Anne Hathaway glows with sweetness and charm in “Ella Enchanted” as a storybook heroine bound to do whatever anyone tells her to (thanks to an ill-conceived “gift” of obedience from her fairy godmother).
Without Hathaway, famous for playing another Cinderella story in “The Princess Diaries,” this jokey re-imagining of fairy tales would collapse under the weight of its attempts to parody them while simultaneously mimicking them.
On the cusp of adulthood, Ella decides to escape the clutches of her disorder by fleeing into the wilderness of the kingdom to ask her estranged godmother to exchange the gift for another present.
A wicked stepmother and two mean and stupid stepsisters have discovered her inexorable obedience and use it to get Ella to shoplift glass slippers and insult her best friend (Parminder K. Nagra of “Bend it Like Beckham”).
As she ventures into the world, Ella carries a talking book to guide her on the quest and encounters an elf who resents his people’s all-singing, all-dancing culture; a blue-headed ogre; and a supermodel giantess.
Meanwhile, a handsome prince (what else?) is out and about and becomes infatuated with Ella, a politically minded young woman who resents the kingdom’s enslavement of ogres and giants. The prince (Hugh Dancy) is blissfully unaware of such issues, which are handled by his uncle — the villain, played by Cary Elwes (a contrast to his role in “The Princess Bride”).
The movie’s combination of storybook mythology with modern, pop references becomes too much, drawing attention to its own derivativeness.
Granted, there’s a formula here: sweet girl has a problem, falls in love with a handsome rich guy, needs to topple the villain.
But apart from the obedience curse, there’s little else to separate “Ella” from the stories it pokes fun at.
Even the pop music soundtrack is overused. There is a truly funny sequence in which Ella performs an increasingly smokey rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” for some giants — who encourage her by shouting “Sing!” ... “Louder!” ... “Now with more soul!”
But the ploy is resurrected for the finale, as the entire cast sings Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” At that point, you’re too busy adding up all the references: this is “A Knight’s Tale” crossed with “Shrek” crossed with “Grease” crossed with “The Princess Bride” crossed with ...
Still, little kids probably will be enchanted by “Ella” and Hathaway, but grown-ups will groan as it tries too hard in nearly every area except special effects, which look like primitive “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” tricks from 45 years ago.