Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Covey, Jeff Bennett, Kevin Lima
PG (for some scary images and mild innuendo)
The Walt Disney Corporation has tried for years to create a run away success at the movies. They have stuck with the same formula for decades and most often the result was an abject failure. With its latest feature Enchanted, Disney hopes to turn its dry spell around by mocking itself.
The film opens in the far away land of Andalasia. It’s an animated kingdom where a wicked queen (Susan Sarandon) vows to hold on to her power for ever by preventing her son Prince Edward (James Marsden) from finding and marrying a beautiful young girl. In typical Disney fairy tale style, she assigns a bumbling sycophant (Timothy Spall) to watch over her son and thwart any attempts he makes of securing a bride.
Love, however, cannot be stopped as Edward hears the melodious call of young Giselle (Amy Adams) with whom he shares a duet and immediately proposes marriage. Queen Narissa won’t stand for the marriage to go through and she pushes Giselle down a well into a far away land where her son will never find her.
Giselle’s destination is the real world New York City where her fish-out-of-water saga drags on for the better part of an hour. She haphazardly ends up in the arms of a lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who is looking after his daughter (Rachel Covey) alone.
Enchanted features four full-fledged musical numbers, but they all fall within the film’s first half. After that, the audience must watch as the story unfolds in soap-operatic fashion with one last song sung at a microphone at the Kings & Queens Ball and with very minimal excitement.
Disney taps its own veteran director Kevin Lima (A Goofy Movie, Tarzan, 102 Dalmatians) to helm the pic. His lack of visual flair and sense of grandeur make the movie feel contained and lacking in depth. The film celebrates nearly every narcissistic tradition in the Disney catalog. Comic relief sidekicks, unrepentant villains, fantasy creatures, massive production numbers and pop music are characteristically included.
The Disney canon features dozens of beloved family films and most of them succeeded in spite of themselves. Mary Poppins is probably the greatest example of the harmonious merging of story, performance and family-friendly demographics. Julie Andrews steals the show, for which she won an Academy Award, but the rest of the cast from the jaunty Dick Van Dyke to the exceptional teaming of Glynis Johns and Hermione Baddeley worked wonderfully together. They balanced well together and helped create an indelible classic.
In Enchanted, there are only two standouts in the cast. Adams delivers a solid performance as the winsome naif trapped in a world as different to her as a poorly-sung note. When she’s on screen, she conveys the innocence and trepidation we would expect, but after a time, the act gets old. Her perpetual hand gestures are an affectation that grows exceedingly annoying and even when she predictably comes to terms with her surroundings, we’re forced to endure more wide-eyed optimism and less sorrowful resignation. Her better in the film is Marsden. His performance does everything I had hoped Adams’ would. His disillusionment is more expeditious and credible and undeniably befitting his character.
On the other side of the stage are the lamentably poor performance of Sarandon, Dempsey and Spall. Sarandon’s treacherous witch, taking on the guise of the witch from Snow White on occasion, and transforming later into the dragon from Sleeping Beauty, is anything but three-dimensional. She plays the part with such camp that you’d have expected the entire production was a parody. If the film had matched her style, it might have been better, but as it did not, her wicked queen is severely out of place.
Dempsey has made a name for himself on the small screen as McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy, but when it comes to the big screen he’s still a small fish in a big pond. He’s never had a massive hit and if it weren’t for the ABC hit, he might not have even gotten this co-leading role. There’s nothing substantive or qualitative to his performance and for the life of me, I can’t figure out the attraction.
Spall takes his spot-on performance from the Harry Potter films as Peter Pettigrew and channels that energy into Nathaniel. It’s a mold he fits into easily, but also resembles too much the idiot villain sidekick Lefou from Beauty and the Beast. Spall brings no originality to the role and merely manages to squeak by under the film’s other flaws.
The genre of animation/reality crossover has gotten many better interpretations in the past. From the wonderful Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the amusing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there’s no question those films did it better. What is presented on screen in Enchanted is little more than a vanity project for Disney that will still manage to turn a buck simply for being utterly innocuous.
The film does have a few wonderful moments including the amazingly-addictive Central Park musical number for the song “That’s How You Know”. It’s an infectious salute to the great Disney musical scores and mixed with the well-choreographed scenes, it marks a high point in the film. Sadly, the fact that it’s the only and final such number in the film, makes the latter half of the picture feel even more tedious than it might have had it been injected with another such marvelous Alan Menken-Stephen Schwartz number.
With Enchanted failing to live up to its own pre-screening trailer expectations, it shouldn’t be surprising that Disney failed to actively poke fun at itself. Disney’s self-mockery has always been masked by its self-indulgence and Enchanted is certainly no exception.
December 5, 2007