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ELLA ENCHANTED (article first published : 2004-10-5)

A talking book, an evil talking snake, elves that break into a song and dance routine from Gypsy, giants with a penchant for singalong. All this, plus blue-tinged ogres with a penchant for flesh, a ditzy house fairy with eternal youth, a handsome prince and a pretty girl called Ella who is spellbound into always doing what she is told.

Welcome to a glossy fairytale adventure which, notwithstanding owing heaps to Shrek in premise and witty use of incidental satire and contemporary songs, adds up to a, well, enchanting, matinee treat for the whole family.

Anne Hathaway, the gorgeous young former model and star of The Princess Diaries and its upcoming sequel, is the Ella of the title. She's a child who, on her first birthday, is visited by Lucinda, a funky, nasty fairy (Vivica A Fox) and given the gift of obedience - to the point that she is forced to do whatever people wish of her.

Years later, when her mother dies and her father weds again, Ella finds herself at the mercy and command of her vain, evil stepmum (Joanna Lumley) and her spoilt, painful daughters, Olive and Hattie, who are ardent, swooning fans of Prince Charmand, or Char for short (Will Young-lookalike Hugh Dancy).

When he visits her village, Ella crosses paths with the orphaned curly-top, who is soon to be crowned king after having been raised by a conniving uncle (a hissing and enjoyably hammy Cary Elwes) and his talking serpent sidekick. Of course, it's love at first sight - but before she can commit to Char, Ella has to track down the elusive Lucinda and persuade her to lift her curse of supreme obedience.

En route the damsel and her dashing prince bump into elves, ogres and giants before a showdown that results in a grand finale involving the whole cast singing the Elton John and Kiki Dee hit, Don't Go Breaking My Heart.

Music is well used in the film, songs including Leo Sayer's You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and Katrina and the Waves's Walking On Sunshine, while Hathaway has a stand-out moment being forced to sing Queen's Somebody To Love at a party for giants, who join in on the chorus.

Impressively designed and costumed, and deftly directed, the film offers fun incidental moments including Ella's father looking up an abacus programmer while her forever-young house fairy (Minnie Driver) has a book on a shelf called Spells For Dummies.

There's also a reference to a breakthrough product called "batax", which allows the old to lose wrinkles. And watch for the visual sight gag involving a manually operated escalator.

Featuring cameo appearances by Eric Idle, Steve Coogan and Jimi (The Guru) Mistry, the film is the perfect choice for children of all ages. 8/10 Billy Suter




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