Toon Talk: Enchanted
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by Kirby C. Holt
Walt Disney Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG
Some Enchanted Evening
Much has been said about the contemporary “fractured fairy tale” genre that pretty much started with the first Shrek and has continued with not only its two sequels (and counting), but with other such films as Ella Enchanted, Hoodwinked and Happily N’Ever After. The declining quality of most of these projects prove that there may not be much material left to mine from taking familiar fairy tale types and slapping them with a post-ironic sensibility. Disney’s latest feature film, Enchanted (now playing) may look on the surface to be just such an enterprise, a last gasp of the genre by the frequent target of the like itself, but that is far from the case.
Instead of merely lampooning the conventions of fairy tales, Enchanted embraces them, transporting them, like its animated heroine, into a modern world without loosing the innocence, the magic inherent in such stories. It is truly a fable for our times, one likely to be embraced by audiences (of all ages) yearning for the type of romantic fantasy that the fair maiden Giselle dreams for, a happily ever after that goes on and on.
The film, a hybrid of animation and live action, romantic comedy and musical fantasy, begins in the animated land of Andalasia, where we find the beautiful peasant girl Giselle (Amy Adams) dreaming of love with a handsome prince. No sooner does she sing of her desires, then she meets the man of her dreams, the dashing Prince Edward (James Marsden). Quicker then you can say “bibbidi-bobbed-boo”, they’re engaged to be married, a plan that does not sit well with Edward’s stepmother, the reigning Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who will lose her crown if her stepson weds. Quickly hatching a plot to rid herself of this problem, she disguises herself as an old crone (naturally), and lures poor Giselle to a magical fountain … and pushes her in. Where does it take her? As Narissa explains to her flunky Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), it takes her to a place where “true love” does not exist.
This, of course, means New York City, with all its glaring neon and unfriendly streets, which Giselle finds upon crawling, very unprincesslike, out of a manhole. Confused and frightened, Giselle wanders about until she, quite literally, falls into the arms of the last person you would expect to be a prince charming, a Manhattan divorce attorney (but he’s played by Patrick Dempsey, so we know she’ll be all right). Robert Philip (as in “Prince Philip”, perhaps?) is a single father to adorable daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), who convinces her dad to help the strangely dressed damsel in distress. Meanwhile, back in Andalasia, Giselle’s chipmunk pal Pip alerts Prince Edward to her plight, and they too travel through the fountain to the mysterious "other" land, as does Nathaniel, sent by Narissa to foil their plans.
Robert, quite sensibly, tries to rid himself of the perpetually perky Giselle, especially after he is inadvertently caught in her arms by his present girlfriend/future fiancée Nancy (Idina Menzel). But through her persistent optimism in the face of the cruel world she finds herself in, he finds himself drawn to her, even though he has sworn off the idea of “true love”. Giselle herself, gradually, becomes aware that things aren’t always wrapped up in a neat, tidy bow, feelings that are brand new to a simple (cartoon) girl like herself. The plot thickens, as such stories always do, when all the participants find themselves in a regal ball inside the closest thing to a castle you can find in the Big Apple, a skyscraper, a location that Queen Narissa, tired of Nathaniel’s blundering, decides to make her appearance in (in the flesh) to end this fairy tale with anything but a happily ever after.
With such a fantastic premise, a movie like Enchanted lays in the hands of its actors. Played too broadly, it turns into a spoof; too subtly, and it would come off as taking itself too seriously. Thankfully, Enchanted has a leading lady, Amy Adams, who knows how to mix wide-eyed wonderment with the right degree of melancholy (see her Oscar-nominated turn in Junebug, for example). Giselle not only transforms from pen and ink to flesh and blond, we see her transform, as the story progresses, into a real human being, with real emotions and desires. Her performance is a joy to behold, one that is already garnering that certain illusive something called “Oscar buzz” (see sidebar). We’ll have to wait and see if that happens for Adams, but one thing is for certain: this movie will make her a star.