Starring Anne Hathaway and Minnie Driver. Rated general.
As anyone who's walked into Toys "R" Us lately knows, mass-marketing machines are pushing gaudy fairy stuff on little girls like never before. A silver-cardboard crown, a battery-operated flashing wand, and pink-metallic wings: they're as essential to the average five-year-old female's Tickle Trunk these days as Barbie.
Take those garish gewgaws and try to picture them in film form. Now you're getting somewhere close to the kitschy, artificial look of Ella Enchanted, a sort of live-action Shrek that's substituted all the clever jokes with enough sparkle dust to fill B.C. Place Stadium. It's a CGI-cranked Cinderella story that's so busy with antics better suited to Saturday morning cartoons that it fails to create the real magic of such other postmodern fairy tales as Ever After, The Princess Bride, or A Knight's Tale.
Based loosely on Gail Carson Levine's wildly popular book, the film follows Ella (Anne Hathaway), whose well-meaning fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) has bestowed her with a gift that's actually a curse: she must obey everything she's told to do. That means ample room for abuse from her evil stepsisters and stepmother, not to mention the material for a thousand lame jokes. "Hop to it", "Grin and bear it", and other clichés are met with the sound of tinkling bells and the sight of our young heroine robotically following orders.
Fortunately, Ella is feisty, attracting the attention of Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). Their growing friendship leads her on a quest to find Lucinda and make her take back the "gift". Along the way, she meets a wildly costumed storybook menagerie of giants, elves, and ogres, and--unlike in the novel--she helps them rebel against a repressive kingdom run by Char's evil uncle.
Much has already been made of Hathaway, who's 20, taking the title role of the beloved 15-year-old, but the jet-eyed The Princess Diaries star has an intelligence and ethereality that give this sugar-dipped trifle more depth than it deserves. What she and a hodgepodge cast that includes Minnie Driver and Eric Idle can't overcome, however, is the constant stream of cutesy anachronisms crammed in by a committee of screenwriters: Ella and her friends shop at a medieval mall's Crockery Barn; Char is constantly chased by screaming groupies; and an elf calls Ella "Miss I-think-I'm-all-that".
Those touchstones, and such Paris Hilton worthy costumes as sequined minis and fringed Ugg-style boots, make you think the film is desperately reaching for the Britney Spears crowd. But director Tommy O'Haver's tweaked-out frenzy is probably too silly for the teen set, and its nonstop stream of punny eye-rollers ("They don't hold grudges; they're bigger than that," Ella quips about the giants) promises to turn off most adults. In the end, Ella will likely only enchant those young enough to have pulled the fairy wings out of the closet in the last month or so.