Ella Enchanted the Movie

After my last post, K. A. Dawn asked how I feel about Ella Enchanted the movie. I won’t go into a lot of detail because this is a blog about writing, but I have a few writing thoughts connected to the subject.

I like the movie. I regard it as a different entity from the book, which is the way I can appreciate it. They are separate with a thin thread connecting them. And in my opinion Anne Hathaway is the perfect Ella. I’ve met her (Anne Hathaway, not Ella) a few times. When I visit schools, I tell the kids that if they touch me they will have touched someone who was hugged my Anne Hathaway.

There is one particular thing I love about the movie. When Ella is given a command, she reacts physically first. The producer or director decided that her body would receive the command, and her mind would catch up a moment later. I wish I’d thought of that. A mime was brought in to help Anne Hathaway get it.

I’m often also asked how much influence I had on the movie. I had something called “consulting rights,” which means that the producers had to show me the scripts (plural because there were many revisions and a succession of screenwriters). I had the opportunity to comment in an advisory way. No one listened when I protested an evil uncle and a talking snake, but they did make the dialogue changes that I suggested, and they took out moments when Ella was disobedient. However, in making the movie, instances of disobedience crept back in. You can see them if you pay close attention. They’re the only parts that I don’t like.

Just before it opened, Miramax toured me across the country to promote the movie. My husband and I got to go to Ireland to watch three days of shooting, which was fascinating. And I walked on the red carpet. If you watch the Extras segment and don’t blink, you’ll see me.

But the best part is that, to this day, the movie has been great for the book and has brought a lot of readers my way. So, if any of you who are reading this are producers or know a producer or plan to become a producer, I have many more books.

Here’s the connection to writing: As those of you who’ve read the book and seen the movie know, the plots are very different. In the book, Ella’s crisis over her obedience occurs when Char proposes. In the movie it comes at the wedding. I could have done it that way too. Or I could have waited until someone – Hattie or Dame Olga or an enemy of Kyrria – actually tried to use Ella’s obedience against Char. Maybe that approach would have been more logical. Or it might have slowed the pace.

Ella Enchanted and Dave at Night were the two books I learned how to write novels on (although, of course, I’m still learning). After writing 200 pages of Ella, I had to admit that only the first twenty worked. I threw out 180 pages and kept going and finished the book I hope you know. In the pages I tossed out was a whole political system for Kyrria, including oppression of the gnomes, elves, and giants. I came to realize that the politics weighted the story down, and I abandoned that entire thread. The screenwriter, who never saw my earlier draft, put in the ideas I had abandoned. Amazing.

These two examples prove that an idea (in this case obedience) is minimally important, and the expression of the idea is everything. It’s why an idea can’t be copyrighted.

Several times, after I’ve shown a newly completed book to a friend, the friend has said – innocently, not as criticism – How come you didn’t do such-and-such? The such-and-such is always a fundamentally different approach to my story. My head spins. I never thought of such-and-such, which is obvious and great, but I don’t rewrite my book, which came out of my imagination and my need to say a particular thing in a particular way.

For example, in my novel, The Wish, a witch makes Wilma, the main character, the most popular kid in her middle school. The book follows the consequences of Wilma’s sudden popularity. The story centers on that one wish. But what if the witch were to grant other wishes to other students as well as to Wilma? These wishes may or may not compete with Wilma’s wish. The result would be a completely different story.

Here’s a prompt: Think about stories and books you’ve written or abandoned. Consider how you might have gone in another direction entirely. Can you get a new story out of this other direction or bring new life into a story you couldn’t finish? Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. That was a very interesting post! I liked learning about your opinion of the movie. I saw the movie first and then read the book. With many books when a movie is made it is not at all as good as the book, but in this case I thought they were both very, very enjoyable in different ways! And I agree that Anne Hathaway made the perfect Ella in all aspects!

  2. Oh thank you for posting about this! It was a very good, well written post!

    I did notice that Ella was obedient in a couple scenes, though I can't remember which scenes they were…

    Thanks again for taking the time to post this! I love it! <3

    ~ Katherine Anne

  3. I agree the movie was ok. I was really sad that they didnt stay with the book which is perfect and needed no change. When they make a Jane Austin film they stick with her storyline very well. So they should have done the same with Ella who I love just as much as I do Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. I was also wondering If you have any plans of returning to a story around the charactors or world of Ella Enchanted or my second favorite of yours The Two Princesses of Bamarre? I really want to see them again or at least hear about what they are up to. Thanks so much for your blog!

  4. Gail, I know this is off-subject, but I am volunteering to teach a class in writing fiction and I would like to use "Writing Magic" as the required text. For some context: I am in Iraq on COB Speicher and would be teaching American military personnel. My future ambition is to begin teaching local nationals as it becomes possible.
    My local email is ricky.dyson@almorrell.com. My personal email is fdyson@phbridge.com.
    I am the QA Manager at the water bottling plant on Speicher.
    I am one of those people who is driven to write — you know how we are — we wake up at 2:00 am and have to write something before we can sleep.
    I am working on my first novel — my wife (who is very kind and twice the writer) and her fiends (oops, friends) like it. But they may be a trifle influenced, since they also liked my other writings. It says something that they are all bibliophiles.

  5. This is fascinating. Although I watched Ella Enchanted a couple of years ago, I actually just decided to buy the DVD today. And, I'm glad I did. I'm a HUGE fan of the book, as it played a significant part in my reading and writing life.

    And yes, I also enjoyed the movie for the most part.

    In any case, I blogged about revisiting Ella Enchanted today – where I included a link to your blog and your site.

    Anyway, it's so interesting to read about your thoughts on this. Thanks again for sharing.

    I look forward to reading more.

  6. The first time I watched the movie after reading the book I was disappointed. But when I watched it several years later with my young daughters in mind I could see how it would be very appealing to them. And I was right. They absolutely loved it. All the parts I found silly they thought were hilarious!

    Gail, I thought you had two very interesting points in this post. First, it's really interesting that the script writer picked up on the politics you thought you left out. I think that shows that the background a writer works out, but doesn't put directly in the book, can be obvious with out it being spelled out in the book.

    Second, I often struggle with which direction to take the book I am working on. The contrast between the directions of your book and the movie and your other ideas shows that more than one way can work. So that's probably something I should quit agonizing so much over and just write. 🙂

  7. Here's something I struggle with (and I struggle with it enough that I'm not sure I can describe it very well):

    How you do handle gaps in the time line, or resist showing what the character does every second of every day? I think I've almost got the day to day stuff figured out but I wonder how you cover it.

    Right now I'm working on describing a longer passage of time without being boring and trying to give some indication of what the main character was doing. I'm also trying to figure out how long a passage of time I should have this way too. So in a way, I guess my question is about deciding time lines in general.

  8. Oh I have that trouble too! I feel like the last half of my novel is so rushed, but I really don't want to have to linger on what happened. I don't really like writing the parts when the guy isn't in the book (which, come to think of it, are the parts that are most skipped in Ella Enchanted – after she replies to Char's letter, before he comes back).

    ~ Katherine Anne

  9. Hi, i love the book and the movie.
    hey Gail, have you seen both versions of the "Chronicals of Narnia". They remade the movie. Have you ever constiered letting them remake Ella Enchanted the movie in the future more in the way you want it, or more simalar to the book. It would be better if it was closer to the book.

  10. I just found your blog and from the bottom of my heart, I'd like to say thank you. I cannot begin to tell you the impact that Ella Enchanted has had on my life. I am a sophomore in college, and to this day I still remember opening your book as a fifth grader and being possessed by the magic of your words. I remember checking it out from my teacher's library regularly to reread it. I remember "accidentally" forgetting to return it at the end of the school year. I remember falling hard for Char- I'm quite certain that he was my first literary crush. I remember hating Hattie, and Ella's resilience inspiring me to deal with the bullies that I had in my own life.

    Your book was the first book that made me want to write. It ignited the spark that eventually bloomed into a passion. The years that I spent writing fanfiction, the years that I participated in NaNoWriMo, the novella that I wrote for my senior project, and even my 740 on the SAT writing portion all stem from you. I'm currently studying to become a teacher, and I have financial support from the NC Teaching Fellows scholarship program. When I was applying for the scholarship, I had to write about a book that has greatly impacted me, and I wrote about Ella Enchanted. In part, my scholarship money comes from you.

    So again, thank you. Thank you so, so much. Ella Enchanted enchanted me at age ten, and now, nearly ten years later, it still has me under its spell. Thank you. <3

  11. Hello,

    I must say, just because the movie was okay, it had barely NOTHING to do with the book. I LOVED the book and I was wondering if they could remake the movie to fit the storyline of the book. Because I know that movie will be amazing if they did it in the correct way. I just thought I would say that

  12. Hello Gail!

    I am glad I was able to read your opinions of the movie. I started reading Ella Enchanted when I checked it out from the library in middle school. I checked it out so many times I finally bought my own copy and, ten years later, I still love to re-read it. When I first saw the movie, was was sorely disappointed. Did the people making the movie even read the book first, or just the back cover? How could they change something so beautiful? I felt that the only similarities were the names and the fact that Ella was under a curse to make her obedient.

    Sometimes I felt that the movie made a joke of your wonderfully developed characters. Ella would pause in the middle of the air when someone yelled "freeze," or the elves were no longer well-respected craftsmen. The ogres didn't seem as clever, Mandy was nearly incompetent, and, what bothered me most, my hero Char became shallow.

    However, I have come to value the movie on a separate level from the book. It is still entertaining and fun to watch. Having read the book first, it is still somewhat difficult for me to battle the feeling that some of my childhood was wrenched away, but knowing that the uncle and snake bothered you makes me feel better. Thank you for writing Ella Enchanted and sending me away on an adventure I could never experience in real life. Your characters were grounded and believable, allowing me to bring your story to existance in my imagination. Hopefully I will get the chance to read some more of your books soon.

  13. I am in the process of turning my daughter into a fan of yours. She is 3.5 years old and LOVES books. One practice I am trying to impart to her is to always read the book before watching the movie. There are a few instances where this rule does not apply (watching Romeo and Juliet as a play or the older movie helps when reading the actual play) but in general you will always be more satisfied with the book version.

    With Ella, I read it to her over a period of about a month (I know she is young but she really likes chapter books) and she loved it. Then we watch the movie and she loved it as well. But she did wonder why Ella didn't get to go to the Ball with a mask and she why her dad was nice in the movie not in the book. So I think it was a good example of how fairy tales are often retold differently. We both love your books and thank you for your stories. 🙂

  14. Your book was one of my first loves when I was in middle school, I read it over and over again until it fell apart! I have to say the movie was very sweet, I loved Anne Hathaway and the characters and the plot, but I wish that they had incorporated your novel into the story more! It makes me a little bit sad, I also wanted to say one more thing, your ideas that you had for the oppression of the gnomes and giants and politics would have been tremendous even if it had weighed down the plot a little. I just want to thank you because your work as well as other authors have inspired me to love fiction ever since I was a little girl 🙂 Ella Enchanted may have been one of your earlier works but it was very beautifully written. I hope one day to be as great of a writer as you, and I hope to inspire others the way that you have inspired creativity within me.

    Hilary Williams

  15. I know it has been some years since the movie came out, and that you’ve said multiple times that you should consider the book and the movie separate but–I hate the movie. I hate it so much it makes me anxious and sick to my stomach. I was nine when the book was published, and it was passed along to me by a very nice local librarian. I read it three times before I had to return it, and then made my dad buy it for me. I read it at least twice a year, up until the movie came out. The only other books I can say this about are the Song of the Lioness series and To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a very important book to me growing up, because there were never any girls in stories who didn’t need a hero to come save them (at the time I think Princess Eilonwy was the only other example I had seen). I was 16 when the movie came out, and I was so excited to see it because this was a character that all little girls everywhere should be introduced to. I left the movie devastated.

    Anne Hathaway was amazing as Ella. But she wasn’t the Ella that I wanted. I wanted the strong willed Ella from the book, the one who saved herself from the Ogres, and had an actual friendship with Areida. And Char. I wanted sliding down banisters, and dancing, and continuously being amazed by Ella. The book was so perfect that the changes didn’t make any sense. I went home and I threw my copy away, and I haven’t read Ella Enchanted since. Its always bothered me, the idea of keeping the movie and the book separate, because the movie killed the book for me. It destroyed every good thing about it, and even after only seeing the movie twice and having read the book at least twenty times when I think of Ella Enchanted I think of that darn movie, and I wish I could forget the book completely.

    • 100% agree. I wanted a slightly dark and dusty period piece, not glitter everywhere, a scene from the matrix (seriously what was that) and karaoke songs. I always pictured it more along the lines of Ever After (cinematically) with more of a magic/ogres/fantasy twist. I couldn’t even watch the whole movie it made me sick to see a book that I hold so close to my heart turned into something so clearly not it. I really hope one day that they remake the movie in a way that will do the book justice (even if I’m 85 when it happens). I want to feel the real emotional depth that the book has translated onto the screen. I want to literally feel my heart ache when Ella has to lie to Char and watch him walking away from her house and I want to burst into tears when she tells him that she won’t marry him. I think I’ve read this book more than 20 times and I bought someone else’s first edition signed copy so I could have a little bit of Gail with me too! I had always dreamed of what the movie would be like and remember how excited I was when it was announced, it was just so disappointing.

  16. Your book was beautiful. That movie was a travesty. I’ve read your book at least once a year since I was in 6th grade about 15 or more years ago. It is my literal favorite book and one day the last line of that book will be my next tattoo. Because laughter and love and obstinacy and goodness are still so important. Even now when I’m 27 and not 11. Thank you for that book.

  17. I admired your writing since childhood. In fact, I had a rough adolescence and left behind a lot of things that were important to me, including the stories I related to and loved. Now that I am an adult and have let go of the struggles I had faced, I find myself returning to old stories and being myself again. I read Two Princesses of Bamarr and Ella Enchanted to my husband and he enjoyed them as much as I did. You even inspired me to be a writer myself when I was nine, a wish I buried for years and regained as I healed. I may never be as successful as you are, or successful at all, but I hope I never betray my writing or my fans by letting my work be so horribly desecrated, defiled, and ravaged as Ella was.

  18. It is 2018 and I am still hoping that one day a more accurate movie of Ella Enchanted will be made . This was one of my favorite books in middle school and still to this day holds a special place in my heart . I remember signing a online petition against this movie when clips were released and was so disappointed at the movie and thought this was one of the worst book-to-movie interpretations . Praying one day I can watch a movie of Ella Enchanted that sticks to the book that I love so much.

  19. Your books have meant the world to me. Every time I found a new one I would immediately have to acquire and read it as quickly as possible. Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre hold a special place in my heart. I read Ella Enchanted in elementary school right before the movie came out. It was my first step into the big kid books away from the corner they suggested my grade read. I never returned to reading smaller books, Ella Enchanted made me search for more books of adventure, of women who were complex and strong. The movie has always been a sore spot for me. I saw it a few months after having read the book, as excited as any six year old could be, and left upset because it wasn’t your story. I hope they one day make a remake because it’s some of the most beautiful story telling. I still own Ella and Two Princesses and anytime I’m down I go to them to cheer me up. I fully intend to pass those books down to any future kids I have they’re beautiful examples of girls finding themselves and choosing their own path.

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