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Ella Enchanted (Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG (For Some Crude Humor and Language)

Running Time: 96 minutes

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Vivica A. Fox, Joanna Lumley, Adam McArdle with Minnie Driver and Eric Idle

Screenplay by: Laurie Craig and Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith and Jennifer Heath & Michele J. Wolff
Based on the book by: Gail Carson Levine

Directed by: Tommy O'Haver

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Tommy O'Haver, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary, Prince Charmont's Fan Club Game, The Magical World Of Ella Enchanted featurette, Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special, Kari Kimmel Music Video, Sneak Peeks. DVD-ROM: Create Your Own Fairy Tale

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (23 Scenes)

Released: August 24th, 2004

 

 

Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) may seem like an ordinary girl within a vast, far away kingdom but when she was born, her Fairy Godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) granted her a special gift - obedience. It may not sound too bad, but it's actually a curse to Ella - whenever someone commands her to do something, she can't break from free will and must do it. Many years later however, after her future stepsisters discover her secret and tell her things she has no desire to do, Ella decides to head out and find her Godmother once and for all to get rid of the gift. Joining her on her quest is her sister's boyfriend (who happens to be a talking book), an elf who doesn't want to sing and dance but be a lawyer and finally the dashing, apathetic Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy) who all the girls swoon for. Speaking of Charmont, his evil uncle (Cary Elwes) has some major plans to rid of him and rule the kingdom. Will Ella be able to find her Godmother and break the spell once and for all? And will the kingdom be doomed?

Apparently based very loosely on the popular book by Gail Carson Levine (I never read it) and with a screenplay credited to five screenwriters (that's never usually a good sign), it would seem at first that "Ella Enchanted" would be poised for at least some box office success. Fairy tale movies are popular these days, the book has its own built-in audience and you even have Anne Hathaway who played a princess in another movie with similar themes (is it a coincidence that this DVD is being released shortly after a certain theatrical sequel Hathaway is starring in?). Whatever the reasons, "Ella Enchanted" died a quick death at the box office and was savaged by many critics (though Roger Ebert loved it). Perhaps going in I was slightly jaded and expecting something dumb and corny, but I was really surprised in how much I enjoyed this movie. While I'm not sure if I agree with Ebert giving this movie a rating of 3.5/4, I'm going to say that there's a chance "Ella Enchanted" is a bit underrated.

The movie was directed by Tommy O'Haver, who I believe is an incredibly talented filmmaker. O'Haver is probably best remembered for the acclaimed 1998 indie "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," but his follow-up (his first Miramax movie) was the hilarious, colorful and incredibly underrated teen comedy Get Over It (starring Kirsten Dunst, Martin Short and that's right - Tom Hanks' son AKA Colin Hanks). With "Ella Enchanted," O'Haver proves that he can create a movie on a more epic scale. He's definitely a perfect fit for this movie - O'Haver does create a fully realized kingdom (with the help of some strong production design) and he doesn't take it all too seriously. The film is stacked with pop culture and modern sensibilities, which are right on target and never overdone (the hysteria of Prince Charmont a la The Beatles and the mall comes to mind). O'Haver also seems to have a talent of perfectly intertwining songs into his movies (and not just the re-done versions of classics that play in the background - hmm, sorta reminds me of "A Knight's Tale"), which makes things all the lighter and certainly helps with the tone he's aiming to achieve.

As far as the script is concerned, despite being credited to five screenwriters (all who are female), this is a narrative that works for the most part. The heroine is well-developed, and so is her quest - the stumbling blocks are well-paced and just right. These blocks introduce us to some characters (as well as developing them and highlighting their personas), feature action and also develop the story as a whole. The script is pretty witty too - there are some pretty clever pop culture references and the movie seems pretty intent on battling fairy tale clichés. Nobody seems to like The Brothers Grimm, and our wannabe-lawyer elf can't stand singing or dancing (which is only what elves can do in this kingdom - it's quite a strict law).

Even if all of that may be good, the film does come across as a bit uneven (perhaps some of the blame for this should be directed to O'Haver) - the movie really picks up the pace in the last half-hour and quite a bit happens, almost to the point where it feels like one big climax (the ending itself gets to be a little silly). The love story in the movie isn't forced, but it could have been drawn out a lot better - the cold feelings Ella has for Charmont fade pretty fast - and he falls for her a bit too quickly (then again, anything can happen in fairy tales) and she really loves him to death a bit too quickly as well. Perhaps there could have been more to Charmont's uncle (who I hear wasn't even in the book, and seems to be a lifted character from Shakespeare's "Hamlet") and a few other supporting characters as well (why was the book boyfriend transformed into a book in the first place?). Most annoying though is that there also seems to be no proper rules to the gift that Ella is given - so couldn't Minnie Driver's character just tell her not to listen to her rotten step-sister to be? (Or anyone else for that matter except herself?) It seems like an obvious plothole that made me wonder a bit. Finally, I must say this movie in a small way did remind me of Rob Reiner's sentimental favorite "The Princess Bride" (and it's not because Cary Elwes is in the movie) - it's not the look of the movie exactly, but maybe because it was romantic and comical? And no, this isn't a live-action "Shrek" despite what you may have read.

But like all fairy tales, "Ella Enchanted" is one that teaches an important lesson or two. It's certainly a movie about female empowerment (and how desirable power can be), but it's also about following your dream, following your heart and doing the right thing. Most importantly though, the main point of the story is that we have the power to do whatever we want - even if we are under a spell. We don't always have to listen to people, and we can control our own actions and destinies. It's also pretty nice how the film doesn't bash any of this over the heads of the audience.

Helping to liven things up is a strong ensemble of performers. Anne Hathaway, who seems to have cornered the fairy tale/princess market now with this and "The Princess Diaries" franchise, makes an excellent Ella. Even if Ella must listen to others, she does have a mind of her own and Hathaway makes the character's independence come to life with a bit of spunk. Hathaway also gets to show off more dramatic emotions, and she sings in the movie too (she does have a nice voice). Hugh Dancy is a believable, charismatic king-to-be who does share good chemistry with Hathaway and Cary Elwes is fun if slightly hammy as his evil uncle (who isn't in the movie as much as you'd think). Short appearances from Minnie Driver and Vivica A. Fox are good, and the movie also has several cameos (including Heidi Klum ). Also popping up is Eric Idle, who makes a very enjoyable rhyming narrator and Steve Coogan (many of you probably have no idea who he is, but if you do pat yourself on the back).

It's not perfect, but I still don't understand why so many critics loathed "Ella Enchanted" - it's not as bad as it was made out to be (though the special effects sure are cheesy). Given Anne Hathaway's growing popularity, the constant craving for family entertainment and "oh-I-missed-that-in-the-theater-but-I-wanted-to-see-it" syndrome, I wouldn't be surprised if this movie gains quite the following on home video. Any movie with a reference to the O.J. trial deserves some kind of success, right?

 

Originally supposed to be released in full screen only (blech), someone at Buena Vista Home Entertainment came to his or her senses at the last possible minute and gave the go-ahead to release "Ella Enchanted" in separate full screen and widescreen versions (thank the Lord). With that said, the movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks pretty decent. Fleshtones look pretty good, colors are well saturated and detail isn't too shabby either. There's no edge enhancement to be found, but there is some noise that I noticed. The main problem though is that even if the source print is clean, the transfer is a bit soft and grainy which doesn't make it look as beautiful as it should. There's also the darkly-lit scenes - they aren't terrible, but they probably could have looked sharper. Overall the image is fine, but given the movie's colorful locations and production design I was expecting something better to show it all off. But at least we got it in widescreen, right?

 

Ella and company are given an English 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and it's a very well-rounded mix. Dialogue is very crisp and firmly centered and the music is brought to full life which really helps being immersed in the movie - the composed score fills the speakers when needed but the show-stopping numbers really bring down the house when they're performed. The surrounds are more than decent to - some are more subtle than others (such as doors opening and horses galloping) but there's magic being cast and more broad pieces (such the ogres and the crazed, grand finale at the carnation ceremony) that are all discrete. Dynamic range is good, there's some nice imaging effects to boot and there are no problems with the fidelity - making it a fun, well-tuned listening experience. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track, English subtitles, Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Despite the lackluster box office, "Ella Enchanted" gets some strong treatment on DVD. Starting things off is an Audio Commentary with Director Tommy O'Haver, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. This is a really solid track, led the entire way by O'Haver. There are a few silent spots (which at times are bit too long), but the three get along really well and have a lot of fun together. There's a lot of interesting production stories told here, and a lot of them are pretty funny. Dancy says the least and often asks questions (in additional to some lame comical remarks), while Hathaway makes some amusing comments and offers a few stories of her own. Still, O'Haver really dominates the track and covers a lot of ground - between the stories and technical details, there's a lot to learn about the making of the movie. Even if you're just a casual viewer, it's still worth listening to for all the fun trivia. (Oh, and O'Haver references a DVD feature - a game to find hidden faces - that didn't seem to make the cut.)

The disc also includes Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes, each with Optional Commentary with Director Tommy O'Haver and Hugh Dancy. The deleted scenes total nearly ten minutes (there are seven of them) and the extended scenes total a little over five (there are four of them). The commentary for all the scenes are pretty good - some of the commentary is a bit sparse, but O'Haver (and even Dancy a little on some scenes) gives his reasonings on why he made the cuts and why some scenes got chopped off a bit. There's actual some really funny and nice parts in some of the scenes, but I see O'Haver's point of view. Oh, and the quality of the scenes (in non-anamorphic widescreen ) are exceptional.

Prince Charmont's Fan Club is a decent little set-top game which is a memory-maze of sorts. You must navigate through some squares and avoid running into all your admiring fans - if you do, you lose. Also on the disc is the Music Video for "It's Not Just Make Believe" by Kari Kimmel in non-anamorphic widescreen. The song sorta reminds me of the Journey hit "Any Way You Want It." (Is that the first reference to that music group on this website?)

The Magical World Of Ella Enchanted is a featurette (that seems to have run on television) that runs about twenty-eight and a half minutes. With clips from the movie, clips from the trailer and on-the-set footage, this is your typical glossy piece to introduce the viewing public to the movie. Hosted by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy, through this featurette the story is explained as well as the characters. Interviewed are O'Haver, Hathaway, Dancy, Patrick Bergin, Minnie Driver, Cary Elwes, Vivica A. Fox and some others.. but wait, there's also a focus on the film's make-up, special effects and production design (we hear from such folks as production designer Norman Garwood) plus the actors. And how could I neglect the bits on the movie's soundtrack and the making of Kimmel's music video? We see her shooting the video, hear from her, hear from Jesse McCartney, Bryan Adams, singer Andrea Remanda and singer/starlette Raven. Hmm, seems like Miramax covered a lot of ground with this featurette - too bad the film bombed.

There's another featurette, this one entitled Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special. Using the same opening as the first featurette, we then hightail it to Kerry Kimmel (is Kristal a stage name of sorts?) and Jesse McCartney (this dude looks like an Aaron Carter doppleganger) who host this featurette from the film's premiere. Throughout the premiere footage, we hear from the cast, producer Jane Startz and O'Haver again in some similar - if not exactly the same - sounding interviews. Yep, that's right - this is just rehash of the first featurette. So if you watch the first one, then just fast forward through this until you see the premiere footage (where the two musical artists interview some of the film's actors and the book's author Gail Carson Levine and then they check out the after party). Everything else is pretty much recycled (for shame!), which is pretty annoying. Looks like Miramax was really looking to cash in on this movie, doesn't it? (Or was this another TV special?) This clocks in at a little over twenty-three minutes.

Topping the disc off are the usual Sneak Peeks and a nifty DVD-ROM feature where you can create your own fairy tale (sorry, this feature is for PCs only).

 

It may not be the ultimate fairy tale movie, but for fun and non-offending entertainment that the whole family can enjoy then you really can't go wrong with "Ella Enchanted." The transfer is pretty good (but could have been better), the 5.1 mix is pretty kicking and there are is a strong assortment of extras. Whether if it's a rental or a purchase, this movie is well worth discovering on DVD.