ELLA ENCHANTED

PG
Reviews

Despite a budget of $30 million and an abundance of bibbidy-bobbidy-boo from the CGI guys, precious little enchantment emerges from the movie version of Ella Enchanted. The problem is too many cooks stirring the cauldron. No fewer than five femmes are listed as scripters, and two of these are the Legally Blonde duo. Then there's director Tommy (Get Over It) O'Haver's tendency to go with anything they come up with. The kitchen sink is not literally in the picture, but metaphorically that's quite another matter.

Mostly, the movie suffers from an overdose of ordinary magic. Gail Carson Levine's Newberry Award-winning novel, which enjoyed considerable favor among pre-teen and teenage girls, prescribed a heroine who is blessed/cursed with the gift of "perfect obedience" by a ding-a-ling fairy godmother. This handicap, coupled with a literal mind, puts poor Ella at the mercy of the world's bidding--and her mean-spirited stepsisters in particular. When she is told to "hop to it," she makes her exit as if on a pogo stick.

Anne Hathaway, who displayed a lovely presence in The Princess Diaries and will be reprising it in the upcoming sequel, muddles through as best she can, which is saying something considering the idiotic things that are asked of her. They tax her charm.

The plot, too densely populated with fanciful incidents and characters, consists essentially of Ella's efforts to rid herself of the obedience obligation so she can devote herself, unfettered, to the smitten Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). It is also a drag on her civil activism, which bubbles to the top because of the injustices created by the Prince's evil uncle, Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), and his constant companion, a snake named Heston (menacingly intoned by Steve Coogan).

There is also a book that talks (Jimi Mistry), steering Ella to her original spell-setter; he's the result of a botched spell cast by his girlfriend (Minnie Driver). An elf hoping for a legal career (Aidan McArdle) also assists Ella on her quest.

The smartest thing in the film is the casting of Joanna Lumley in the wicked-stepmother mold; the dumbest is not giving her anything to do--not that she needs it. On attitude alone, Lumley is absolutely fabulous. Lucy Punch and Jennifer Higham play her girls as if they're from the other side of the sitcom tracks.

Some effort and expense have gone into the look of the film, but it's constantly being mowed down by the sophomoric silliness that abounds--like a restaurant named The IV Seasons or a benefit for bubonic plague victims. Musically, the film plays the same kind of Queen card that A Knight's Tale did--a screamingly anachronistic '60s and '70s sound.

Nobody connected with Ella Enchanted takes the enchantment seriously. The idea of mixing the modern with the medieval is a dubious Mulligan's stew--and annoys quickly.

-Harry Haun