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Ella Enchanted (2004): Not Too Satirical, Not Too Serious, Just Right

Film Review: Ella Enchanted (2004)

How did I not know of this film before?! Such was my first thought upon discovering Ella Enchanted last year. I now love this film. It makes me smile every single time I watch it, and I have indeed watched it multiple times in the year that has passed. It is just such fun, such good, good fun.

Ella Enchanted is a fantasy romantic comedy, a kind of Cinderella-esque fairy tale, with a great ensemble cast, including Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Aidan McArdle, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle, Steve Coogan, Joanna Lumley, Vivica A. Fox, to name but a smattering.

The film is loosely based on the book of the same name by Gail Carson Levine. Although I have read that there is not much of the book in the movie. Knowing nothing of the book, this does not distress or concern me, but for Ella book lovers, just a heads up that is not a faithful adaptation.

Once Upon a Time: Ella of Frell in the Kingdom of Emir

As a major Monty Python fan, I was totally enthused when – right at the beginning – I recognized the narrator’s voice as belonging to Eric Idle. I knew right then and there that I was in for a treat. With Eric Idle’s rhyming narration, we meet Ella of Frell.

RELATED: Behind the Fairy Tale: Cinderella Versus Ella Enchanted

The always appealing Anne Hathaway plays our feisty, idealist heroine, who suffers from a rather unfortunate “gift.” An incompetent and haughty fairy, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox), bequeathed to Ella – when Ella was just a wee babe – the gift of obedience. Yes, Ella always does what she is told, following every command given to her.

“Hold your tongue!” – She holds her tongue, literally.

“Stay right there!” – She stays right there.

“Give me your necklace!” – She hands over her necklace.

RELATED: Ten Awesome Cinderella Films

Her mother and the somewhat perennially befuddled house fairy, Mandy (Minnie Driver), keep this “gift” a secret and seek to protect Ella and temper the gift’s effects. But then her beloved mother dies, and her hapless father (Peter Bergin) marries a nasty, vainglorious woman, Dame Olga, played so deliciously repulsively by Joanna Lumley. Dame Olga brings to the marriage – besides her nastiness – her two snarky, prince-obsessed offspring, the Queen B, Hattie (Lucy Punch), and the ditzy Olive (Jennifer Higham). They quickly discover Ella’s secret and use it to their full advantage, making Ella’s life miserable. She must be released from this gift, and she must find the elusive Lucinda to do it.

Finding Lucinda: Our Heroine’s Journey

Armed only with a magical book to guide her on her journey – the book is Mandy’s bewitched boyfriend Benny (Jimi Mistry), whom she transformed into a book by accident years ago – Ella sets off to nullify her “gift.” And as with all heroes’ journeys, she meets dangers, runs into trolls, picks up some helpers and companions along the way, including a non-singing elf, Slannen (Aidan McArdle), and even a dashing prince, Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy).

Sparks fly between Ella (Anne Hathaway) and Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). Photo: Miramax.

In her quest to find Lucinda, Ella finds herself increasingly embroiled in the politics of her kingdom, the social injustices, and begins to open the eyes of the coddled, soon-to-be-king Prince Charmont to the harsh realities of his uncle Edgar’s (Cary Elwes) rule. Ella also finds herself increasingly aware of this handsome prince at her side, of his innate goodness, earnestness, sincerity, and integrity despite his apparent life of privilege. And Prince Charmont is likewise increasingly smitten with this woman, who challenges him, pushing him always to do what it is right and just.

But Lucinda is a hard one to find, and “gifts” aren’t easily returned and rescinded. And Edgar has his own nefarious plans to maintain the status quo and keep the kingdom as his own. Plus, Hattie and Olive have their own designs on Prince Char and will do anything – even making deals with the devil – to attain that royal goal. And Ella, Ella might just have to find it within herself to be disobedient for once in her life.

Fun, Just Good, Good Fun

The Gilbert Blythe of princes, Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). Photo: Miramax Films.

Ella Enchanted is a self-aware fairy tale of the post-modern age that balances – rather successfully – the metanarrative impulse to undermine and ridicule the genre, spoof it, while at the same time embracing the emotional integrity and satisfaction of a good, fairy tale love story.

In short, it is fun, just good, good fun.

RELATED: Ever After (1998): A Romantic Cinderella Story Teeming with Life and Passion

It is lighthearted, fast-paced, funny. There are sudden song and dance scenes, which are truly delightful. There is great bantering chemistry between Hugh Dancy as Prince Char and Anne Hathaway as Ella. Prince Char is like the Gilbert Blythe of princes – very supportive, appealing, gently teasing, kind, good, just good to the bone. Ella is an engaging, relatable heroine.

Yeah, it’s not too satirical, not too serious; it’s just right.

Content Note: Rated PG.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, DVD.


Five Corset Rating Lower Byte Size

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”


Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

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By on September 18th, 2017

About Jessica Jørgensen

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

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4 thoughts on “Ella Enchanted (2004): Not Too Satirical, Not Too Serious, Just Right”

  1. Yay! I love this underrated film as well though owning up to that can get you beaten up by Dianna Wynne Jones’ fans. I fortunately watched the movie and then later read the book so I can treat them as separate entities and love them both for their unique qualities. Folks who were fans of the book first, mostly loathe this movie. Anyway, as you say – it is delightful, it has a fantastic cast, I love the musical interludes, I like as you mention how it strikes a balance and manages to hit on affectionate satire. Great review!

    • Glad you enjoyed the review and the film, Stephanie! No one’s beat me up yet for loving this movie, but I do know how it is to have a favourite story mutilated on film, so I can empathize with the book lovers. Happily, I’m ignorant of the source material here, although I do have plans to check it out sometime…

      • Yeah, the book and film are pretty different. But I don’t feel the essence of it has been messed with and I enjoy them as separate entities. This film, for instance, is much more of a Hollywood quest story than the book is. But they’re both light-hearted fun! I personally enjoy both. 🙂 And you really couldn’t cast better than this movie! Still, it would be interesting to see a closer adaptation one day.

  2. Alas I read the book first and was horrified by the changes. The book was so good and there was really no need to make the changes. Though I can enjoy it if I try to think of it as a Shrek-esque kind of film.


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