n a fairly surprising move, Disney has come forward and shown it has an actual sense of humor about its patented brand of cheesy, clichéd, and relentless peppiness. Previously, self-reference has been limited to cross marketing between one Disney film and the next; but in Enchanted the message seems to be: Yeah, we know we've got our share of hokey archetypes, but it works for us. It's a refreshing attitude.
Giselle lives in the conflation of every single Disney trope ever, in an animated, magical fairy-tale kingdom full of songs of her one true love. The evil queen (who is also a wicked stepmother) can't have some upstart marry the prince and move in on her territory, so she banishes Giselle from animation to reality: New York, to be precise. Article continues below
Now, Giselle is Amy Adams
, and her hoop skirt wedding gown and sunshine disposition are purely preposterous in the real world. Giselle is pretty useless, but she still gets her prince: a dour divorce attorney named Robert who's obsessed with the practical (and who is played by Patrick Dempsey
, not really stretching past his persona to play a modern-day Prince Charming). Robert is hapless when it comes to dealing with Giselle's wide-eyed naiveté, which generally plays like dementia in this context; even more befuddled are the other fairy tale creatures who follow Giselle through the rabbit hole. There's Prince Edward (James Marsden
), come to save his princess; Nathanial (Timothy Spall
), the queen's henchman; and a furry chipmunk sidekick.
As concepts go, Enchanted is pretty high up there, with its fairy-tale-princess-meets-modern-world, but in the end it's all Disney adventure, for better or worse. It may mock the overused story, but at the same time, Enchanted is no more realistic, or less moralistic, than the average fairy tale. But we also get the fun side of a Disney flick, with the sharp musical numbers (written by the tried and true duo of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz) that have the added hoot of being performed live in Central Park, or by New York's own mythical woodland creatures, namely rats and roaches. The animation side is also expectedly well done, and all of the drawn characters are dead ringers for the actors who portray them. It's a clever little idea that is lots of fun, even if the execution doesn't always live up to it.
Enchanted drags a bit when it begins to suffer from an identity crisis -- is it a live-action fairy tale for the kids who love Disney, or is it a gentle satire for the parents who are a little sick of the toons? It's somewhere in between, and unfortunately the cheesiness we accept in cartoons does not always play with real people, even if it comes with a cheeky attitude. The joke may start out cute, how ill-suited fairy princesses are for real life, but the gag feels a bit too real as Giselle's simpering simply does not end.
Fortunately, there's a lot to make Enchanted generally more fun than it is awkward. Dempsey mostly just has to look stern and pretty, but everyone else is clearly having fun. Adams does well with doe eyes and unflagging cheer; as the evil witch come to life, Susan Sarandon is gleefully evil, even if her costume looks part Party America clearance rack, part stripper wear. But surprisingly, it's Marsden who steals the show. His Prince Edward is simply preposterous, but he never breaks from or lessens the arrogant buffoonery, and his facial expressions and line delivery are stellar.
While it won't make many lists for movie of the year, Enchanted has two very important things going for it: It's got a great, clever concept, and it's family fun, released the day before Thanksgiving. Those two things combined pretty much assure it to be a hit, even if kids find real life dull compared to the fairy tale, and parents were hoping for a bit more satire.