Monday, May 31, 2004

Ella Enchanted

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 May 2004 at the Arlington Capitol #4 (second-run)

I don't get it. It's okay for someone to be a fan of Shrek regardless of age or gender, but a thirty-year-old male who buys a ticket for Ella Enchanted without the accompaniment of a small, female child is looked at like he's some sort of creep. Okay, granted, the star of this movie is a young cutie (and my describing Anne Hathaway as "likely to be Julia Roberts when she grows up" is, admittedly, a bit off-putting), and the movie is more squarely aimed at those under 18 than Shrek. It's still the same kind of humor, and not only is Miss Hathaway easier on the eyes than a big green ogre, but the other visuals stack up well, too.

The story has been, I gather, somewhat freely adapted from the source material, with director Tommy O'Haver and five (credited) screenwriters opting to set it in a rather modern fairy tale kingdom where people act like twenty-first century Americans despite the lack of such things as electricity. When a baby is born to a minor nobleman, several fairies come bringing gifts, the rather irresponsible fairy Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) giving her the "gift of obedience". As she grows up, this is an inconvenience, until her father remarries. Her stepsister figures this out and uses this knowledge cruelly, finally spurring Ella to track Lucinda down. Along the way, she will meet a prince with his own fan club, an elf who dreams of being a lawyer, an enchanted book, ogres, and giants.

I liked the design of this movie; though the opening shot, in particular, is nifty. It appears to be obviously CGI - though the credits list a lot of miniature work - but it establishes the movie's aesthetic and Eric Idle's narration established the tone. It's clean, modern, somewhat satiric but not to the point of self-referentiality. Many of the effects aren't quite as polished as they could be, but in some ways that works in the movie's favor: When Ella and company are meet with the giants, for instance, the less-than perfect compositing actually keeps one's brain from trying to see the characters as the same size (which was an issue I had with the Lord Of The Rings movies). The music choices are somewhat goofy, but not to the extent that Shrek 2's were.

It's also a fun cast; you've got Eric Idle as the narrator, Cary Elwes at the villain, Joanna Lumley as the stepmother, Minnie Driver, Patrick Bergin, Steve Coogan, Jimi Mistry, Heidi Klum, and Parminder Nagra. The kids likely won't recognize these folks, but they're fun for the grown-ups. Likewise, the story and characterization are simple, but not dumbed-down. It's made for kids, but not just for kids.

One important note - this movie is winding down its theatrical release, and the only announced DVD is cropped. It's got a few fairly busy compositions, so I'm hoping Miramax announces a widescreen version. Otherwise, the only chance to see the movie as it was made is in theaters for another week or two (if that).

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