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Ella Enchanted - family DVD review
ELLA ENCHANTED Rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: Anne Hathaway, Patrick Bergin, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley
Director: Tommy O'Haver   Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 24 August 2004   Runtime: 96 minutes, 1 disc
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
Features: Subtitles (Spanish), Audio tracks (English, Dolby Digital 5.1; French), Commentary by Tommy O'Haver, Anne Hathaway & Hugh Dancy, Deleted & extended scenes, "Red Carpet Premiere Special," "The Magical World of Ella Enchanted," Prince Charmont's Fan Club set-top game, Music video, "Happily Ever After" DVD-ROM feature

Ella Enchanted is a corny, cool new take on the classic Cinderella story, with plenty of heart, spunk and a lot of laughs. Director Tommy O'Haver roughly follows the Cinderella story with some upgrades. The 2004 release offers a less sophisticated social commentary than seen in Wicked, but with a similar bite and wry humor that the kids may or may not pick up on - more for adults to chew on than the mind-numbingly sugary Disney version.

As all good fairy tales ought, Ella Enchanted offers good lessons. With Ella as guide, we conquer wrongs in behavior such as self-serving greed and pompous arrogance. The giants and elves have been loosely enslaved in service of the crown, mostly to keep them stifled and out of the way. Part of our heroine's charm is her politic concern for the creatures of her land.

Anne Hathaway stars as Ella, the new "hip" version of Cinderella. With long dark hair in place of the shining blonde sausage curls, she brings her own animated moxie to the role. This contemporary girl is full of grit and determination. When Ella is a baby, her fairy godmother - Fairy Par Excellence aka Vivica A. Fox - gives her the gift of obedience. Being gifted with obedience has complicated her life far more than one might anticipate. One of her evil, selfish stepsisters figures out that Ella can't help but do whatever she is told, even at the risk of harming herself in the process. With her life and heart in tatters, Ella sets off alone and on foot to find the fairy to beg her to take the gift back.

The characters are - not surprising, perhaps - fairly one-dimensional. It works just fine for this story, as it is the tale itself that carries the movie, not the characters. Even with that limitation, the one major trait each of them seems to embody is acted with gusto - with only a few gripes of poor acting. They are just so entertaining that it works fine. The retelling of a days-old tale doesn't need a lot of new innovations. What they have added makes up for the lack of full-bodied characters.

There are the expected players: Ella, her evil stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and stepsisters, Prince Charmont, the fairy godmother. They are all not quite what one might expect, though, and therein lies much of the fun.

New, unexpected characters really spice things up. Ella meets up with Slannen the Elf on her epic journey to cure herself, and Slannen is enough to recommend the film. Sir Edgar is the evil regent ruling the land for Prince Charmont, who is coming of age. Edgar is played by Carey Elwes, who does comic evil very well. There are giants, trolls and a talking book to round out the crew. Minnie Driver is the "house fairy" that offers a boost of encouragement and support for Ella as needed.

While it isn't quite a musical, music and song definitely plays a big part in this chronicle of Cinderella. Remakes of popular Elton John and Queen songs are sung by Anne Hathaway. These new renditions don't call for ear plugs, either - they are sweet and full of soul and charm. Kelly Clarkson, Raven and Bryan Adams help to round it out.

The narration has a great tone, heavy with an interesting mix of hope and sarcasm. Eric Idle brings his own special flavor to the table, plying platitudes and amusements. He is the crowning touch. With sweeping fantasy backdrops, great costuming and a solid story, Ella Enchanted has a lot to offer in family entertainment.

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reviewed by Carolynn Evans
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