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All Spell Breaks Loose
Gail Carson Levine's novel ELLA ENCHANTED cast its spell not only on children and young adult readers, but parents and literary critics alike, being dubbed "a modern classic.” A life-long fan of fairy tales, Levine felt the form was crying out to be reinvented for today's hipper and savvier readers. For ELLA ENCHANTED, Levine started with the "Cinderella” legend. Deciding that the traditional Cinderella was too much of a Goody Two- Shoes for today's world, she gave the character a whole new style, a fresh new name, and an inspiring new adventure in a kingdom filled with surprising twists on other fairy-tale characters. The concept worked, becoming a huge best-seller -- with Publisher's Weekly calling it "a winning combination of memorable characters and an alluring fantasy realm” -- and garnering the highest awards.

When director Tommy O'Haver was given ELLA ENCHANTED to read, he immediately fell head over heels for its heroine. "I loved the story because I saw the potential for it to be about more than just a girl who breaks her own curse. To me, it came to be about a young woman whose spirit of adventure liberates an entire kingdom. It's a girl power story, but it's also a story for everyone. We mixed in romance, adventure, thrills, comedy, even musical numbers – something to have fun with no matter who you are.” He continues: "It was exactly the kind of story I had been looking for. I've always loved fantasy films, as well as cartoons and fairy tales and it's what I've most wanted to direct. I was thrilled by the chance to take this enchanted world and make it my own, give it a real personality, a strong sense of spirit and irreverence. We all know fairy tales end happily ever after, but I wanted to make the ride getting there fresh, fun and unexpected.”

O'Haver's first inspiration was to tweak the medieval setting and give it a completely contemporary overhaul. "I wanted to merge the old-fashioned sensibilities, settings and values of traditional fairy tales with the kind of a rocking comedy-adventure kids today love so much, and hopefully make something new,” says O'Haver. "I started out by thinking of the story as a John Hughes comedy unfolding in a medieval suburban world.”

With O'Haver's new ideas, the script went through a period of extensive development and creative brainstorming as the writers went wild with playful anachronisms. Explains producer Jane Startz ("The Mighty,” "Tuck Everlasting”): "We started out with a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, but once Tommy came on board, he challenged us to really raise the ante: to ratchet up the humor, the color and the conflict. We started adding all these wonderful layers on top of the story – like the medieval mall with hand-cranked escalators and fast-food restaurants that sell squirrel on a stick and that sort of thing. Tommy came up with one twist after another and we kept pushing it further and further.” Startz continues: "In the end, Gail Levine was delighted with the wit and invention the writers and Tommy brought to it. She was involved the whole way and I think she really enjoyed seeing the spirit of her story stay alive even as it took on elements of a contemporary fantasy adventure.”

While Tommy O'Haver had a blast with re-jiggering medieval reality, he still kept his focus on where he believes the story's heart lies. "The best part for me about ELLA ENCHANTED is that you're immersed in this fantastical world filled with all sorts of imaginary creatures and rainbow colors and magical happenings, but at the core of the story is a very real, very true-to-life human relationship that makes it meaningful,” he says. "That combination of fun fantasy and moving emotional reality is what ELLA ENCHANTED is all about for me.”

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