This movie had such great potential. Based on the award-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine, there were high expectations for Ella Enchanted on the silver screen.
Unfortunately, it did not deliver.
The well-crafted novel was twisted into a bizarre attempt at comedy, with only bits and pieces of the original characters and storyline coming through. The bare-bones basics are similar, at least – probably so that director Tommy O’Haver could still claim that the movie was based on Levine’s novel. Ella is a young woman who has been put under a curse of obedience. Whatever command she is given, she must carry out, even if she does not want to. She leaves home, tired of the abuse of her stepmother and stepsisters, and tries to find the fairy godmother who gave her this “gift” at her birth. Along the way Ella overcomes dangerous encounters, relies on her wit and intelligence, and falls in love with the handsome Prince Charmont.
But beyond that, the similarities end. The most obvious (and annoying) change in the movie was to Ella’s curse. In the novel, Ella fights against commands given her, trying to break the curse, but eventually she would always give in and carry out the order. However, in the movie, Ella’s curse seems to act on its own, even making Ella perform feats that no ordinary human could do, including freezing in midair when commanded to “freeze.”
There are also multiple characters who are either added or else changed so drastically that they are barely recognizable. Mandy, Ella’s personal fairy godmother who watches over Ella when Ella’s mother dies, now has a boyfriend named Benny… who is a talking book. Prince Char’s uncle is a laughingstock, taking the “evil villain who plots for the throne” theme from unoriginal to ridiculous.
Thankfully, the cast at least did their job well. Anne Hathaway (Ella) and Hugh Dancy (Char) work well together on screen. Hathaway fits into the role quite well; perhaps her experience as a young outcast who becomes princess gets put to use. (See The Princess Diaries if you don’t get the reference.) Also, in spite of the depressingly shallow character of Edgar, Cary Elwes brings life to the screen (although fans of The Princess Bride will likely shake their heads in shame).
Overall, the writers are to blame for turning what could have been a great action/romance into a stale “comedy” that put a black mark on the image of Levine’s story. Let’s hope that if there is ever a remake, it actually attempts to follow the real story. Otherwise, at least have the decency not to tarnish a perfectly good story with a poor adaptation.