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Enchanting, for young girls anyway

Lovely heroine and her prince have adolescent appeal. Adults can go fetch the popcorn.

April 09, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Ella Enchanted," a breezy take on "Cinderella," is likely to cast its spell primarily on adolescent girls, while their elders might well find it more than a little tedious in its familiarity and artificiality.

That said, director Tommy O'Haver and his vast cast and crew have effectively zeroed in on the film's presumed target audience. Girls should have no trouble identifying with winsome, though beleaguered, heroine Ella (Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries") and swooning over handsome, tousled-haired Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy).

A little slow getting underway, the film gains momentum as it goes along. Exteriors in the Irish countryside and elaborate studio sets have been given a bedizened glow straight out of Thomas Kinkade, but O'Haver et al. cleverly treat all this pretty candle-lit business as the fairy tale it is.

Although in sensibility, references, music and dance, "Ella Enchanted" takes place in the here and now, the filmmakers have avoided distractingly obvious anachronisms such as cellphones. Even so, when the Prince comes to Ella's village of Frell, it's to open the Galleria mall, which is housed in an appropriately Tudor-style structure.

Based on Gail Carson Levine's bestselling novel, "Ella Enchanted" has as its special twist Ella's fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) bestowing upon her the curse of obedience. What a boon this curse will be to her nasty stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and her awful stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Jennifer Higham). More ominously, what a boon it will also be to the kingdom's evil regent, Charmont's uncle Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), when socially conscious Ella tries to make Charmont aware that Edgar has enslaved and exploited all the giants, elves and ogres in the domain, all of them peace-loving.

By the time the film is over, its ancient fairy tale form has made the oppression of minorities seem all the more outmoded and has made it equally clear that only Ella, drawing upon inner strength and resolve, can set herself free of her godmother's curse.

It's a strong plus that Elwes, abetted by his advisor, a cunning talking serpent, plays the villain with such unabashed relish, for Ella's curse and Charmont's near-terminal naivete tend to make them pretty bland for much of the movie.

Also on hand are Minnie Driver, seriously underused as Ella's spell-casting nursemaid, and Aidan McArdle as an elf who yearns to be a lawyer. The requisite fantasy-adventure elements, some mild humor and spirited, if uninspired, singing and dancing fill out "Ella Enchanted."


'Ella Enchanted'

MPAA rating: PG for some crude humor and language

Times guidelines: Suitable family fare

Anne Hathaway...Ella

Hugh Dancy...Prince Charmont

Cary Elwes...Sir Edgar

Aidan McArdle...Slannen

Joanna Lumley...Dame Olga

A Miramax presentation of a co-production of Enchanted Productions (UK) and World 2000 Entertainment (Ireland). Director Tommy O'Haver. Producer Jane Starz. Executive producers Su Armstrong, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein and Julie Goldstein. Screenplay Laurie Craig, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith; based on the novel by Gail Carson Levine. Cinematographer John De Borman. Costumes Ruth Myers. Production designer Norman Garwood. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

In general release.

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