Ella Enchanted (PG)
Great but Forgotten; IMDb; Miramax; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube
Caution: potential spoilers.
This came out in 2004, but I didn't see it until 2017. It's based on a book I haven't read, and while I guess the movie has some major changes from the book, they're both loosely based on the Cinderella fairy tale. I'd say the movie fits into the trend of fairy tales with a modern sensibility, anachronisms, and self-aware humor (e.g. Shrek or Enchanted). So if you like that kind of thing (as I do), you should love this. I guess the movie didn't do particularly well either critically or financially, which I really don't understand. I think it's a very fun and amusing movie, with a great protagonist, good music, and a decent love story. There's also some genuinely compelling drama. Oh, and I should mention that the movie is narrated by Eric Idle, who shows up in person occasionally, in various capacities.
It's set in the fictional kingdom of Emir, mostly in the town of Frell (the name of which I can't help but find amusing, because Farscape). The story begins with the birth of a baby named Ella. Her parents, Sir Peter and Lady Eleanor, are of noble status, but they haven't got much money. However, they do have a household fairy named Mandy (Minnie Driver, who for some reason seems to be one of the few characters without a British accent). Soon after Ella's birth, a fairy named Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) shows up to bestow a gift upon the baby. Eleanor and Mandy try to hide Ella from her, because Lucinda (though meaning well) always gives the worst gifts. Unfortunately, the baby doesn't stay hidden long, and Lucinda ends up enchanting her with the gift of "obedience." This means that Ella will always be compelled to do whatever she is told to do (even if it's physically impossible, in some cases). Eleanor and Mandy beg her to take the gift back, but she's insulted by their lack of gratitude, and refuses.
We then see a bit of what Ella's life is like as a young girl, and it's predictably difficult, though it's some time before her mother tells her about Lucinda's gift. On Eleanor's deathbed, she tells her that even her father doesn't know about it. And that Ella must never tell anyone about the enchantment, so that no one would be able to use it against her. Of course, it therefore becomes impossible for Ella to tell anyone about it, whether she wants to or not. Then the story skips forward several years, to when Ella is a young woman (now played by Anne Hathaway). Her father marries a wealthy woman named Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley), who was interested in Sir Peter because of his title, but was upset to learn he wasn't rich. (I can hardly blame her for that, considering Peter himself only married her for her money.) When she comes to live with Peter and Ella, she's accompanied by her daughters, Hattie (Lucy Punch) and Olive. They, of course, are mean to Ella, and it only gets worse when Hattie eventually figures out her secret, and begins using it against her. Worst of all, Hattie forces Ella to end her friendship with her best friend, Areida (Parminder Nagra).
Finally, Ella decides to leave home and search for Lucinda, to beg her to take back the "gift." She receives some help from Mandy's boyfriend, Benny, a talking book with a face on the cover. He had previously been a human, who was turned into a book when one of Mandy's spells had gone awry. Ella can ask to see Lucinda, and the book will open to sort of video surveillance of her, but can't actually tell where she is. (So Ella has to figure it out from clues within the scene.) Anyway, along the way to find Lucinda, she meets an elf named Slannen, who wants to become a lawyer. Unfortunately, it has been against the law in Emir for elves to be anything but entertainers, ever since the previous king had been killed, ostensibly by ogres, and his brother, Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes), took over the kingdom. In fact, he had passed laws that took away the land and civil rights of all sentient races other than humans (and possibly fairies). Ella has long been opposed to those laws, and she encourages Slannen to try to obtain the right to follow his dream. So he accompanies Ella and Benny on their journey, but they're soon accosted by a group of ogres, who want to eat them. (Ella says she wants to help them regain their land, but they have plenty of reason to distrust humans.) Ella and Slannen are rescued by Prince Charmont (Char, for short), whom Ella had met previously when he made a public appearance in Frell. And he had taken an interest in her, because she's the only girl he's ever met who isn't obsessed with him. (Hattie in particular is like his biggest fangirl/stalker, and hopes to marry him.) Now, Char joins Ella, Benny, and Slannen on their journey. He's supposed to be crowned king in a few days, now that he's come of age, and take over leadership of Emir from his uncle, Edgar. Char doesn't agree with the way various other races are being treated, particularly giants, who are now treated as slaves. But since Edgar has always been a good father figure to Char, since his real father was killed, he finds it hard to believe his uncle is aware of this mistreatment. Ella encourages him to make new laws, when he becomes king, though Char seems to have little interest in actually ruling. Meanwhile, Edgar has a talking snake name Heston, who he's sent to spy on the group of travelers. And we eventually learn some very villainous secrets about Edgar (though it was quite predictable). And of course, Edgar learns Ella's secret, and uses it for his own sinister purposes.
Well, I don't want to give away too many more details of the plot. It rather goes without saying that Ella and Char fall in love, but I do think it's worth mentioning that this is a very rare example of my not feeling the need to suspend disbelief about such romances. I totally thought they were right for each other, and actually had time to get to know each other and quite believably fall in love, instead of it being some kind of "love at first sight" plot device, as is typical for fairy tales. And Ella's gift is eventually removed in a way that I don't want to spoil... but I will say I didn't entirely understand how it happened until I read Wikipedia. (I'm afraid I can't say whether I would have gotten it while watching the movie, if I hadn't been drinking at the time.) But when I read that, I thought it was both clever and obvious. And... the movie has a happy ending on all fronts.