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20 Wild Details About The Making Of Ella Enchanted

A feminist reimagining of the classic tale of Cinderella, Ella Enchanted is Gail Carson Levine’s debut novel about a girl named Ella who is given the “gift” of obedience by a fairy. This means that Ella has to do whatever anyone tells her to do, and her quest to rid herself of the curse forms the basis of the story. Along the way, she encounters a lovable cast of magical characters, not to mention her love interest, Prince Charmont. Miramax’s film adaptation of the book came out in 2004, starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy as Ella and Char, respectively. The film doesn’t follow the book closely, adding villainous characters and new scenes. Still, it earned fans of its own.

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The adaptation process wasn’t the only obstacle in the way of Ella Enchanted‘s popularity, as the film received mixed reviews from critics and underperformed at the box office before finding a second life on home video. No film’s development process is 100% smooth and easy, and a unique production like Ella Enchanted‘s was always bound to generate a few eyebrow-raising stories.

Updated on January 21st, 2022 by George Chrysostomou: Ella Enchanted is still a beloved film, and as new fans find the movie on streaming platforms, it’s a great time to dive back into the production’s behind-the-scenes. Some of these details will definitely shock fans as the princess classic continues to please audiences. 


Anne Hathaway Did Her Own Singing

Ella looks into the distance in Ella Enchanted

The producers of Ella Enchanted had Hathaway do her own singing for the movie, which included multiple songs that ended up on the official soundtrack. In an interview with ThoughtCo around the time of the film’s release, Hathaway said that doing her own singing wasn’t her choice, despite her having a history of choral work. Hathaway didn’t volunteer to do her own singing, and she said in multiple interviews after the fact that she had no plans to start a career as a pop star.

Hathaway didn’t want to be “obnoxious,” but the filmmakers had no such fears, so they compelled her to perform Ella’s singing parts. Perhaps this is what gave Hathaway the confidence to sing in Les Miserables years later. Fantine ranks as one of Anne Hathway’s best roles, and it won her an Academy Award.


Kickboxing And Mime Training

Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted isn’t an average fairy tale, and that’s reflected by how active its heroine is. Aside from the difficulties in physically portraying a character whose body moves against her will, Hathaway also had to perform in a dance number and act in multiple fight scenes. To this end, the training she performed was surprisingly intensive.

Hathaway told ThoughtCo that she worked with a kickboxing instructor for a month, a professional mime for two weeks, and the show’s choreographer, just to get ready for Ella Enchanted. The actress attributed her success to the fact that she was already fairly athletic, having played soccer for years. Said Hathaway at the time, “I’m a pretty fit 21-year-old.”


The Cast Pub Crawl

Hugh Dancy smiles in Ella Enchanted

Friends and family might have noticed that Anne Hathaway came away from filming in Ireland with a noted taste for Guinness, and the reason was apparently Hugh Dancy. Hathaway told ThoughtCo that she and Dancy went on a “drinking spree” while in Ireland, checking out local pubs, and found out that she liked the famed Irish brew.

Hathaway said she couldn’t keep up with Dancy’s pace. Asked by her interviewer, she made it clear that she didn’t match him drink for drink, remarking, “the guy can go.” Details are sparse on this area of production, as no one but Dancy and Hathaway seems to know exactly what went on during their pub crawl, and they aren’t incredibly forthcoming.


Anne Hathaway Was Only 16 When She Was Approached For The Movie

Ella Enchanted stands in a field

Fans of Gail Carson Levine’s novel, on which the movie was based, must have been happy to find out that Anne Hathaway did read Ella Enchanted before acting the part, according to her interview with ThoughtCo. In fact, Hathaway read the book when she was just 16, years before the movie started filming, because Miramax gave her the book.

Hathaway remembered that Miramax told her to just keep it in the back of her head because “it might be a fun project somewhere down the line.” This means that Miramax had this movie planned out years in advance, and clearly thought Hathaway was a rising star in the making even when she was a teenager. Luckily for them, it worked, as Hathaway never forgot the book, saying she wished she had read it when she was 10.

The Reasons For Filming In Ireland

Not every moviegoer realizes it, but location scouting is almost as important as casting for movies like Ella Enchanted. Since the film was set in a magical, verdant kingdom, they had to find a location that would match. In an interview published on Phase9, Ella Enchanted director Tommy O’Haver said that, in the end, it came down to Ireland or Prague, and there are two compelling reasons they chose Ireland.

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First, Ireland has the beautiful, fairy tale look the producers were going for. Second, it was cheaper. Yes, the aesthetics of the place matter, and O’Haver says that Ireland had a greener, brighter look than Prague, but we’re fairly certain the budget mattered just as much as the atmosphere here.

The Release Date Was Delayed By Harvey Weinstein

Yes, it turns out that infamous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein even influenced charming family films. Ella Enchanted was produced by Miramax, the company Weinstein founded, and he was famous for having a tyrannical effect on all the movies he made. In this movie’s case, he specifically affected the release date. In an interview published on Phase9, O’Haver demurred when asked to explain why the film wasn’t released around the holidays in the U.S., given that it was released at Christmastime in Ireland.

The movie, being a fairy tale, seemed to be a perfect fit for the holidays. While he also mentioned that the competition on the two weekends might have influenced the decision, O’Haver replied, “Well maybe you should ask Harvey.”


It Was Originally Much Darker

Tommy O'Haver with a snake in Ella Enchanted

Nowadays, Tommy O’Haver might seem like an odd choice to direct a family-friendly or young adult movie, given that his more recent work is a bit more mature. Having today moved on to biopics and crime stories, O’Haver apparently wanted to inject some darker material into his earlier work.

This was true of Ella Enchanted. In an interview published on Phase9, O’Haver mentions that the original cut of the movie was much different, with darker, scarier scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. He says that the ending was pretty much what he wanted, but it was edited to be a little “softer” than he had it originally. He also adds that some flirtier lines were in the original cut, but were likewise left out.

Hathaway’s Reason For Doing Another Princess Movie

Ella Enchanted Cover with Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway seemed to be getting a little tired of the princess genre by the time Ella Enchanted wrapped, and so it seems to have been important to her that the film didn’t take itself too seriously. One reason she did the film that she explained in her 2004 interview with ThoughtCo was the way Ella Enchanted made fun of itself and the genre.

One of Hathaway’s favorite characters was Heston the snake, the treacherous villain who would undercut the touchy-feely aspects of the film with cutting one-liners. She said that she could only go so long playing princesses without feeling ridiculous. It’s safe to assume that one of the things that drew her to Ella Enchanted was its ability to not take itself too seriously.

The Robin Hood Snake

Snake in Ella Enchanted

Heston the snake, one of the characters original to the film, is a slithering, deceitful fellow that spies on Ella and Prince Charmont to further the goals of King Regent Edgar. Fans love him, naturally. Voiced by Steve Coogan, Heston is a reprehensible sneak that brings just the right touch of morally bankrupt comic relief.

It should make sense, then, that he’s based on an extremely similar Disney character. In an interview published on Phase9, director Tommy O’Haver said that he liked the snake character from the 1973 animated film Robin Hood, one of Disney’s most quotable films, and also a fairy tale that featured anthropomorphized animal characters. That character, named Sir Hiss, is also the advisor and servant to a wannabe king, meaning Edgar would be a match for the cowardly Prince John.


Hathaway Dropped Out Of School To Act

Anne Hathaway tried to have a career as an academic while acting, and it didn’t work out too well. Ella Enchanted is part of a string of projects Hathaway took on while studying at either Vassar or New York University (she transferred), but either because she kept taking time off to act or for some other unknown reason, Hathaway never finished her degree.

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Hathaway studied English and Women’s Studies at Vassar, but according to University Herald, she has never regretted dropping out, that she preferred being around people trying to “grow up.” Still, it’s interesting to think that movies like Ella Enchanted, while professionally and creatively fulfilling, stopped her from becoming a college graduate.

Hathaway Changed Her Career Path Due To The Movie

Anne Hathaway Princess Diaries 2

When doing nothing but princess and fairy tale movies, it’s easy to want a change. Anne Hathaway was just 21 when Ella Enchanted came out, and she had already made a name for herself with The Princess Diaries, which immediately led to interviewers asking her if she was going to do all family-friendly princess movies from here on out.

In an interview published on BlackFilm.com in 2004, Hathaway said no, and pointed to the next few projects she had lined up: Havoc and Brokeback Mountain, the latter of which would become one of the most critically acclaimed movies in which Anne Hathaway has appeared. It’s clear in that interview that the actress is eager to move on to more adult roles, and those two movies certainly provided that. Without Ella Enchanted pushing her to avoid getting typecast in fairy tales, her career might have looked very different.

Hugh Dancy’s Classic Hollywood Preparation

When they weren’t out partying together, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy did have to do some conventional preparation for their roles in Ella Enchanted, and they did that by watching old Hollywood movies together!

The two actors wanted to have great romantic chemistry, and Hathaway said in an interview published on BlackFilm.com that they studied up by watching Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn films. Hathaway also specifically says in that interview that they watched the classic romance Roman Holiday, not to mention all her conversations with Dancy about how to achieve their desired chemistry. In the end, though, she says she just looked into Hugh’s eyes and hoped it would work out. It’s hard to know if Dancy was as relaxed in the moment.


Hathaway’s Favorite Side Character

Ella Enchanted introduces a whole world full of fantastical creatures and side characters, so naturally interviewers asked which one was Anne Hathaway’s favorite. In an interview published on BlackFilm.com, Hathaway mentioned Heston, the sarcastic snake, because she liked the cynicism he brought, but it seems her favorite to shoot with was Jim Carter’s Nish.

Nish is a man-eating ogre with a sensitive side, and Hathaway says that watching Carter actually get tears in his eyes for the emotional scenes was great. Carter, a veteran character actor, probably enjoyed playing the big blue lug, but apparently not as much as Hathaway liked acting alongside him. Apologies to the other woodland fairy tale creatures, but no one can hold a candle to Nish in Hathaway’s eyes.

The Nod To The Princess Bride

Westley in The Princess Bride

The modern self-aware fairy tale story was popularized by Rob Reiner’s beloved and highly quotable The Princess Brideand few can forget Cary Elwes’ turn as Wesley, the perfect swashbuckling love interest. Elwes plays a character who was made to be the picture-perfect hero–so naturally, Ella Enchanted had him play a villain who only cares about his image.

Elwes plays the treacherous Sir Edgar in Ella Enchanted, and his malevolent scheming is a sharp contrast to Wesley. Director Tommy O’Haver said part of the reason they cast Elwes in the role was because it was ironic to see the guy who played Wesley return to the world of fairy tales as “a mustache-twirling villain.”

Big Names In Small Roles

Minnie Driver in Hunky Dory

Fans might not remember this, since they most likely saw the movie back when they were a kid, but Ella Enchanted boasts a surprisingly star-studded cast. Aside from the actors that went on to bigger things, such as Anne Hathaway, and the big name actors in fairly substantial roles, including Cary Elwes and Steve Coogan, there are also a few stars who make very brief cameos.

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Vivica A. Fox makes an appearance as the fairy that cursed Ella, Minnie Driver plays the incompetent fairy Mandy, and Heidi Klum plays the giantess Brumhilda, who ends up falling in love with Aidan McArdle’s elf lawyer Slannen. There are other important actors, and it’s a trip nowadays to go back through Ella Enchanted and see all the big names in small roles.


They Tried To Avoid Comparisons To The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries

In case fans weren’t alive or paying attention to the early 2000s, it was an excellent time to make a fairy tale movie in Hollywood. Ella Enchanted was far from the first movie to try to cash in on the craze, as it was preceded by Shrek and Anne Hathaway’s own The Princess Diaries. 

In an interview published on Phase9, director Tommy O’Haver said that his whole team was aware of the connections between Ella Enchanted and the other films, not to mention the first modern self-aware fairy tale film The Princess Bride. The filmmakers deliberately tried to differentiate their project from these other films, so theirs would stand out. It’s debatable whether it worked– Ella Enchanted didn’t do too well at the box office.

Hathaway Reminded The Director Of A Famous Actress

Ella smiles in Ella Enchanted

Miramax had their eyes on Anne Hathaway as a potential star from an early age, but they likely still needed the director’s approval to cast her as the lead in Ella Enchanted. Tommy O’Haver saw in the young actress a similarity to one of the all-time great ingenues: Judy Garland.

ThoughtCo quoted O’Haver as saying Hathaway reminded him of the Wizard of Oz actress, remarking that she had “that mixture of child-like purity but also the confidence and smarts of a mature young woman.” This quality, combined with O’Haver’s admiration for her comedic timing and singing ability, made Hathaway a lock to win the main role in the film.

A Member Of Monty Python Narrates The Movie

Monty Python, the legendary British surrealist comedy troupe, has seen its members branch off into dozens– if not hundreds– of films over the years, and it turns out Ella Enchanted is part of that tradition. Even die-hard Monty Python fans may not already know that troupe member Eric Idle is the narrator of Ella Enchanted.

RELATED: Monty Python’s 10 Funniest Movie Parodies, Ranked

He may not have the most outsize presence on the film itself, but Python fans likely recognized Idle’s voice in the first few seconds of the movie. Still, for those of us who didn’t, finding out years after the fact the famed comedian was the one who said the words “the end” at the finale can be a jolt.


The Pop Soundtrack

Ella and the Prince in Ella Enchanted

A high-powered variety of pop stars doesn’t always make for good music. Ella Enchanted heavily featured pop music (specifically pop covers) in its soundtrack, even getting Anne Hathaway to join in for a few of them.  Aside from Hathaway, the soundtrack also featured Kelly Clarkson, Jesse McCartney, and Raven-Symoné.

However, just because Miramax was able to draw on the talents of pop and Disney stars doesn’t mean the soundtrack was good. The reaction to the film’s music was mixed at best, with some critics saying the backing tracks sounded rushed and canned. Clarkson’s cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was still considered a highlight, though.

The Original Script Was Closer To The Book

Ella holds a book in Ella Enchanted

Adapting a written work is always a tricky challenge for filmmakers, and sometimes it’s easier just to stray away from the source material to make a good movie. That’s apparently just what happened with Ella Enchanted, as multiple people familiar with the development process (including Anne Hathaway, according to her interview with ThoughtCo) said the script was changed to incorporate things that never appeared in the original novel.

The first script that was passed around was much closer to the source material, but it apparently just wouldn’t have worked as a film. Some of the film’s most beloved characters, including Heston the snake and Sir Edgar, came from the rewrite, so fans shouldn’t be too upset they didn’t get to see a more faithful adaptation.

NEXT: 5 Ways The Ella Enchanted Film Adaptation Ruined The Original Story (And 5 Things It Did Well)

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