Every year, millions of fans suffer from book-to-screen adaptation disappointment. It is a generally accepted fact that screen adaptations often fail to do justice to their source material and my first encounter with this reality was 2004’s Ella Enchanted.
Gail Carson Levine’s novel was sacred to me as a child. It was the first book I stayed up all night to finish; I regularly re-read it as an adult and I still thoroughly enjoy it. I was thrilled when they announced they were making a movie, only to find that they had changed virtually everything aside from the characters names. The casting was good, nearly everything else was not.
Even though there are no shortage of Cinderellas these days, I still dream of an Ella Enchanted done right. Here’s some casting options:
Ella of Frell
Anna Kendrick would be a great choice for the feisty and fun heroine. Though the character in the books is a teenager, it makes sense to age Ella up for a film adaptation, plus her youthful energy makes her seem younger than she is. Anna is a great balance between sunny and snarky, which is perfect for portraying the funny and rebellious Ella. Ella Enchanted’s heroine is unlike other Cinderellas in that she is very active in fighting against her fate and often sarcastic and sassy. She’s very intelligent and witty, which Anna would have no problem conveying. Nevermind that she played Cinderella in Into the Woods last year, this is a totally different Cinderella!
Where so many other Prince Charmings fall flat, Char is a fantastic character. He’s fun, he’s compassionate and contemplative, he’s kind of shy. He’s a fully realized character and we see these traits both in his interactions with Ella and outside their romance. He’s also absolutely enamored of Ella, primarily because of her wit and her unconventionality. Sam Claflin is perfect to play both the earnest, love-struck prince and the capable leader and warrior that Char is. He would undoubtably be adorable bantering with Anna Kendrick. Nevermind that he already played Snow White's prince in Snow White and the Huntsman, this is totally different!
Ella’s fairy godmother/cook Mandy may not be glamorous, but she is Ella’s maternal figure after her mother’s death and always looks out for her, even if she rarely uses magic to do so. Alex Kingston has that warm, maternal nature, but is also a total badass if you cross her. I could definitely see her easily alternating between scolding and nurturing Ella throughout the story. Plus she’s got that twinkle in her eye that just says magic.
One interesting choice the 2004 adaptation took was casting a black actress to play Lucinda. And since this is a fantasy setting and there’s no reason a fairy couldn’t be black, I’m going to stick with that and cast Naomi Harris. In contrast to Mandy, a fairy who intentionally stays under the radar, Lucinda chooses to be flamboyant and beautiful. In Skyfall, Naomi is beautiful and composed and in Pirates of the Caribbean she is magical, mischievous, and sometimes unhinged, and both these are essential components to Lucinda. I would love to see an exasperated Alex Kingston trying to communicate with Naomi Harris’s crazy fairy.
Hattie is ambitious, clever, and infuriatingly self-obsessed and I think it would be fun to see someone like Imogen Poots in this role. She’s clearly beautiful, in contrast to the typical Ugly Stepsister, but I think casting someone like Imogen draws more focus to the ugliness of her character. I would love to see Imogen play power-hungry and oppressive, but also bring her comedic skills to the scenes where Ella gets the upper-hand and humiliates Hattie.
While Catherine Tate doesn’t physically resemble the Dame Olga, she would be an inspired choice for Ella’s gaudy step-mother. Dame Olga is shallow, frivolous, and social-climbing, which Catherine would surely nail with her vast comedic ability. Dame Olga also proves that she can actually be quite cruel and devoid of compassion, which would give her a chance to utilize the dramatic range we know she has as well.
Dame Olga’s youngest daughter and Hattie’s sister is a simple girl. Aside from not being very bright, she mainly responds to base things like greed and pain and food. Juno Temple is great at portraying airheads and it would be interesting to see how she handled Olive’s darker moments as well. Plus she and Imogen look like they could be sisters and would likely play off of each other well.
Ella’s only friend, foreign outcast Arieda, is one of the only truly bright spots in Ella’s journey and their forced separation is tragic. She is sweet and loyal, determined to think the best of Ella even when the evidence stands against her. Game of Thrones’s Nathalie Emmanuel is used to playing the sweet and loyal companion to a strong female lead and would be perfect to play Arieda.
Though it's perhaps an obscure choice, Ella Enchanted is one of those formative stories that you fall in love with. It circumvents or reinvents the usual fairy tale cliches and is an interesting and engaging take on a classic. It deserves a proper adaptation and no doubt a killer cast like this would do it justice.
What do you think? Does anybody still care about Ella Enchanted?