As I write this, my almost-3-year-old daughter is having the bedding in her room changed over to a Disney Princess theme. She's Disney Princess mad. Apparently, so is every other American girl age 2 and up, judging by the myriad products offered for purchase by the Mouse Factory this holiday season — Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and a handful of others making up the Disney retail blitzkrieg. I am, quite simply, worn out by Disney Princess sensory overload.
So with that qualification, on to my review of Enchanted, the new animated/live-action Disney film about a princess who gets sent to the real world (our world) by a wicked queen, with a dashing prince following to rescue her. Though I was primed to see it as a cynical cash-in on a popular brand, I'm obliged to report the opposite: Enchanted is an excellent family film that touches upon and updates an iconic cinematic formula without diminishing it. Take that, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time!
Enchanted starts off animated, showing the beautiful Giselle (Amy Adams) pining away in song for a prince with whom she can share true love's kiss. Jump to Prince Edward (James Marsden), the dashing heir to the Andalusian throne, who hears her song and rushes to her side to complete it with his own lyrics. Once met, they fall immediately in love and get set to marry right away.
Fearing the loss of her power, Edward's stepmother, the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), tricks Giselle into a portal that sends her to New York City, where she becomes live-action amid the ugly cacophony of product placement in Times Square. Edward and a chipmunk follow to rescue Giselle, and the Queen's lackey, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), follows to foil their efforts. Things get off-formula, though, when Giselle meets and starts falling for Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a single-father divorce lawyer.
In New York, confronted with such prosaic mechanisms as showers and buses, the Disney protagonists turn out to be functional idiots. This is more a mild commentary on the studio's history of simple-stroked characters than it is an entrée into mean-spirited humor, though. As a postmodern take on cinematic fairy tales, Enchanted recalls the Shrek films, particularly Shrek the Third's booty-kickin' princesses. But where Shrek dripped with sarcasm and irony, Enchanted chooses to entertain with cheerful, positive storytelling. Its beneficence is maybe the film's greatest strength as a family film. Instead of relying on bodily functions to make the kiddies laugh or smug literary allusions to get to the parents, Enchanted goes old-school: engaging the whole audience, together, with a solid story, character-derived humor, and palatable themes.
In the wonderful 2005 film Junebug, Adams played charming, funny, rustic, and a little naive, creating what seemed like a real person from her script directions. In Enchanted, Adams has to go the opposite direction, this time asked to embody a fictional icon based on the same set of characteristics. Once again, she hangs the moon. With giant, doe eyes and piles of red hair, Adams is perfectly cast. But it's the spirit she brings that's so winning.
I haven't seen Patrick Dempsey acting since 1991's one-two punch of Run and Mobsters. (I don't partake in Grey's Anatomy.) I never thought I'd say this, but Dempsey brings a degree of maturity to his role. His deft application of world-weariness (but wanting to believe) is probably as important in making Enchanted good as Adams' charming daffiness.
Add original music by the multi-Oscar-winning Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, traditional 2-D animation methods, and narration by Julie Andrews, and Enchanted fits quite nicely in the Disney canon.