Monday, September 24, 2012

Princess, Charming: "Enchanted" (2007)

As the older brother who was stuck taking my younger siblings to all those Saturday matinees back in the day, I am overly familiar with the Disney animated output. I know every whitewashed fairy tale, every catchy song, and every talking woodland creature. So with weary trepidation, I turned to "Enchanted," and I have been smiling ever since the "The End" credit rolled.

In the magical kingdom of Andalusia, Giselle (voice of Amy Adams) is swept off her feet by local prince/heroic troll hunter Edward (voice of James Marsden). The two fall instantly in fairy tale love, and plan to marry the next day. Evil Queen Narissa (voice of Susan Sarandon) is against the marriage, dresses like an old hag, and sends Giselle down a magical well which leads to a manhole cover in the middle of Times Square in New York City. Another problem, Giselle (Amy Adams) is no longer animated...she is real but burdened with story book sensibilities.

As Giselle wanders around the city, she meets sad divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). Robert plans to ask girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel) to marry him but Giselle quickly complicates their relationship with her naivete. Prince Edward (James Marsden) quickly follows Giselle through the well and begins looking for her, as does buffoonish Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), sent by Narissa to kill Giselle with poison apples. Robert begins to fall for Giselle despite his harsh outlook on love, and after Nathaniel fails one time too many, Queen Narissa herself makes a grand entrance in Times Square.

Writer Bill Kelly and director Kevin Lima so could have taken the easy way out. They could have turned this into a weak "Shrek" knock-off (a film series whose success continues to astonish me) or "Airplane!" it up and make "Princess Movie" complete with fart jokes, an Pamela Anderson cameo, and an unrated DVD release. Instead, respect (but not false reverence) is shown, keeping the story familiar but never making fun of the audience that enjoyed "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty;" the same audience that turned the Disney brand into an icon.

Many sequences in the film are just nutty genius. Giselle making do with city animals to clean Robert's apartment was hilarious. The live action dance numbers are fun and catchy. Even the maligned action finale, which Disney used to do in their classic animated fare to give the little boys (and older brothers) in the audience something to enjoy, is handled well, with Sarandon making the most of her brief live action screen time. A nice medium is struck between Giselle and Edward's idealistic love and Robert's harsher reality without the audience being pummelled into submission with the message. Even Robert's girlfriend's character Nancy is handled correctly, as the film makers fight the urge to turn her into a shrewish evil stepmother in training.

Adams is all sorts of fun as Giselle, striking a ridiculously sympathetic chord. Covey is thankfully not overly cute in the daughter role, but I wish Dempsey had put a bit more pep into Robert...oh, what Ben Stiller could have done with this role! Spall is merely okay, but my greatest enjoyment was watching James Marsden as the charming prince. Just like Adams' Giselle, Marsden also does not play the role "stupid" but invigorates every scene he is in- from the bus scene, to mistaking a seedy hotel room's television for a magic mirror. This is his best role since the underrated "The 24th Day."

The goodwill and talent of the cast and crew more than make up for the film's occasional hiccup. "Enchanted" is a wonderful surprise, and hopefully Disney will silence any direct-to-video sequel talk. That would turn this dreamy film into a nightmare. (* * * * *) out of five stars.