Based on the best-selling prize-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine of the same title Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) lives in a magical world where ogres giants fairies elves and such live together in relative harmony. When Ella was born her fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) gave her a special gift--obedience--which turns out à la Sleeping Beauty to be more like a curse. As the young beauty grows up she's unable to refuse any command which often leaves her at the mercy of unscrupulous personalities--in particular her new stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and wicked stepsisters who get a kick out of torturing her à la Cinderella. Before long the headstrong Ella has had enough. In a bid to regain control of her life she goes on a quest to find Lucinda and free herself from her burden. She picks up some friends along the way à la The Wizard of Oz including a know-it-all named Benny (Jimi Mistry) an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle) and the dashing soon-to-be-king Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). But Ella also encounters ogres giants and Charmont's uncle the egomaniacal Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) who as the de facto evil despot has caused great discord in the land. Ella has to make the prince realize his uncle is a bad bad man help him own up to his kingly responsibilities restore peace in the land and--of course--fall in love. But first and foremost she has to get rid of that stinkin' gift.
Hathaway who was a breath of fresh air in the 2001 sleeper hit The Princess Diaries solidifies her reputation as a natural comedienne in Ella Enchanted. The sassy forward-thinking medieval lass forced to obey every command despite herself gets into some precarious situations (watch how her nasty stepsisters make her steal stuff from the medieval mall "Galleria of Frell") and Hathaway's endearing qualities--the expressive face the affinity for physical comedy--accentuate the charming story. As her love interest Prince Charmont Dancy (Black Hawk Down) clicks with Hathaway and has the looks and personality Teen Beat readers (or as the magazine's called in the film Medieval Teen) drool over. But it's the rest of the cast who truly complete the film--including Minnie Driver as Ella's fairy nursemaid Mandy who isn't very good at dispensing magic; Mistry (The Guru) as Benny the boyfriend Mandy accidentally turns into a talking book; Elwes who does a complete turnaround from his hero in Princess Bride; Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) as the greedy stepmother; Heidi Klum (yes the model) as a fetching giant; and especially newcomer McArdle who as an elf supposedly destined to only make merry and sing songs really wants to be a lawyer.
In addition to its fresh storyline Ella Enchanted looks great too. In green magical Ireland director Tommy O'Haver (Get Over It) re-created the details of the enchanted medieval kingdom's thatched-roof houses tall castle spires and fields of poppies in colorful comically anachronistic sets and costumes. Die-hard fans of the novel however may feel slighted that O'Haver (along with a long list of writers) veered too far from the original source choosing to cater to the teen set with modern-day MTV touches not found in the more traditional book. The "Frell Galleria " for example with its man-powered wooden escalators is cute but not entirely necessary. Neither are the two musical numbers in the film one in which Ella is ordered to sing at a giant's wedding and bursts into a rousing rendition of Queen's "Someone To Love." But despite whatever targeted audience the movie's going for they'll all be completely entertained by the whole package.
The film opens as teenagers Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover and spooking each other with ghost stories. Trouble is the urban legend Becca retells is all too true as Katie is just about to find out in the most grisly of ways. The story centers on a mysterious videotape that should you be so unfortunate as to view it will kill you in seven days (you know this because someone calls right after you watch it to alert you that you're gonna kick). Katie and her friends watched it and sure enough they're all dead a week later--sparking Katie's aunt an investigative journalist named Rachel (Naomi Watts) to uncover what happened and why. When the trail leads her to the sinister tape she watches it receives the foreboding phone call and consequently sets off on a race against time to somehow save her life by finding out the meaning of what she's seen. She enlists the help of Noah (Martin Henderson) the father of her rather strange and solitary young son Aidan (David Dorfman)--who like all kids in horror movies these days is seeing frightening visions too--and over the course of seven days the two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves the tape a twisted family and dying horses.
The acting by all involved is generally good. Naomi Watts who hit the radar with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive last year ably carries the film although there are times in close-up when she looks too self-aware with an almost smug expression as though she's about to smile when the situation isn't the least bit funny. Maybe it's because she knows her Rachel does some pretty mind-blowingly foolish things the most noteworthy among them leaving the deadly video out where her curious son (who annoyingly invokes Haley Joel Osment and looks absolutely nothing like either of the folks playing his parents) can pop it in the ol' VCR. Though Watts is a basically likeable fresh face any number of up-and-coming actresses could have done this role--as well or better.
It's been awhile since jaded horror fans have had something to get excited about. Gore Verbinski justifies his career after the miserable The Mexican with this taut thriller which opens with the teen girls in a truly terrifying sequence reminiscent of Scream. Verbinski is keenly aware of the value of keeping things just out of sight and not resorting to cheap horror movie shlock so there are genuine chills to be had (animal lovers will want to cover their eyes during one particularly horrifying scene). Although the moments that'll really make you jump out of your skin are few and far between the secret behind the videotape is compelling as is the imagery. Without overdoing it The Ring displays some fantastic cinematography particularly with the Buñuel-esque videotape (you could have heard a pin drop as engrossed as the audience was at this review screening) and the shots of gloomy mist-enshrouded Washington State are disquietingly atmospheric. However the last third of the movie is somewhat disappointing and contains several utterly ridiculous scenes--particularly one at the ending (which actually has a nice twist).