Centering on a young damsel's quest to rid herself of an enchanted ''gift,'' Ella Enchanted is a delightful mixture of your favorite fairy tales, with a bit of modern flavor.
Based on the best-selling, prize-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine of the same title, Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) lives in a magical world where ogres, giants, fairies, elves and such live together in relative harmony. When Ella was born, her fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) gave her a special gift--obedience--which turns out, à la Sleeping Beauty, to be more like a curse. As the young beauty grows up, she's unable to refuse any command, which often leaves her at the mercy of unscrupulous personalities--in particular her new stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and wicked stepsisters, who get a kick out of torturing her, à la Cinderella. Before long, the headstrong Ella has had enough. In a bid to regain control of her life, she goes on a quest to find Lucinda and free herself from her burden. She picks up some friends along the way, à la The Wizard of Oz, including a know-it-all named Benny (Jimi Mistry), an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle) and the dashing soon-to-be-king Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). But Ella also encounters ogres, giants and Charmont's uncle, the egomaniacal Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), who, as the de facto evil despot, has caused great discord in the land. Ella has to make the prince realize his uncle is a bad, bad man, help him own up to his kingly responsibilities, restore peace in the land and--of course--fall in love. But first and foremost, she has to get rid of that stinkin' gift.
Hathaway, who was a breath of fresh air in the 2001 sleeper hit The Princess Diaries, solidifies her reputation as a natural comedienne in Ella Enchanted. The sassy, forward-thinking medieval lass, forced to obey every command despite herself, gets into some precarious situations (watch how her nasty stepsisters make her steal stuff from the medieval mall, ''Galleria of Frell''), and Hathaway's endearing qualities--the expressive face, the affinity for physical comedy--accentuate the charming story. As her love interest, Prince Charmont, Dancy (Black Hawk Down) clicks with Hathaway and has the looks and personality Teen Beat readers (or, as the magazine's called in the film, Medieval Teen) drool over. But it's the rest of the cast who truly complete the film--including Minnie Driver as Ella's fairy nursemaid, Mandy, who isn't very good at dispensing magic; Mistry (The Guru), as Benny, the boyfriend Mandy accidentally turns into a talking book; Elwes, who does a complete turnaround from his hero in Princess Bride; Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) as the greedy stepmother; Heidi Klum (yes, the model), as a fetching giant; and especially newcomer McArdle, who, as an elf supposedly destined to only make merry and sing songs, really wants to be a lawyer.
In addition to its fresh storyline, Ella Enchanted looks great, too. In green, magical Ireland, director Tommy O'Haver (Get Over It) re-created the details of the enchanted medieval kingdom's thatched-roof houses, tall castle spires and fields of poppies in colorful, comically anachronistic sets and costumes. Die-hard fans of the novel, however, may feel slighted that O'Haver (along with a long list of writers) veered too far from the original source, choosing to cater to the teen set with modern-day, MTV touches not found in the more traditional book. The ''Frell Galleria,'' for example, with its man-powered wooden escalators, is cute but not entirely necessary. Neither are the two musical numbers in the film, one in which Ella is ordered to sing at a giant's wedding and bursts into a rousing rendition of Queen's ''Someone To Love.'' But despite whatever targeted audience the movie's going for, they'll all be completely entertained by the whole package.
Although Ella Enchanted will certainly captivate fairytale lovers and romantics alike, it's the MTV, Teen Beat-lovin' teenage girls who will sing its praises the loudest.