Review: ‘Ella Enchanted’

A live-action “Shrek?” A “Princess Bride” hopeful? Only the fairy godmother of this anachronistic medieval tale knows for sure.

Ella (Anne Hathaway) has a problem: the fairy Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) granted little Ella “the gift of obedience”€™ at birth. Unfortunately for Ella, the gift means she does exactly what she’s told whenever she’s told to by whomever tells her to do it. After her mother passes away and her father remarries, she inherits two mandatory wicked stepsisters who waste no time learning Ella’s secret and taking advantage of her. With finding Lucinda being her only means to remove her curse, Ella sets off on a perilous journey to seek her freedom… providing she doesn’t get eaten or killed first.

The premise is sound enough; yet another retelling of Cinderella, this time based on a children’s book that adds oppression to the cautionary tale. In the hands of a Hollywood studio, however, the film version take a decidedly Flintstones turn into anachronism, including fan clubs, magazines, even a water-powered escalator for a mall (yes, a shopping mall). And like most targeted productions reveling in “how kids talk today,” the film sounds like it borrows more dialogue from Clueless than anything of the period. And would you believe: ninjas?

In spite of the potential shortcomings (with apologies to the elves), the movie mostly works, thanks in no small part by the considerable acting, singing, and dancing talents of Anne Hathaway. Plus, in an amazing display of securing permission to use copyrighted material, the production pulls off musical numbers from the twentieth century (which also cleverly stretches the running time a little further while covering up any story issues). There were opportunities for something a little more serious, such as the discovery of enslaved giants working gardens to feed the entire kingdom, but the film has it?€™s heart set on being a quirky comedy first and nothing else second, so revelations like this are swept under the rug with unnecessary things like ogres showing butt crack.

Look for Eric Idle as the narrator and Cary Elwes as a slick, black-hearted villain (complete with a computer-animated snake for a sidekick inspired by Disney’s “Robin Hood”). There are plenty of other cameos as well to keep parents from yawing too often, but the story is obviously targeted for the preteen to prom age group and girls of all ages. Still, consider this one more step by Ms. Hathaway in taking her rightful place as a replacement starlet for all those lucrative under-thirty romantic interests Hollywood can’t seem to function without, coming soon to a theater near you.

(a two skull recommendation out of four)

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