Too cute for words

`Ella Enchanted' belabors its charm

April 09, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Ella Enchanted is one cute movie. The star, Anne Hathaway, is cute. Her prince, Hugh Dancy, is cute. The film's conceit, that Ella (Hathaway) is cursed by a spell that makes her do everything she is told, no matter what that is, is cute. The film's world, filled with medieval castles, modern attitudes and lots of '70s pop tunes, is cute.

There's so much cute here, in fact, that all but the purest of heart may collapse under its weight, or at least go screaming from the theater in search of something - anything - even the least bit substantial.

Sorry, but this is pop of the purest kind, calculated (over-calculated, actually) to bring repeated cries of "awwww" from the assembled masses. And if you think about it too hard ... well then, all sorts of problems arise.

Ella grows up a seemingly normal girl, save for that curse business - the legacy of a friendly fairy (Vivica A. Fox) who, as a birthday present, gave the infant girl the gift of obedience. Her intentions may have been good enough, but the results have been disastrous; told to "Hold her tongue," Ella does just that, much to her teacher's consternation. Thank goodness no one's ever told Ella to drop dead.

Ella has soldiered on, growing into a beautiful, willful and highly moral young woman who spends her free time championing the rights of all the kingdom's dispossessed, the ogres, elves and giants turned into second-class citizens by the evil King Edgar (Cary Elwes).

But Ella develops some troubles of her own. When her mother dies, her father re-marries, choosing for a bride the wicked Olga (Joanna Lumley). Worse, she brings along her two daughters, snotty little blonds who makes Ella's life miserable, especially when one of them figures out the curse and makes her poor stepsister do all sorts of silly things.

And then - those of you even a little familiar with the Cinderella fairy tale can skip this part - Ella meets Crown Prince Charmont, a medieval matinee idol who's about to become king himself and thinks uncle Edgar has been doing a fine job.

Of course, Charmont falls for Ella, and after some initial misgivings - she is, after all, a liberated girl, with a mind of her own - Ella falls for him, too. But can these kids make it on their own, especially with Ella's stepmom and stepsisters in their way? Can Ella make Charmont see how evil his uncle is? Can the elves, ogres and giants live happily ever after?

Hathaway is about as appealing as humanly possible as Ella, and Dancy makes for a fine heartthrob. But others among the supporting cast are wasted, especially Minnie Driver as Ella's aunt, who also knows about the curse, and Parminder K. Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham) as Ella's friend, a part so minuscule and superfluous that much of it must have ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Ella Enchanted tries too hard to be charming, force-feeding its audience a steady mix of ancient enchantments and modern-day attitude (Ever After, with Drew Barrymore as a liberated Cinderella, did the job better and with far less effort). And there are logic problems here, as well - if a girl has to do everything she's told, she's never going to have a moment's peace; if someone says "Forget it," she will. The movie slips on that point a couple times.

And Ella's aunt is utterly useless. She could help Ella by simply telling her not to do something - according to the movie's rules, that would work - but never does. Instead, she just looks concerned.

Then again, if cute is all you're looking for, this may be the movie of your dreams.

Ella Enchanted

Starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy

Directed by Tommy O'Haver

Rated PG (crude humor, language)

Released by Miramax Films

Time 90 minutes

Sun Score **

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