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Enchanted

starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon
written by Bill Kelly and directed by Kevin Lima
rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo.
88%

Giselle (Adams) is an animated peasant girl who is about to become the princess of the fairy tale kingdom Andalasia. But on the way to her wedding with charming Prince Edward (Marsden), his evil stepmother (Sarandon)m], fearing the end of her reign as queen, pushes Giselle down a magical well. She emerges in our world, in the middle of New York City, and falls in with Robert (Dempsey), a divorce attorney and single father, turning his life upside-down. Meanwhile, Prince Edward, armed more with courage than wit, follows his beloved princess to New York, determined to find her and bring her safely home, all unknowing that the queen will stop at nothing to see that Giselle never returns alive.

This is the first Disney film to combine live-action and animation (always an audacious undertaking) since Who Framed Roger Rabbit back in 1988. However, I for one had a great deal of faith in the production from the moment I spotted Amy Adams in the leading role. I was thoroughly charmed by her Southern ingenue in Junebug (which scored her a much-deserved Oscar nomination), and I was prepared to be just as charmed by her royal ingenue in Enchanted. Nobody does endearing airhead like she does, with that expression of perpetual confusion mixed with complete wonder and delight. And (surprise surprise) she sings beautifully too. It is difficult to imagine anyone else succeeding so completely in the role; she is the uncontested linchpin. There’s a second nomination in her future, I expect.

Meanwhile, James Marsden seems to have found a comfortable niche as the man with the pearly-white grin in bubblegum musicals (see Hairspray). These roles suit him much better than his brooding turns as the stodgy, jilted point in superhero love triangles of a few years ago (the X-Men trilogy, Superman Returns). In fact, the supporting players in general are fairly strong.

With casting out of the way, there is little else that Enchanted needs to accomplish to achieve at least nominal success. But while we’re on the subject of perfectly-suited roles: Who better than Disney to affectionately lampoon the well-worn conventions of the romantic fairy tales they’ve been bringing to the screen so successfully for the past 70 years? In this respect, at least, it is far beyond the smart-aleck pop-satire fumblings of the increasingly ham-fisted Shrek series and the execrable Happily N’Ever After. This movie is all charm and sparkle, bolstered by fantastic, elaborately-staged numbers courtesy of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, Disney’s go-to songwriting duo of the past decade and change.

Enchanted is nothing short of a bullseye with the target audience (little girls of all ages who daydream of princesses in sparkly dresses), and its self-aware undertone of gentle mockery should win over everyone else. Consider Giselle’s first morning in a New York apartment. She immediately notices the mess the place is in, and throws open the windows to recruit some help from the local fauna to the tune of a nauseatingly chipper working song. But, of course, the local wildlife in New York City consists of maimed pigeons, scruffy rats, swarms of flies, and roaches . . . lots and lots of roaches. No matter, Giselle puts everyone straight to work with results you won’t soon forget.

So, as I say, with regards to pure genre considerations, there is very little not to like. Then again, fairy tale romance is not without its flaws. In its attempts to simultaneously send up and affirm the whimsical sentimentality of “love at first sight,” it looks very much as though it were trying to have its cake and eat it too. It says over and over again that relationships are very difficult things, built up slowly and carefully on firm foundations made of strong commitments, only to repeatedly demonstrate just the opposite. In the end, it’s hard to say what, if anything, it believes.

Also, in a movie about brightly-animated characters becoming solid and real, perhaps a bit less of the unconvincingly-realized CG chipmunk would not have been amiss? He has his moments, certainly, but much of his screen time falls very, very flat. The animals that cleaned the apartment looked convincing enough, why couldn’t he? And, while I don’t really want to quibble about realism with a film that has no such pretensions, I found the action-packed climax (exciting as it was) to be a bit of a strain. I dislike having to will my disbelief into suspension in media res. Surely that is a definite sign of a sudden jarringly implausible turn amid previously well-handled material.

One final point of contention: What possible reason could there be to cast Idina Menzel (popular star of Broadway hits like Rent and Wicked) in a musical and then not have her sing? I expected a number from her right until the final credits began to roll and was flabbergasted when the moment never came. The wasted potential knows no bounds, and I simply can’t understand why it was done.

Ah, well. Various fairly minor complaints aside, Enchanted is almost pitch-perfect. It would appear that Disney has a genuine hit on their hands. I expect it will remain with us in the multiplex for the remainder of the holiday season before moving on to a long and healthy career on DVD.

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~ by Jared on November 21, 2007.

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