Ella Enchanted review by Mike Long

Miramax is well-known for being one of the most creative and shrewd studios in Hollywood. The Weinstein Brothers seem to have a knack for getting big stars to appear in their films and they have been very successful at achieving Oscar nominations. But, they are also known for treating some properties fairly oddly, such as Below and Equilibrium, which were simply dumped into theaters and forced to find their audiences on home video. (If you haven't seen either film, check them out. They're both good.) While Ella Enchanted didn't receive that exact same treatment, it was trotted out with little hype and left theaters very quickly. Now that the movie has hit DVD one can see that Miramax may not have known how to market this quirky fairy tale.

Ella Enchanted is set in an enchanted fairy-tale land, long, long ago. Into this world, a girl named Ella is born. Her fairy godmother, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox), bestows Ella with the gift of obedience, thinking that this will make her the perfect child. Instead, it forces Ella to do anything that anyone tells her to do, whether she wants to or not. Despite this bizarre condition, Ella grows up a happy child, that is until her mother dies. Her father (Patrick Bergin) then marries Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley), who brings her two daughters, Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive (Jennifer Higham), to live with Ella. Hattie quickly realizes that she can make Ella obey her every wish, and begins to make her step-sister miserable.

Meanwhile, things aren't present in the kingdom. Edgar (Cary Elwes), the current ruler of the kingdom has made things difficult for the elves, ogres, and giants in the land. His nephew, Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), better known as Prince Char, is the heir to the throne and is nearing his coronation. The handsome Char is very popular amongst the young women in the kingdom and doesn't really pay attention to politics.

Fed up with being obedient, Ella leaves home to find Lucinda, in order to have the gift removed. Along the way, she meets a bitter elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle) and she also encounter Char. She has no problem telling Char about the problems in the kingdom and he immediately finds her fascinating. The two share several adventures and an attraction becomes clear. However, Edgar has specific plans for Char and Hattie is jealous of Ella's relationship with the prince, and neither wants to see the couple succeed.

Ella Enchanted is a very interesting mix of Ever After, Robin Hood (the Disney animated version), Shrek, and The Princess Bride, so it's very easy to see why a studio would want to make this film, which is based on a novel by Gail Carson Levine. The basic story is taken from the "Cinderella" fairy tale and it's combined with the kind of modern humor seen in Shrek. However, the film never finds a balance between these two worlds. The main plot points in the film are lifted directly from other fairly-tale stories and offer nothing new to the viewer, save for Ella's obedience spell. The best parts of the film come from the contemporary jokes which are placed in this medieval world, such as the local market actually being a galleria (complete with escalator) and the girls who comprise the Prince Char fan club. These moments are actually quite funny and the astute viewer will notice many of these kinds of jokes. The problem is that there simply aren't enough of them. Far too often, Ella Enchanted is just another "Prince Charming" story that has nothing new to say. In this post-Lord of the Rings world, we've seen plenty of elves, giants, and ogres, and Ella Enchanted really blew its chance to be an over-the-top spoof. According to IMDB.com, the film finished principal photography in December, 2002. Even when one accounts for the many special effects in the film, it's clear that Miramax sat on the film, as they probably didn't know what to do with this unbalanced project.

While Ella Enchanted is a definite missed opportunity, it's not a complete disaster. As noted above, the clever jokes in the film are quite clever and funny. Anne Hathaway, who was impressive in The Princess Diaries, is good here as well, proving herself to be one of the few actresses who is very beautiful, and can be funny as well. It's always good to see Cary Elwes working, and he makes a fine villain as Edgar. Edgar's right-hand-man is actually a CGI snake named Heston (voiced by Steve Coogan), who gets in some good lines. The movie offers some nice Irish scenery, some interesting special effects, and a fairly exciting finale. Yet, I can't help but wonder if this film got lost in some sort of Disney limbo where they weren't sure how sassy to make it. The finished product shows that they should have gone for broke and made this an all-out comedy, instead of a watered-down hybrid.

Ella Enchanted magically appears on DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in two separate formats, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very clear and free from grain, but the sharpness is questionable. It's been quite some time since I've seen a major release that showed this much artifacting. (Actually, my setup usually corrects much of it, so it must have been noticeable). Haloes appear around most objects and every actors' skin looks very waxy. There is no video distortion present, but in the darker scenes, the background appears to be moving by itself. On the plus side, the colors are good. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track sounds fine, especially when reproducing the film's unique score of 80's pop songs. The surround sound is OK, and there is an occasional surge in subwoofer response.

The Ella Enchanted DVD contains several extra features. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Tommy O'Haver and stars Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. This is a fun commentary, as this trio constantly rib each other throughout their talk and are quick to point out their own mistakes. The chat never gets too technical, and we do learn some about the special effects and the sets. The disappointing part are the comments surrounding promising jokes which were excised from the film. Speaking of which, the DVD contains 7 deleted scenes and 4 extended scenes, which can be viewed with optional commentary from O'Haver. Some of the aforementioned jokes can be found here and I actually liked the extended ending which wrapped-up all of the subplots. "The Magical World of Ella Enchanted" (28 minutes) is a making-of featurette (made for Miramax Television) which is hosted by Hathaway and Dancy. This is mostly standard fare, as it looks at the film's production (with comments and behind-the-scenes footage), the music (featuring a roster of Radio Disney "favorites"), and the special effects. The "Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special" (23 minutes) is another made-for-TV extra and is a true oddity, as about 80% of it is lifted from "The Magical World of Ella Enchanted". The remainder is hosted by Kari Kimmel and Jesse McCartney, as they perform awkward, broad-daylight red carpet interviews with the film's cast. The extras are finished off by the music video for the song "It's Not Just Make Believe" by Kari Kimmel.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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