I don’t remember when I discovered Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, but it was probably when I was in high school – maybe a junior or a senior, even… as the book only came out in 1997. Perhaps that is why the book is not as sacred to me as it is to some. I didn’t “grow up” with this story, by the time it was published and I got to read it, I was nearly grown.
I loved it, don’t get me wrong. It is a sweet, beautiful, magical story. But it wasn’t world-changing for me. Not like The Hobbit, or A Little Princess, or The Light Princess, or The Princess and the Goblin, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or A Wrinkle in Time.
Which is probably also why, unlike most people who love the book, I also absolutely adore the movie adaptation.
No, it isn’t anything like the book. The only thing the two stories have in common is the title, the basic family dynamic (Cinderella-style, Ella has a wicked stepmother and two spoiled, selfish stepsisters), and the fact that Ella was “blessed” at her birth by a well-meaning fairy godmother who gave her the “gift” of obedience. Faultless obedience. She has to obey everything she is told to do.
Obviously, this could easily turn into a living nightmare, as it basically takes free will out of the equation of the child’s life.
Other than that, the two stories are as dissimilar as the movie Frozen is to the fairy tale it was supposedly based on titled The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.
I think it is probably because of the extremely enormous gap between the two stories that I can fully love and enjoy both of them. I see them as two completely different stories.
Ella Enchanted, the movie, is a hilarious, corny, cheesy romp through a world where there are Prince Charmont fan-clubs filled with silly teenage girls who like to collect pictures of the prince and swoon over every word he says, there are also giants and ogres and elves and other fairy-tale type people who are being severely oppressed by the regent holding the reins of the kingdom in his hands until Charmont comes of age. Travel with strong-minded, as-rebellious-as-she-can-be Ella as she sets out on a quest to find her fairy godmother and beg her to undo her gift. Watch as she argues with the prince, whom she has very little regard for, and discovers that there is more going on and more at stake in her world than a girl looking to reverse an unwanted blessing.
I love this movie. I can’t even really put my finger on why I love it. Part of it is because the movie doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. It is a fun jaunt through a silly fantasy realm, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. I enjoy the cornball humor of it: the elf who wants to be a lawyer and is disgruntled by the fact that a law has been passed that requires all elves to remain in the entertainment industry, the boyfriend of a godmother who has been turned into a book that can tell you anything about the kingdom you want to know (but can’t provide specific directions or a map), the scheming stepsisters who are the heads of the Prince Charmont Fan Club, the prince who just wants to get AWAY from his fan club… it’s just too delicious and silly not to love it to pieces.
I really like the costumes – especially Ella’s dresses, and her blue cloak. I want a cloak just like it! And her hair.
I also love that Anne Hathaway can sing, and that she sang all her own songs and did all her own dancing. My respect for her as an actress soared when I discovered that fact.
I love that the evil uncle is played by Cary Elwes, and that the directors and writers specifically stated that they chose him partially BECAUSE of his role as Westley in the Princess Bride.
I love that Ella is strong-willed and extremely capable, but also completely helpless if someone gives her an order. It makes her strong-willed and opinionated interactions with the prince both sweet and hilarious as she crosses mental swords with him on policy, and then subsequently needs to be saved from certain death because she cannot defend herself from the ogres who have ordered her to stand still.
I love the prince. He’s everything a prince should be.
But mostly, I just love that this movie is pure entertainment. It’s not deep or philosophical, it’s just meant to entertain and be funny, with a side of sweetness and romance. And it does those things very well.
If you want a meaningful Cinderella retelling that will steal your heart and soul – I recommend Sabrina. If you want a nearly perfect historical-fiction retelling of Cinderella – definitely don’t miss Ever After. But if you want pure extract of Silliness with a dash of magical flair that is also wholly clean – you can’t do better than Ella Enchanted.