An "Enchanted" Meeting of Different Worlds
"Ella Enchanted" (2007), directed by Kevin Lima for Walt Disney Pictures, is a hybrid animation/live action film along the lines of many classic films, including but certainly not limited to "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," "Anchors Aweigh," even "Xanadu." Disney itself had incredible success with the genre in 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," a film for which they used Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, but Disney has so many irons in the fire that it took almost twenty years to get back around to a follow-up. The "Ella Enchanted" project is fascinating on many different levels, and it is easy to to see it as a major inspiration for the successful Disney television series "Once Upon a Time" (though everybody involved with the series undoubtedly would vehemently deny any association whatsoever). "Ella Enchanted" was a nice success for all involved, but it is one of those Disney films that still gets overlooked in the overloaded universe of Disney classics. Here, though, "Ella Enchanted" will receive its due.
|Prince Edward and Giselle|
Queen Narissa rules Andalasia, the animated fairytale land which opens "Ella Enchanted." Her stepson, Prince Edward, is at that age where he is looking for love, which is a threat to the Queen as ruler. Edward does indeed meet someone, a pretty young peasant girl named Giselle who he happens to hear singing about true love. The Queen's henchmen, Nathaniel, seeing Edward's infatuation, sets loose a troll that he and Edward have just caught in hope it will destroy Giselle, but Edward rescues Giselle. They pledge their love, and Edward proposes.
All of this displeases the Queen. She casts a spell upon the naive Giselle and banishes her from Andalasia, sending her to real-life New York City - the "Big Apple." Wandering about in confusion, Giselle is noticed by Robert, a divorce lawyer who has a sweet young daughter, Morgan. Robert intends to propose to his girlfriend, Nancy, but Morgan is opposed. Robert rescues Giselle from potential trouble, and Morgan likes her, so they bring Giselle back to Robert's apartment.
Back in Andalasia, Pip, Giselle's pet chipmunk, has witnessed the banishment of Giselle by Queen Narissa. Pip tells Edward, and together they follow Giselle to New York. Nathaniel, meanwhile, is tasked with doing away with Pip by the Queen, who she learns found out about her plan to poison Giselle, so he also travels to New York in pursuit. Edward spots Giselle on television, which sets him off in pursuit. Giselle is welcomed at Edward's home despite the fact that Nancy does not want her around. Being very sweet and naive, Giselle decides to reconcile Edward and Nancy by arranging for them to attend the "King and Queen's Costume Ball." Naturally, Edward and Giselle begin to enjoy each other's company more and more.
|Giselle and her side-kick, Pip|
Queen Narissa is not pleased that Nathaniel has been unable to rid her of Giselle once and for all. She decides, therefore, to come to the real world and finish the job herself. Edward tracks Giselle down to Robert's apartment, but by now Giselle likes Robert and Morgan so much that she is unsure of whether to leave. Giselle and Edward go on a date, which takes them to the same costume ball being attended by Robert and Nancy. The two couples meet up, and when they switch partners during a dance, Edward and Nancy develop an attraction for each other, as do Robert and Giselle. Queen Narissa attends the ball disguised as an old hag and manages to poison Giselle with a poisoned apple, but then her disguise is removed and everyone learns her evil plan.
|Susan Sarandon as Queen Narissa|
Nathaniel switches sides and tells the others that the effects of the poisoned apple can be reversed only if somebody saves Giselle with "love's true kiss." Edward kisses Giselle, but it has no effect. Robert then tries at the others' urging, and Giselle awakens. Narissa becomes enraged and breaks free from her captors, then turning herself into a dragon which takes Robert hostage. Giselle follows them to the top of the Woolworth Building, and Pip helps Giselle to send Narissa over the edge, falling to her death. Everyone lives happily ever after, Edward, Nancy and Pip in Andalasia, Giselle and Robert in New York City.
|Queen Narissa and Prince Edward|
Only about ten percent of "Ella Enchanted" is animated, but it is of high quality. Since "Ella Enchanted" is an affectionate homage to all sorts of Disney films of the past, both live-action and animated, Disney decided to go retro and counter-trend by using traditional cel animation. Unfortunately and unwisely, Disney had fired all of their own animators just a few years previously with the triumph of computer-generated animation, so Disney was forced to hire its own former animator James Baxter, who had gone off to start his own studio. Baxter was a veteran of some of Walt Disney Feature Animation's biggest hits, having drawn Jessica Rabbit, Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," Rafiki from "The Lion King" and Quasimodo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," so he was likely the guy they would have gone to anyway if they hadn't fired him. Baxter used an Art Nouveau theme for his characters, to great effect. Disney films wisely since have returned to traditional hand-drawn animation, leaving their CGI films to (now) subsidiary Pixar.
|Giselle and Pip in live action|
The "Ella Enchanted" cast was led by Amy Adams, a successful actress and former Hooters waitress who had not yet broken through to leading roles. After "Ella Enchanted," Adams became more well-known, and now is perhaps most recognizable as Lois Lane in "Man of Steel." Teen heart-throb Patrick Dempsey plays Robert, James Marsden is Prince Edward, Timothy Spall was cast as Nathaniel (sort of a "Huntsman" figure), and Idina Menzel is Nancy. Susan Sarandon, a native New Yorker who must have loved filming there and flouncing through the streets acting imperiously, is suitably bitchy as Queen Narissa. Sarandon does a nice take on all the many nasty evil queens in the Disney oevure, beginning with Snow White's nemesis in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and continuing through "Sleeping Beauty" and many other films.
|Prince Edward and Giselle, with Robert and Morgan in background|
Fans of Disney films will be most delighted, though, by the use of the original Mary Poppins herself with her perfect diction, Julie Andrews, as the Narrator. Alan Menken, who worked on such Disney Renaissance classics as "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Pocahontas," teams up with fellow-veteran Stephen Schwartz for the excellent soundtrack. Disney has not worked overtime promoting Giselle as a Disney Princess for practical financial reasons - that Giselle never wound up actually becoming a princess hasn't stopped them before - but most little girls happily would place her in that category. A lot of fine work went into this production, the talent is stellar, and the film's neglect is unfortunate.
|The Queen has a regal presence|
|Prince Edward and Giselle|
Let us assume that, since you are still reading, you do enjoy and appreciate Disney films. In that case, "Ella Enchanted" is an absolute treat. The switches between live-action and animation are flawless, with the costumes maintaining continuity in both Andalasia and New York. The character of Morgan, a guileless young girl who no doubt represents a core section of the intended audience, is sweet and helpful, and she moves things in the direction she knows from the start they must go in that Disney-kids sort of way. Comparing this to the television series "Once Upon a Time" (notice how similar the advertising for the two projects is), which series itself has many unique merits, "Ella Enchanted" simply does the whole fairytale-vs.-real world interchange better. That in large part is because of the animation, which hearkens back in unmistakably direct fashion to all those animated feature films we loved as kids.
|Amy Adams as Giselle|
A sequel has been talked about for years, and probably will happen eventually because "Ella Enchanted made $340 million at the box office and lots more in home video sales. Money talks. "Ella Enchanted" is highly recommended for all who love Disney and all it stands for.
Below is the trailer for "Ella Enchanted."