Ella Enchanted (2004), adapted from Gail Carson Levine’s book, is a delightful twist on the Cinderella tale. Winningly goofy, it features a sparkling Anne Hathaway as Ella; a, well, charming Hugh Dancy as Prince Charmont (“Char” to his friends); and a deliciously scheming turn by Cary Elwes as Char’s Uncle Edgar and regent of the kingdom.
The well-known plot hinges on Ella’s gift of obedience bestowed by a fairy godmother, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox), whom Ella is trying to find in order to release this curse of a blessing. Almost an hour into the film, Char tells Edgar that he needs to take Ella to the Hall of Records, to try and find where her fairy godmother Lucinda is located. The camera than cuts to a young black woman, billed as the Hall of Records Attendant (Merrina Millsapp), slamming down a thick book on a table, releasing a cloud of dust.
The attendant, dressed in modest medieval garb, appears quite disinterested in Ella’s task. “Here’s the latest census. Names are listed first by location then species.” As she walks away, she rattles off a “Good luck” with a dismissive flip of her hand. Although more of an archives clerk than an actual public services librarian — perhaps this explains her lack of customer service? — she serves the basic function of a reel librarian.
Due to the incompetence of Ella’s magical aunt, one of Ella’s sidekicks, Benny (Jimi Mistry), has been accidentally stuck in a book for years. Benny, therefore, is right beside her in the Hall of Records (his book, the one that looks more like a frame, is propped up in the screenshot above). He, too, grimaces at the sight of the massive volume. “Look at the size of that thing!” And as Ella heaves the book open, she sighs, “Lucinda, I hope you’re in here.”
The camera than spirals up, giving us a bird’s eye view of the messy table in the Hall of Records. The reel librarian will certainly be of no help, and this camera trick underscores just how alone Ella is in this seemingly hopeless task.
A few minutes later, after a brief scene full of Edgar’s evil scheming, we return to Ella slumped in a chair in the Hall of Records. “I can’t find anything in any of these books,” she laments, banging her head on the book. “I don’t know where else to look.” Because asking the librarian is obviously not an option!
Finally, Ella spies a clue in the book in which her friend Benny is enspelled — NOT in one of the library books, I might add — and figures out how to find Lucinda. But alas! Edgar comes into the room and blocks her way, sneering, “I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction?” Due to the total lack of help or interest from the reel librarian, I would have answered with a definitive NO! But Ella is more polite than I am. Then Edgar tests Ella’s secret and sends her out in order to kill Char. Fortunately, Edgar doesn’t notice Benny stuck in the book, who has overheard the entire evil plot.
A few minutes later, the archives clerk walks back into the library — sighing at the all the mess, of course — and discovers the book of Ella’s friend (see above). However, Benny can only reveal himself to certain people, so the reel librarian sees only empty pages. Heaving another big sigh, she immediately dumps Benny and his book into the “recycling parchment” bin. Sigh. Thank goodness, Ella’s other sidekicks find Benny in the trash and recycling center outside the castle the next morning. So it’s a relief that the actions — or rather, inactions? — of this disinterested Information Provider did help advance the plot after all.