Written by: Laurie Craig, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, Jennifer Heath, Michelle J. Wolff
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley
When a story gets retold many times throughout the years, adding a different spark to it can freshen it up in unexpected ways. Ella Enchanted attempts to do just that with its whimsical take on the story of Cinderella. While using a noble idea to make this one stand out, its premise falls apart far too easily in ways defeating the entire purpose of the story.
Unfortunately given the gift of obedience from a fairy, Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) physically must do everything she’s told no matter how silly the request. In her pursuit to find the fairy to take back this “gift,” Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy) prepares for his coronation as king while his obviously evil uncle, Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) plans for a way to keep his power.
Rewatching this film for my review came with the challenge of nostalgia getting in the way of some semblance of objectivity. However, experiencing the lack of quality displayed in this shocked me to believe how much I enjoyed this film growing up. Ella Enchanted has plenty to be attractive as a story for young children as it brings the story of a classic princess tale and mixes some modernity into it along with the integration of some popular music. A supposed fresh tale of this beloved story. I could go along with it if not for the rule placed upon the narrative of Ella being forced to do anything someone says as she’s cursed with obedience. This means if someone tells her to jump off a bridge, her body will forcibly do that. We can certainly see how this can be abused.
On its best day, this film can be seen as a good fable on consent, which is appreciated, especially with the lack of education on this concept. However, as a narrative device it twists itself around in so many directions where by the end, the point of the curse loses all meaning. This could have been so much better if they ran with all the cookiness this story had to offer but this curse takes far too much of the narrative that it ultimately weighs down dramatically. As it follows the story of Cinderella, Ella loses her loving mother. Commanding Ella to never tell anyone about this curse because others will abuse it becomes one of the final words they share. Due to the curse, throughout the entire film, she cannot tell anyone why exactly she must do everything she’s told to do. A wish by a caring mother, which only becomes a huge detriment to her daughter seeing as even someone as unintelligent as one of the evil stepsisters, Hattie (Lucy Punch) figures this out within days of meeting Ella.
This leaves Ella ripe to be taken advantage of without having the ability to share with others what this curse does. Now, plot holes in stories should not be the ultimate arbiter of quality but when a premise contains so many flaws to the point where none of it makes sense, the meteor-sized plot hole needs to be addressed. With Ella’s mother giving this command that essentially can never be broken, as proven by the film, this puts the protagonist in the position to be helped by others who already know about the curse. This is where Mandy (Minnie Driver) comes in. Serving as a platonic(?) friend of Ella’s mother, she witnesses the curse being placed on Ella and the power it has over her. Seeing as the mother can give her a perpetual command she must follow, it seems quite obvious Mandy could do the same in order to protect her. Perhaps “Hey Ella, when people tell you to do things, only do them if you want to.” A command that would essentially override every other command she receives. That’s the plot hole that ultimately ends the story and would have landed better with the consent idea they wanted to touch on. However, the movie wanted to be a movie so we got this nonsense.
One of the more fun aspects Ella Enchanted brings comes from the inclusion of plenty of mythical creatures like ogres, giants, and elves. These creatures fall under the tyranny of Sir Edgar, essentially serving as slaves, which does not entirely work seeing as nothing gets established as to why humans have power over these creatures. With the simple ease two giants have in helping ram through the kingdom, I’m sure a whole colony of them can fend off the practically worthless human soldiers. Regardless, they serve as a vehicle to display the discrimination taking place in the kingdom and ultimately showing Prince Charmont the corruption being done by his uncle and how he needs to step up. It ultimately becomes about him listening to the people he rules over even if it never gets established why they need to follow what these puny humans say.
The cute modernization of this story certainly becomes the crux of what wins many over with this story as it contains some fun gags. One being the man-powered escalator and the idea of Prince Charmont being a celebrity with young women much like Harry styles where he would be ferociously chased. The inclusion of songs by Elton John, Queen, and other famous artists fit seemingly into the story and ultimately dominated much of my impression of this movie when growing up. It certainly makes for some fun sequences in the film. However, all of this falls as very minor positives as compared to the overall narrative failure of this story.
While ambitious in some respects, Ella Enchanted simply does not hold up by any means when looked at with even the simplest of critical lenses. It takes some interesting swings and has a charming couple at the center of it portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. It still spends far too much time with a curse that constantly contradicts itself and only works when narratively convenient for the story. A film I’m glad I revisited as an adult to give me a fresh perspective on its tragic faults.