathaway does a bad job singing the song, it just doesn’t fit. No matter how hard you try, you can’t knock a square peg in a round hole, but the director tries desperately to make it work. Even once the film reaches it’s “happy ending” we are forced to suffer through one more painful musical number that by itself caused me to drop my rating of the movie another half a star.
The film does manage to colorfully create the visual style of a fairy tale, with half decent special effects as fairies soar about and ogres and giants terrorize the countryside. Unfortunately the visual style is the only thing for the film that works, and everything else seems to be done in an attempt to injure the viewer as much as possible. Perhaps director Tommy O’Haver wasn’t attempting to design a new style of torture, but that’s what he succeeded in creating. Thankfully most of the cast of Ella Enchanted has enough experience that they can leave the flick off of their resume and hopefully continue to have a decent career despite this movie.
The DVD release of Ella Enchanted is not a bad one, although with the movie being so dreadful it’s not likely you’ll actually be interested in any of the extras they offer. However, the DVD format does allow you to watch the film in the comfort of your own home, or more importantly allow kids to watch the film while you do other stuff in the comfort of your home - stuff that’s more entertaining and hopefully more stimulating then watching this wretched piece of fluff.
The heart of the special features is a behind the scenes look at the film. “The Magical World of Ella Enchanted” is hosted by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy as they show a more detailed look at casting, music, and special effects, as well as the overall story of the movie. The good news is the documentary seems to be made with a younger audience in mind, which means the younger audience will probably enjoy it. The bad news is, they admit that nothing in the movie was an accident or a mistake - it’s all intentional. For instance, they went after Cary Elwes for Edgar because he played the young hero in The Princess Bride. They thought using him as the mustache twirling villain would be ironic. It’s not ironic, it’s pathetic - they cast one of the most talented actors to grace fantasy fairy tale films and gave him nothing to do. If they wanted irony they should have made the role more ironic in contrast to his role in The Princess Bride. Simply casting an actor doesn’t make something ironic, something actually has to be done with the part to get that irony.
What’s worse is the amount of time they talk about the music during the featurette. They are proud of murdering those songs... er, creating new presentations for the younger audience. There seems to be no understanding among any of the cast or crew of the debacle they’ve created with this movie.
Also on the disc are a couple of forgettable extended versions of scenes, and a few deleted scenes. Probably fifty percent of these feature extra snippets of Eric Idle and his seussican verse that narrates the movie. Poor guy, I guess he should have invested his Monty Python money better. The one highlight of these deleted scenes is an alternate ending - with no song! It’s rare to find an alternate ending that I prefer over the original, but nothing else with this movie has been as expected, so why should this?
Other extras include a music video for the original song on the soundtrack, “It’s Not Just Make Believe” by Kari Kimmel, and a “set top game” where you help guide Prince Char through a memory type playing space, trying to avoid his fan club. Success or failure results in a scene from the movie where Char runs into or avoids his fan club mob. Both are hopefully entertaining for the younger crowd but hold little interest for someone who doesn’t care for the movie itself.
Finally, there is a director’s commentary track. Frankly, I avoided this. To listen to it would mean watching the picture again, which I wasn’t ready to do. It would also mean listening to the director justify the movie he made, which I had enough of from the behind the scenes featurette. Tommy O’Haver may be the most dynamic commentary speaker in the history of DVD, but I wouldn’t know, and I’ll have to wait until he makes a decent movie before I give him a listen.
Overall the DVD release of Ella Enchanted may be just what parents need - a way to let their kids watch the movie without having to suffer through it themselves. I doubt it though. I would hope most parents wouldn’t expose their children to such claptrap, instead showing them a time honored classic like The Wizard of Oz or some other story that Ella rips off. The extras on the disc are admirable, but only really prove that you can make great extras for a movie, but it doesn’t increase the enjoyment of the film. At the end of the day, they are only extras, and it’s what's in the film that counts most.