Review: Disney’s Enchanted

Enchanted is a film which, by and large, came out of nowhere from a critical perspective. Disney certainly put the film in a position to be a successful venture: Thanksgiving Weekend was once their largest box office domain, so their return to the frame was inevitable. However, count me amongst those who saw this film as family fare that would be a hit with the kids but have little outside value. And, in the end, the film is far more polished and much more worthwhile than one might expect. While it is inevitably a family film which relies on the saccharine, the elements which serve as a wry homage to the animated Disney clichés prove far more prevalent than its previews portrayed.

Beginning with a beautiful opening act done in 2D animation, Enchanted tells the story of Gisele (Amy Adams), a naive forest maiden who dreams of true love’s kiss. She thinks she’s found it when the prince (James Marsden) finally notices her, and they are set to be married the next day (Live’s too short for long engagements in Andalasia) – this, however, is no good for the evil stepmother of a Queen (Susan Sarandon) who does not desire to give up her throne. And so, she dumps Gisele down a mysterious well where she emerges out of a manhole into the streets of real-life New York, stumbling her way into the life of Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney with a young daughter and a fiance to be (Idina Menzel). Combine with an out of control chipmunk and a loyal servant (Timothy Spall), and you’ve got the element of your standard fairy tale.

But nothing is standard about the film’s execution: take for example its take on the Working Song, where Gisele enlists the critters of New York to help clean Robert’s apartment. And yes, this includes rats and pigeons, as one would expect considering. However, I didn’t expect the film to go so far as to use cockroaches – it seemed a dark place to head, and it was honestly refreshing. As a whole, the musical numbers are one place where the film has perhaps its most successful nods to Disney’s past: “That’s How You Know” turns into a raucous Central Park-based musical extravaganza, for example, but Dempsey is used as a cynical voice throughout. It’s not a parody, really, but an homage with a wink to the audience that the creators are aware of what they’re doing.

The film’s problem, albeit a minor one, is that we expect this to be the standard. And, for the most part, it is: there are plenty of nods to Disney films throughout, and some nice humor which will certainly go over the heads of the young ones. However, in the end, this is a charming romantic fairy tale – at certain points where I was waiting for the subversiveness to rise again, expecting it based on past precedent didn’t – the cliché just kept on rolling.

However, there’s nothing really wrong with the standard Disney storytelling formula: even in live-action form, the happily ever after ending remains an engaging storytelling device (especially for the young audiences in question). The film’s humour and messaging rarely ventures into the sketchy territory of the later Shrek films, and Pip the Chipmunk covers the cute CGI animal quota without falling too far into slapstick. They hit just the right tone with this one, and as a result plot missteps (The third act sort of peters off, and Sarandon isn’t given much to do) are largely overlooked by the time the storybook closes.

I think a lot of this has to do with the songs and the overall tone, yes, but credit has to be given to Amy Adams for absolutely “getting” Gisele. It’s a simple fish out of water concept, perhaps, but Adams manages to handle both wide-eyed wonder and subtle changes of perception. She is lovable when she needs to be lovable, and her innocence is never lost even as her character changes. I especially love the scene where she becomes angry for the first time: Adams’ balance of joy and frustration is a lot of fun to watch, and she hits the key character moments (Except, oddly, perhaps her final quasi-tragic decision) with ease. It’s a performance that should earn her a Golden Globe nod, and I do hope that it can allow her to emerge as a big star.

But credit also needs to be given to James Marsden: his Prince Edward is the perfect blend of dashing and clueless, and is the one character who really doesn’t change in their time in New York. As a result, Marsden is asked to play a cartoon, and he lives up to the task better than Sarandon does, who struggles with a stock evil Queen character. Dempsey is adequate as the straight man of sorts, proving that his good looks really are enough to carry him through a romantic comedy in the post-Grey’s era.

Enchanted, in the end, represents a surprising success story – it’s not a fantastic film (my cynical side has certainly found plenty of holes), but its charms are surprisingly potent. Strong acting, some catchy and witty songs along with a new twist on a classic story result in a perfect film to sit back and enjoy. Disney hasn’t made a film about which I’d say that in quite some time: for Enchanted at least, the Disney magic has returned, and wiped away all of our criticisms to let us get lost in a world of, well, enchantment.