In the kingdom of Frell, baby Ella (Anne Hathaway) is given the "gift of obedience" by her obnoxious and misguided fairy godmother, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox). This turns out to be more of a curse, making Ella do anything she is told to do, no matter how terrible or physically impossible. Some years later, Ella's mother dies after instructing Ella to tell no one of the curse, not even her father. Eventually Ella's father (Patrick Bergin), in need of money, remarries a wealthy socialite. His greedy new wife, Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley), and her two spoiled daughters Hattie and Olive (Jennifer Higham) treat Ella poorly. They eventually realize Ella's obedience to commands, and begin making her life miserable.
Ella, now a beautiful young woman, happens to meet Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), the young, attractive, and very popular heir to the kingdom; they began to like each other, but Hattie and Olive decide to pursue "Char" themselves. Ella cannot bear to live under the obedience spell and Hattie's jealousy a moment longer, so she resolves to find Lucinda, the only one who can remove the spell. Mandy (Minnie Driver), the household fairy and the only other person who knows of the curse, introduces her boyfriend to Ella; he is in the form of a book but can help Ella by showing things such as pictures of people in their current surroundings. During her journey, Ella encounters an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle), who wants to be a lawyer instead of an entertainer as the kingdom's laws now require. Slannen joins Ella on her quest, but they are captured by a group of ogres, who prepare to cook and eat them. They are rescued by Prince Charmont. He then accompanies her to a wedding in the land of giants, where Ella hopes to find Lucinda. As they make their way there, the prince and Ella begin to fall in love. They pass a plantation where giants are working as slaves, and Ella tries to open Char's eyes to the cruelty of the new laws oppressing elves and giants. There, Ella is forced to perform a rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love," performed by Freddie Mercury. Char then suggests that Ella should come with him to his palace to visit the Hall of Records and track down Lucinda faster.
At the palace, Charmont's uncle, Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), has Ella's "gift" called to his attention by his talking snake, Heston (voiced by Steve Coogan), who has been spying on the prince. When Edgar offers them Char's hand in marriage, Ella's stepsisters explain that she does everything she is told. Edgar knows that Prince Charmont intends to propose marriage to Ella, and he orders her to stab him to death and not to tell anyone of the plan. Sir Edgar also reveals that he murdered Prince Charmont's father. To prevent the murder of Char, Ella asks Slannen to tie her to a tree outside the city and to find the giants so they can help. Lucinda now appears before Ella, who asks her to undo the "gift" of obedience. Offended by the request, Lucinda refuses, saying that if Ella no longer wants the spell, she must remove it herself. She unties Ella from the tree and gives her a fancy dress and tells her to attend the ball. When Ella gets to the ball, Charmont almost immediately takes her to the Hall of Mirrors and asks her to marry him. Ella is about to stab him with the dagger Edgar provided, when she realizes how to free herself from the curse: looking into a mirror, she orders herself to no longer be obedient. This saves Prince Charmont from his uncle's treachery. But Edgar is watching the entire scene behind a two-way mirror, and before Ella can explain to Char why she tried to kill him, he orders the guards in, to lock her up and have her executed in a few days.
Meanwhile, Slannen gets the giants, and the ogres come to help as well. They sneak into the castle just before the coronation. They rescue Ella and find out that Sir Edgar is poisoning the crown that is to be put on Char's head in the ceremony. When the crown is just inches above his head, Ella barges in along with Slannen and the ogres and screams, "Drop that crown!" Edgar and Heston call for knights and the ninja-like Red Guards, and they all battle in the hall against Prince Char, Ella, the ogres, the giants, and Slannen. During the fight, Ella has time to explain to Char everything that has happened. When Sir Edgar's forces lose the battle, Heston tries to bite Char, but is stopped by Ella and trampled by members of Char's fan club. This shows that Ella was telling the truth, and Edgar admits everything to the assembled crowd, saying it was justified because he is the only one fit to wear the crown. Then, carried away by his own rhetoric, he puts it dramatically on his own head, and promptly collapses from the poison, although he survives.
Char and Ella kiss; her stepsisters arrive and order her to stop kissing, and she is delighted to refuse. Ella then walks up to Hattie and takes her mother's necklace back from her (for Hattie had forced Ella to give it to her near the beginning of the movie). Char once again asks Ella to marry him, and she agrees. The movie ends with their wedding and a musical number (Elton John's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart").
- Anne Hathaway as Ella of Frell. She is under a spell given to her by a fairy named Lucinda which makes her obedient.
- Hugh Dancy as Prince Charmont (Char), son of the late king that was killed by his uncle. He is treated as a teen icon and has his own fan club, though he doesn't agree with this label.
- Aidan McArdle as Slannen, an elf who wanted to become a lawyer.
- Minnie Driver as Mandy, a household fairy who was the only person kind to Ella when Peter left. She always has some flaws in her spells.
- Eric Idle as the narrator
- Vivica A. Fox as Lucinda Perriweather, a fairy who gave the "gift" to Ella. She never takes back her spells, and always helps at the wrong time.
- Parminder Nagra as Areida, Ella's best friend who grew up with Ella for many years.
- Jim Carter as Nish, an ogre who eats humans.
- Patrick Bergin as Sir Peter, Ella's father who was a vendor of watches.
- Joanna Lumley as Dame Olga, Ella's stepmother.
- Lucy Punch as Hattie, Ella's stepsister who was obsessed with Prince Charmont.
- Jennifer Higham as Olive, Ella's kleptomaniac stepsister who always follows her older sister Hattie and is also mistreated by her.
- Alvaro Lucchesi as Koopootuk, a giant who Charmont met at Giantsville.
- Heidi Klum as Brumhilda, a giantess who met Slannen in Giantsville and has feelings for Slannen despite his size.
- Jimi Mistry as Benny, the talking book.
- Johnny Nguyen as Red Knight (uncredited)
- Tristan MacManus (uncredited)
Differences from source material
- Ella is 15 when her mother dies, not when a young child.
- Ella met Char at the funeral.
- Char's parents aren't dead. There is no known uncle.
- She met Areida at Finishing School after Peter marries Olga, not as a young child.
- There is no such thing as a fan club, and Hattie was the only known girl obsessed with Char.
- The kingdom was called Kyrria, not Lamia.
- Char and Ella find the glass slippers in the old castle at Peter and Olga's wedding. It wasn't stored for sale.
- The magic book was not a person turned into one with the person's head in the front cover.
- Ella charmed the ogres to sleep. She did not need to be protected, unlike the film.
- Char goes to Ayortha for a year, with him and Ella writing letters to each other. In the film, none of this happens.
- There are three Balls held in Char's honor after he returns from Ayortha, for him to find a bride. In the film, there's only one, and it's for his coronation.
- Ella breaks the curse by repeatedly resisting the urge to accept Char's proposal, not by ordering herself in a mirror.
Hathaway did her own singing in the film.
Jimi Mistry, a British actor of Indian descent, said that he enjoyed playing a talking book in the film because it offered him the opportunity to do something different from his other roles. "You can't get less Indian than a talking book, and an American talking book, so it was great," he said.
The film received mixed reviews, with a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 53% on Metacritic. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, praising it as "the best family film so far this year" (April 9, 2004).
The film was mainly criticized for it's differences from the book. Hathaway, who first read the book when she was 16, says that there was originally a version of the script that was much closer to the book but that it didn't work as a film; she added that she prefers the way the movie actually turned out because it "makes fun of itself for being a fairy tale." Levine states that the film is "so different from the book that it's hard to compare them," noting the addition of new characters such as Sir Edgar and Heston, and suggested "regarding the movie as a separate creative act."
- Main article: Ella Enchanted (soundtrack)
The soundtrack was released April 6, 2004 by Hollywood Records and features Kelly Clarkson's cover of "Respect" and "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" as covered by Jesse McCartney and Anne Hathaway.
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