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Blu-ray Review: Ella Enchanted

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My daughter would tell you that 2004’s Ella Enchanted, directed by Tommy O’Haver and starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy, is a fantastic movie.  She would remark about how funny it is, how great Ella is as a hero, and just how much the whole thing made her laugh (seriously, she thought it was funny).  My daughter is six and, as much as I love her, I take all her film recommendations with a grain of salt.  If you ask me, Ella Enchanted is cute, but really much more feels like Anne Hathaway was kind of stuck in Princess Diaries mode and wasn’t sure how to break out of fairytale land when she made it.

The movie has a certain kind of charm, but it feels more like an ABC Family original sort of charm and less of a big screen flick.  The story revolves around Ella (Hathaway) having been given a curse at birth, one that forces her to do what anyone tells her to do.  Now a teen, and after some humiliating moments, she opts to find the fairy who cursed her and convince the fairy to take it back.

The movie is a send-up of standard fairytale conventions – Ella’s father (Patrick Bergin) marries a wicked step-mother (Joanna Lumley) who has two wicked daughters, Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive (Jennifer Higham).  There is the handsome prince, Charmont (Hugh Dancy), an evil king who is Charmont’s uncle (Cary Elwes), and elves and giants and trolls.  There is even an evil snake who works for the king.

By all of this, Ella Enchanted seems to be attempting to convince adults watching that we should all enjoy the film because it understands just how ironic it is (wink-wink), whilst allowing kids to like it in a non-ironic fashion.  It doesn’t work.  The entire film is far too-cutesy to work as a subversion of standard fairytale fare.  It just doesn’t go far enough in convincing the adults that it’s making fun of these stories – rather it seems as though it’s just telling a bad one.

It is a difficult mark to hit—that ironic for adults but serious for kids tone—and Ella Enchanted doesn’t get there, but it does get close.  The film is watchable for adults, it just isn’t entirely enjoyable.  And, as already mentioned, my six-year-old just loves it.  For adults, the best bits are Anne Hathaway’s songs and the worst are when any sort of special effect is tried.

This last item may be an issue with the Blu-ray release; the truth of the matter is that the film simply does not look very good.  Anything done on a green screen (and a lot of the shooting seems to have been done on a green screen) appears fake.  This is really most noticeable in any scene with a giant.  There are also a number of computer generated establishing shots used, and these too help lend that ABC Family original air to the movie.  Night scenes contain far too much grain, and there isn’t the amount of detail one would hope to see present.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is better, although not stellar.   The track is well-mixed and all the audio is clear and crisp, however it is not a terribly full sound field.  The surrounds are used, but not as often as they could be, making the track front-heavy.  Things do pick up more in crowd scenes and with musical numbers.

The bonus features included here are a true disappointment.  There are deleted and extended scenes, a music video, and feature commentary.  There are also two behind the scenes looks at the movie (one is called a “Red Carpet Premiere Special”), and both are 4:3 presentations (truly annoying when they show clips from the film and the picture goes to 1.78:1 within the 4:3.  There is also a DVD included which, oddly contains more special features than the Blu-ray (not that they’re great either).  Beyond the Blu-ray features, the DVD also has a computer-based “Create Your Own Story” item (we could not test this at it seems not to work on Mac) and a set-top game.

I can’t say that this film won’t find favor among its target audience, just that it won’t find favor amongst the adults who watch alongside said audience.  It isn’t as fun as it should be, isn’t as clever as it might be, and the production values aren’t great.   Your kids may love it, just don’t watch alongside them.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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