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Ella Enchanted Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Ella Enchanted (2004) movie poster Ella Enchanted

Theatrical Release: April 9, 2004 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Tommy O'Haver / Writers: Gail Carson Levine (novel); Laurie Craig, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, Jennifer Heath, Michele J. Wolff (screenplay)

Cast: Anne Hathaway (Ella of Frell), Hugh Dancy (Prince Charmont), Cary Elwes (Sir Edgar), Aidan McArdle (Slannen), Joanna Lumley (Dame Olga), Lucy Punch (Hattie), Jennifer Higham (Olive), Minnie Driver (Mandy), Eric Idle (Narrator), Steve Coogan (voice of Heston), Jimi Mistry (Benny), Vivica A. Fox (Lucinda Perriweather), Parminder Negra (Areida), Jim Carter (Nish), Patrick Bergin (Sir Peter), Donna Dent (Ella's Mother), Heidi Klum (Brumhilda)

Buy Ella Enchanted from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD • Instant Video

In the middle of last decade, it seemed pretty clear that Anne Hathaway would enjoy a typical Disney starlet's career. Following the obscure single-season Fox dramedy "Get Real", Hathaway was cast in the lead role of the G-rated comedy The Princess Diaries, which became a substantial hit for Disney in the summer of 2001. If the studio offered her chances to star in Disney Channel Original Movies, as they like to do for young actresses who bring them business, Hathaway turned them down.
But she did not turn down a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, or the chance to dub the heroine of the Studio Ghibli cartoon The Cat Returns. Disney would also distribute Hathaway's Mormon missionary drama The Other Side of Heaven on video.

Four months before Princess Diaries 2 opened, Hathaway got her first chance to single-handedly carry a movie in Ella Enchanted. It's hard to imagine a project more clearly suited for the image she projected at the time. Another family-friendly fairy tale comedy adapted from a popular modern novel, this 2004 movie was perhaps the most Disney-esque one ever released by their Miramax Films division. There was a Hollywood Records soundtrack featuring the young icons of Radio Disney and Disney Channel like Raven-Symonι and Jesse McCartney. Sent to over 2,000 theaters, Ella was one of the widest releases in the then nearly two-decade history of Miramax. Even the $31 million production budget was much more in line with a live-action Disney film than one of the Weinstein brothers' indie productions or acquisitions.

Prince Char (Hugh Dancy) is attracted to Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway), the one girl not impressed by him.

Based on the first published novel by Gail Carson Levine, who would soon become a key creative figure in the Disney Fairies line, Ella puts its own stamp on the familiar Cinderella story.
As an infant, Ella of Frell is given the gift of obedience by fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox). It is less a gift than a sentence; Ella will have to do exactly as she is commanded until the spell is broken, which only Lucinda can (and will not) do. So, Ella (Hathaway) leads a life with limited free will. Following the dying advice of her mother, Ella keeps her "gift" a secret. Still, she can't say no to any clear direction, no matter how terrible.

Ella's widowed father (Patrick Bergin), kept in the dark on her nature and in the background of this film, remarries a nasty socialite (Joanna Lumley), whose two spoiled, prince-obsessed daughters Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive (Jennifer Higham) discover Ella's secret and use it against her. Meanwhile, the dreamy Prince Char (Hugh Dancy) takes an interest in Ella, the one female who doesn't swoon over him and actually objects to his monarchy's policies. Their romantic progression is set back when Char's evil uncle Edgar (Cary Elwes) and Edgar's snake assistant Heston (voiced by Steve Coogan) figure out Ella's involuntary compliance and decide to exploit it to serve their interests.

Aspects of the film align with the Perrault fairy tale without feeling like a direct retelling. Ella Enchanted is very much a product of the age of Shrek, when irreverence and irony were considered the perfect ingredients for giving classic stories newfound relevance. Ella is nowhere near as obnoxious, quotable, or interested in bodily functions as DreamWorks' cornerstone comedy franchise, but it shares its desire to be contemporary and diverting. The soundtrack of tween pop is complemented by cast renditions of familiar songs like Queen's "Somebody to Love", Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World", Gypsy's "Let Me Entertain You", and Elton John and Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." The film is casual about these performances, never committing to being a full-fledged musical or even really deciding on a specific style or era of music.

None of that matters very much because Ella is content with simply being light-hearted entertainment and it easily earns that label with its fun, gently subversive depictions of olden lifestyles (as a parallel to our time), fantastic creatures (ogres, elves, giants, and a guy stuck in a book), and Cinderella equivalents. Even as it places dramatic obstacles in Ella's path, the movie never expects to be taken very seriously or scrutinized, unlike many other revisionist fairy tales.

Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) and his CGI snake sidekick Heston are the film's villains. Worst gift ever... fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) bestows upon Ella a curse of obedience.

That $31 million stretches far to cover the generally tasteful visuals. The movie is much more enamored with visual effects than it needs to be, but the subtler applications of CGI tend to be convincing. The most glaring exception is Heston the snake, whose animation is a far cry from the types of work that Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia were achieving around the same time (at extraordinarily higher costs, mind you).

With its ninth place off-season opening (just ahead of The Girl Next Door), Ella Enchanted was a dud at the box office, grossing just $23 M domestically and, despite being a predominantly British production, only $4.5 M overseas. The lackluster performance did not lower expectations for Princess Diaries 2, which in the face of critical scorn, came close to matching its considerably better predecessor's strong box office numbers.

That left Hathaway, not yet 22, already seemingly destined for the limited longevity of a child actor. Her prior efforts to branch out -- the Dickens drama Nicholas Nickelby and the edgy direct-to-video Havoc -- had failed to find audiences. Then, she landed a role in Brokeback Mountain. The summer hit The Devil Wears Prada followed. And Hathaway was officially spared obscurity and a narrow brand for the indefinite future. She returned to Disney to play the White Queen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), but no one thinks of her as simply a Disney actress anymore, having been a part of blockbusters as distant as The Dark Knight Rises and Get Smart as well as credibility-boosting, award-attracting dramatic fare like Rachel Getting Married and the upcoming Les Misιrables. While her fellow noughties Disney starlets attracted more fame with their obligatory tween pop careers and ubiquitous music videos, Hathaway has risen to one of Hollywood's most respected and marketable actresses while the likes of Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Raven have all fallen far off the short list of actresses given opportunities to star in theatrical films.

Three months after the public met Hathaway's Catwoman and two before we find out if her Fantine is really worthy of the Oscar buzz it's been getting, Lionsgate brings Ella Enchanted to high definition in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack.

Ella Enchanted Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD 1.85:1 Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; BD-only: English
DVD Movie and Extras Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available as Widescreen DVD, Full Screen DVD ($14.98 SRP each; April 26, 2011) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released by Disney (August 24, 2004) as Widescreen, Full Screen DVD and VHS

VIDEO and AUDIO

Ella Enchanted looks great on Blu-ray. While there are certain ways to identify this as a movie that isn't brand new (e.g. Cary Elwes' weight and prominence in something respectable), the 1.78:1 transfer isn't one of them. It makes the film look brand new. In brightly-lit scenes, the amount of detail is excellent; for instance, an early carriage scene presents convincing evidence of a large booger prominently featuring in Dancy's left nostril. That's the kind of thing that might have left doubt in standard definition. Night scenes introduce a bit of grain that is otherwise basically absent. It's enough to notice, but not really trouble you.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also delights. It is full of life and directionality. Dialogue stays crisp, volume levels are consistent, and the sound design is suitably immersive.

The DVD's transfer is good too, but unchanged from 2004.

Ella's nasty stepsisters (Jennifer Higham and Lucy Punch) get their comeuppance in an alternate ending. Kari Kimmel and Jesse McCartney host the Ella Enchanted Red Carpet Premiere Special from a New York City sidewalk.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray retains nearly all the extras from the film's original DVD, presenting them once again in standard definition and 1.33:1 or letterboxed.

First up is an audio commentary by director Tommy O'Haver and actors Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. Though predictably light and full of laughter, this track still manages to reveal plenty of moviemaking tricks and production experiences,
while acknowledging all the actors as they appear. It's an okay listen.

Seven deleted scenes (9:36) show us more of Ella's stepsisters and stepmother, two more Edgar and Heston moments, a romantic heartbreak montage, and a long alternate would-be closing scene that brings back Lucinda.

Four extended scenes (5:21) add bits with Minnie Driver's character, Aidan McArdle's elf ally, and Heidi Klum's giant. Both sets of cuts can be viewed with audio commentary by O'Haver and Dancy.

"Ella Enchanted: A Red Carpet Premiere Special" (23:14) mixes standard featurette elements (press kit cast and crew remarks and film clips) with more remarkable footage from the New York premiere, hosted by soundtrack contributors Kari Kimmel and Jesse McCartney, who interview the cast, author Gail Carson-Levine, and random kids at the Dylan's Candy Bar afterparty. The film's music is given more than its fair share of attention along with topics like the cast, make-up, and costuming. It's a memorable and fun companion.

That's so Raven, covering Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees' "Mulan" end credits theme in "The Magical World of 'Ella Enchanted.'" Kari Kimmel has bedroom fun in her music video for "It's Not Just Make Believe."

"The Magical World of Ella Enchanted" (28:33) is another substantial promotional making-of featurette. It too relies heavily on clips and presskit interviews (including many of the same bits used in the other piece), with further fixation on the then star-studded soundtrack and only a little banter by green screen-backed hosts Dancy and Hathaway to distinguish it. It at least touches a little more on the production design, supporting characters, and director Tommy O'Haver.

The music video for Kari Kimmel's "It's Not Just Make Believe" (3:07) weaves many clips from the film amidst amateurish looking footage of Kimmel singing in the sound studio and a girl's bedroom. This song felt like something written for the Disney Princesses when it turned up on that line's third Sing Along Songs Volume DVD in 2006.

"Trailers" plays the same unappetizing HD trailers with which the Blu-ray loads, promoting A Princess for Christmas, Spy Kids 1-3, Happily N'Ever After, Alpha and Omega, and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. As on DVD, Ella Enchanted's own trailer isn't included here.

The Blu-ray loses a couple of minor extras from Disney's old DVD release, which thankfully are included on the DVD found here, because Lionsgate sensibly and simply repackaged that disc last year.

The DVD's set-top game "Prince Charmont's Fan Club" has you navigating Char to avoid his starstruck fans. The Ella Enchanted DVD main menu is unchanged from its creation eight years ago.

The set-top game "Prince Charmont's Fan Club" has you try to avoid the screaming girls that go wild for the Prince by navigating two levels of minefields. Spiced up by clips and Hugh Dancy narration, it's different and rather challenging until you get the hang of it. Your reward for mastering it is the unpausable short featurette "The Hidden Faces Inside Ella Enchanted" (2:43),
which points out faces hidden in the film's sets and props. It's odd.

Also supposedly exclusive to DVD is the DVD-ROM activity "Happily Ever After." With the buggy, outdated InterActual Player, you can bring up something called "Ella Continued...", but the exercise in which you are to create your own story relies on an Interactual redirect that presumably hasn't worked in quite some time. So, despite what the case promises (and Lionsgate should have looked into this), there doesn't seem to be any way to access this old DVD-ROM feature. Unless you can figure out a workaround, save your time!

The DVD's dated Sneak Peeks menu amusingly promotes Disney's The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Cheetah Girls.

The Blu-ray's menu plays clips in an oval while sparkles fall and your moves are punctuated by loud noises. The BD didn't resume playback for me, but it did support bookmarks. The DVD's recycled menu arranges options like a map or storybook with clips playing above each listing.

The two discs takes opposite sides of an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, which is joined neither by insert nor slipcover.

Aware of her secret, Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) taunts Ella (Anne Hathaway) and commands her to do his bidding. Not every visual effect is perfectly realized, like this scene between the giant Brumhilda (Heidi Klum) and the tiny elf Slannen (Aiden McArdle).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Ella Enchanted is light but fun entertainment, wittier and just plain better than you'd expect given its tone and makings. It's maybe not something you're compelled to revisit on a regular basis, but it makes for an enjoyable 90 minutes. Lionsgate's Blu-ray delivers a highly pleasing feature presentation, hangs onto all the DVD's bonus features, and includes the movie's one and only widescreen DVD without adding anything to the list price. You couldn't ask for any more than that and thus if you are part of the small overlap that both considers this film a favorite and collects Blu-ray discs, I can recommend this combo pack to you without hesitation.

Buy Ella Enchanted from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Anne Hathaway: The Princess Diaries (2 Movie Collection) • Get Smart • Becoming Jane • Alice in Wonderland (2010) • Rio
Hugh Dancy: King Arthur • Confessions of a Shopaholic • Our Idiot Brother | Cary Elwes: The Princess Bride
Lucy Punch: Dinner for Schmucks • Bad Teacher | Minnie Driver: Grosse Pointe Blank | Joanna Lumley: James and the Giant Peach
Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season • Tangled • Shrek the Third • Enchanted • Mirror Mirror
2004: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban • The Incredibles • Spider-Man 2 • Around the World in 80 Days • Bride & Prejudice
New: Cinderella • The Santa Clause (3-Movie Collection) • Pete's Dragon • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted • A League of Their Own
Disney Princess Sing-Along Songs: Volume 3 - Perfectly Princess • Mulan • 10 Things I Hate About You • Ramona and Beezus

Ella Enchanted Songs List (in order of use): Darren Hayes - "Strange Magic", Jump 5 - "Walking on Sunshine", Cast - "Let Me Entertain You", Kelly Clarkson - "Respect", Cast - "Hit the Road Jack", Cast - "Joy to the World", "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall", "Crazy", Leo Sayer - "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing", Sonu Nigam, Sudesh Bhosle - "Sona Sona", Anne Hathaway - "Somebody to Love", Stimulator - "Magic", Cast - "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", The Frames - "Your Face", Raven - "True to Your Heart", Kari Kimmel - "It's Not Just Make Believe", Andrea Remanda - "If You Believe"

Buy the Ella Enchanted Original Soundtrack: Amazon.com CD • Amazon MP3 • iTunes Download

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Reviewed October 16, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2004 Miramax Films, 2012 Lionsgate and Miramax.
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