Prepare to have your Hugh Dancy obsession reinstated, because Ella Enchanted is coming to Netflix in February 2018. That means you can relive the early '00s, otherwise known as the time when you watched this movie on repeat. In case you're one of the small percentage of people who didn't have the DVD on permanent rotation, get excited. For starters, it featured an incredible cast including Anne Hathaway, Vivica A. Fox, Minnie Driver, Cary Elwes, and aforementioned early '00s star Dancy — but it also had a truly magical story as well. (FYI, the full list of Netflix titles come to the streaming service in February drops on Jan. 23.)
Released in 2004, Ella Enchanted followed Ella (Hathaway) who has the unfortunate misery of being caught under a spell where she's constantly obedient, automatically doing whatever anyone tells her to do. As you might imagine, there are a lot of bad characters who would love to exploit this trait of Ella's, and as a result, she tries to hide it. Complicating matters is Prince Charmont (Darcy), whom she meets, starts to fall for, and strives to protect while she tries to figure out how to break the spell.
While the movie is undoubtedly fun on just about every level possible, it also comes with the added bonus of an empowering lead character. By telling the tale of a young woman forced to be obedient and striving for liberation from having to do so, Ella embodies a feminist hero. One who is smart, scrappy, and strong.
There's also a tangible focus within the movie on the idea of how dangerous blind obedience can be. Through her mother's concerns, we're briefly made aware of how vulnerable the spell has made Ella. It's left her open to manipulation, and there's the suggestion most people would be unable to resist the temptation to abuse such power in another. It's what makes the movie all the more satisfying when you witness Ella using her own will and words to break the spell herself. For a children's movie, it's a moment that provides a pretty powerful commentary on the importance and power of female agency.
Earlier on in the movie, viewers are teased that this may be the case when Ella literally finds her voice during a stirring rendition of Queen's "Somebody To Love." She starts out singing with a shy, barely audible voice before getting louder, bolder, and more confident with every line. Sure, part of that has to do with the crowd goading her on and instructing her to be "louder," but at a certain point, it's clear she's choosing to do this. Furthermore, she's enjoying it. It could be argued the message of the scene is clear: Your free will has value and your voice has power — utilize both of them.
All of which is not to say that Ella Enchanted is some masterclass in feminism — it isn't. The focus on Char as one of Ella's prime motivations and a core reason for why she's finally interested in figuring out how to break the spell stomps all over that idea. But that doesn't take away from the movie as a fun, escapist romp. One that still pivots around an empowering female hero, which is all too often difficult to come by. Particularly in a movie aimed at adolescents.
It's worth noting, Ella Enchanted is based on the book of the same name by Gail Carson Levine. Though the movie and the book differ somewhat, Ella is recognized as a feminist icon of literature. According to Levine, Ella's feminist credentials happened completely by accident when she was tasked with writing a version of Cinderella for a writing class. The idea of a curse of obedience, she told The Huffington Post, was to circumvent Cinderella's problematic willingness to be subservient to others. She said,
"I don’t know how you have a character who doesn’t have agency. It’s hard to try to write a character who’s weak. When I thought about it, I thought, well, how could I do this? She’s passive, she’s incomprehensibly sweet. The curse came out of that, was that I couldn’t explain her any other way."
Accidentally or otherwise, Ella is an empowering character and one who will be a beloved hero of ours for a long time still. And you can bet plenty of people will be enjoying repeat viewings of the movie when it becomes available in February.