What parent wouldn't jump at the thought of having a perfectly obedient child? In the magical medieval world where little Ella is born, it is customary for each child to be given a supernatural gift from a fairy Godmother. When Fairy Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) shows up at the door, she feels the crying baby requires the ability to perfectly obey, and thus the spell is given.
The mysterious manipulation is handy for quieting a fussy infant, but once Ella has grown into a young lady (Anne Hathaway), her inability to ignore anyone's command becomes a major problem. Top on the list of potential exploiters are her two evil stepsisters, Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive (Jennifer Higham).
But where there are evil stepchildren, there must also be a handsome prince - and in this case it's Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). With good looks, wit, and charm worthy of regular coverage in Medieval Teen Magazine, Charmont has an active fan club, of which Hattie and Olive are charter members.
Ella, on the other hand, is not so easily swayed by a toothy smile and nice hair. Instead, the humble maiden is miffed by the less than royal treatment shown to the laboring gentle giants and entertaining elves living in the kingdom. She considers most of the upper class -including the Prince-to be human rights abusers.
Inevitably, Ella and the Prince cross paths. Much to her surprise (but not the audience's), all preconceived notions begin to melt away. The evil stepsisters are quick to notice the growing mutual fondness, and determine to poison the relationship. Engaging the selfish personality of competing Prince Edgar (Cary Elwes), the trio hatches a plan that will use Ella's involuntary faithfulness to every order to serve their greedy desires.
This thin Cinderella plot holds no surprises and leaves screenwriters with lots of time on their hands. Thus, characters break into needless song, singing tunes like Queen's Somebody to Love. Other scenes padding the film to its 100-minute length involve conflicts between ogres, elves, giants, and all the king's men. These moments provide generous amounts of cartoon-style violence, along with some flatulence humor and comic drunkenness. This content will be of mild concern for parents evaluating the appropriateness of this movie for young viewers.
Yet it's in the visuals that Ella becomes a tad more enchanting. The set design and script are full of intentional anachronisms. For example, the girls spend the afternoon at a medieval market that is fashioned after a modern shopping mall, complete with ye olde wooden escalator. Such elements contribute to making Ella feel similar to 2001's A Knight's Tale, but with a strange quirkiness best described as Monty Python for juniors.
The other attraction of Ella Enchanted is the strong message about taking control of your life and not blaming outside influences for your wrong decisions. Aimed at young viewers (who are also more likely to fall under the movie's spell than was I), this lesson is reason enough to recommend the film to family audiences.