Ella of Frell is given the "gift of obedience" by a fairy, only to realize that it's more of a curse because it could separate her from her true love, Prince Charmont. Will Ella manage to conjure a "cure" that enables her to live happily ever after?
One of the smartest films for older children in quite some time, Tommy O'Haver's "Ella Enchanted" is a funny (and at times, politically pointed) take-off on the ancient conventions of fairy tales. Anne Hathaway, the vivacious young star of "The Princess Diaries," plays the title character, a put-upon teenager in a storybook world whose widowed father (Patrick Bergin) has injudiciously married Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley, of "Absolutely Fabulous"), the mother of all wicked stepmothers. She comes complete with a pair of entertainingly hateful daughters (Lucy Punch and Jennifer Higham), who like nothing better than torturing Ella — particularly once they discover that, thanks to a questionable gift bestowed by a fairy (Vivica A. Fox), she is unable to refuse any order she is given. As Ella sets out to find the errant fairy and convince her to revoke her dubious present, the screenwriters Laurie Craig, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (working from a novel by Gail Carson Levine) take her through various effects-filled realms, including a land where elves are forced by the evil regent to sing, dance and be relentlessly merry, and a forced labor compound for giants that looks disturbingly like a concentration camp. Mr. O'Haver gives the political subtext a forceful treatment but does not pat himself on the back for it; the messages blend seamlessly into the fantasy and comedy. — Dave Kehr
2004-04-09 | Dave Kehr | Read the New York Times Review of Ella Enchanted