Why 'Enchanted' Is Slightly Warped
by Scott Holleran
Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams in Enchanted

November 26, 2007

Burbank, California—Despite its title, Disney's Enchanted tries too hard to put a happy face on a mediocre movie, not that studio heads aren't smiling from ear to ear after raking in cash from a successful opening. For months, we've been hearing about this picture and how it compares to Walt Disney's classics Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty.

Not really. This clunky vehicle starts with a premise originally engineered by DreamWorks (with its joke-laden Shrek series) that mocks fairy tale romanticism. That alone is inconsistent with the Disney ethos, which has admittedly been relegated to classic re-releases on DVD and an occasional theatrical adventure, such as Eight Below or National Treasure. Taking an innocent princess and keeping the happy ending, Enchanted is basically an overlay.

Cynicism drives the movie—it is why the happy ending doesn't stand on its own—and there is no reversing that fact. Much of the praise is earned; Enchanted is a fine way to spend time, especially at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre, which has erected an activities tent behind the grand theater for after the show, and it's one of the more enjoyable movies on the market. Certainly, children could be heard laughing from the balcony. Songs are good, transitions are neat and several scenes are quite clever.

But one doesn't walk out of The Little Mermaid (or, more aptly, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) smirking about how clever it is—or feeling relieved that a ten year-old missed a crucifixion reference—one exits smiling like a kid, dizzy in the world of fairy tale weddings, flying beds, and fighting knights. There was a genuine sense of wonder about, say, Mary Poppins, and that spoonful of sugar is missing from Enchanted.

Plain Amy Adams, who plays Giselle, the princess from fictitious Andalasia, pulls off naive but, frankly, the Junebug actress, who has to sustain the movie, looks too mature to carry on like an arrested 12-year-old. Too made up as the princess and too matted down for the ballroom sequence, her exaggerated mannerisms are more rehearsed than natural; her most realistic moment comes when Giselle restrains herself with Patrick Dempsey's lawyer.

James Marsden in Enchanted
Enchanted needs more, much more, of that sort of thing, integrating Manhattan's realism with Andalasia's romanticism, rather than playing idealism for grins, which submerges both in artificiality—resulting in a distinct "look at me" self-referencing that, however wily, dilutes Disney's uniquely benevolent approach. The jokes—from depicting dashing Prince Edward (James Marsden) as a dolt to gross gags—almost uniformly undermine the good.

At the climax—which comes too late—the duality implodes. A certain jaded view of reality triumphs, undercutting the romanticism, with the evil queen's (Susan Sarandon) cohort becoming a celebrity, as if that's a desirable outcome. On the flipside, the idealized fantasy is tarnished, with Pip the chipmunk doing book signings in Andalasia, assuring that the land of trolls and princesses will wind up an only slightly less vulgar version of Shrek. This may explain why critics—who typically deplore anything that unabashedly holds the ideal as ideal—are raving about Disney's latest release.

Some are heralding this picture as a resurgence of Disney's two-dimensional animated musical and one could argue that Enchanted is better than nothing (partly true). But two key scenes underscore its deficiencies: when Giselle (Adams) tidies up Dempsey's apartment with rats and roaches and when she skips through Central Park singing and attracting half of New York City. Both are musical numbers, both ostensibly tap the Disney sensibility—and both completely pull the viewer out of the story into some curious hybrid of fantasy and reality that depends upon one's knowledge of other stories—precisely the prerequisite that powered Shrek, which makes Disney's new live action animated movie actually more warped than enchanted.


Scott Holleran Column Index

• Interview: Walt Disney Pictures Chairman Dick Cook
• 11/26/07 - 'Enchanted' Bewitches Thanksgiving

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