Ella Enchanted is a deceptively lighthearted retelling of Cinderella in which the titular character is cursed at birth to always be obedient. Ella grows up independent and spirited, but is constantly downtrodden by her selfish stepsisters, who take advantage of the curse. When Ella decides to find the fairy who cursed her, she ends up caught up in a series of adventures involving ogres, trolls, and a prince. This modern fairytale explores women's independence and intelligently subverts the usual fairytale tropes.
At birth, Ella of Frell is given the gift of obedience by the well-meaning but misguided fairy Lucinda. As a result, she cannot disobey a direct order given to her, though her mother Lady Eleanor and the family's cook Mandy protect Ella throughout her childhood. Ella is close to her mother and they share the same free-spirited nature, but when Ella is nearly fifteen, Eleanor dies. At Lady Eleanor's funeral, Ella meets and befriends Charmont (Char), the Prince of Kyrria.
Not long afterward, Ella's father Sir Peter sends Ella off to finishing school with Hattie and Olive, the daughters of the wealthy Dame Olga. However, Hattie soon discovers that Ella is unable to disobey direct orders and she takes advantage of Ella. At school, Ella becomes friends with Areida, a girl from the neighboring country Ayortha. When Hattie orders Ella to stop being friends with Areida, Ella runs away and learns that her father is attending a giant's wedding. After various misadventures, she finds Lucinda at the wedding and tries to persuade her to take back her gift. Instead, Lucinda misunderstands and orders Ella to be happy with her gift. Upon returning home, Mandy reverses the order upon Ella.
After failing to find a rich husband for Ella, Sir Peter decides to marry Dame Olga in order to pay off his debts. Ella renews her friendship with Char at the wedding. Lucinda appears at the wedding and gives Sir Peter and Dame Olga one of her gifts - that they will always love each other. Dame Olga discovers that Sir Peter is now impoverished, but because of the gift, is unable to hate him. Instead, she transfers all her hatred to Ella. When Sir Peter leaves to continue his business, Dame Olga and her daughters quickly reduce Ella to being an obedient servant in their home, Hattie having told her mother about Ella's condition. Ella and Char begin writing to each other frequently after Char leaves on a diplomatic mission to Ayortha. They fall in love through their letters, but Ella rejects him when she realizes her gift of obedience could be used to harm him. She tricks Char into thinking she has eloped with another man, leaving Char heartbroken.
After learning of this, Mandy summons Lucinda and dares her to live under the gift of obedience, to know how it feels. A month later a repentant Lucinda appears and confesses the terrible nature of her gifts. However, out of fear, she still refuses to lift the spell on Ella.
When Char returns to Kyrria, a three-night homecoming ball is held in his honor. Ella, who still loves him, goes to the ball in disguise with help from Mandy and Lucinda, who make a coach and horses from household objects. To be on the safe side, Lucinda has everything change back by midnight. On the third night of the ball, when she is dancing with Char, a jealous Hattie unmasks Ella, forcing her to flee.
Returning to the manor, she and Mandy attempt to run away, but are thwarted by Char's arrival. Char unwittingly orders Ella to marry him, causing Ella to will herself to defy the order out of her desire to protect him and the kingdom from her curse. Her unselfish desire allows her to succeed and refuse his proposal. Free from the spell, she accepts Char's hand in marriage. A month later they are married and they both live happily ever after.