"Is that the only word you know? "No?" " -- Giselle, 'Enchanted'

Film On the face of it, Enchanted really shouldn’t be very good. The blasting of characters from a fantasy realm into the movie version of reality isn’t a new idea, last attempted properly by the underrated Last Action Hero and on top of that the characters making the trip are from the fairy tale Disney film filled with princesses, talking animals and songs of the type which has fallen out of favour of late, only continuing a semblance of existence through Shrek’s increasingly anodyne parody. But its actually (PIXAR accepted) their best film in years, an ironic dollop of entertainment that should have kids returning to their copies of Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the problems with the Shrek films is that in the midst of their caricature, only rarely do they betray a love of their subject. Plus they’re laced with timestamped pop culture references which were dropping out of date even when the first film was released. Enchanted has none of that – with the exception of a couple of mobile phone gags there’s nothing here that, like the Disney films of yore, shouldn’t play ten or twenty years from now. In the kingdom of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) literally falls into the arms of Prince Edward (James Marsden) and within moments they’re engaged to be married, but fearing her crown is in jeopardy his wicked step-mother (Susan Sarandon) banishes her to our reality. Here, she meets Patrick Dempsey’s New York divorce lawyer who through his own relationship problems is the embodiment of the fact that unlike in her home, people don’t live happily ever after. As she stumbles with him about the city, Edward follows through the portal searching for her, closely trailed by his untrustworthy servant Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) – oh and Giselle’s best friend Pip, a chipmunk.

Frankly, the film’s worth seeing for Adams alone; in a career defining moment she commitedly mimics an animated character, not once betraying a moment of irony as she runs about bringing some sunshine into the dark lives of those around her. It’s a tricky balance to pull off, since it could have spilled over into parody, but not once does she seem to be winking at the audience. But the film isn’t afraid to make fun of the fact that some of the givens of the animated kingdom don’t work in quite the same way in New York, such as when she calls upon the local animal kingdom to help her clean an apartment and the local vermin come calling. She's helped clearly by Billy (totally forgiven for Premonition) Kelly's script which doesn't force the character to embrace reality and whilst the story could have dipped into far darker territory with the character being committed for being a bit of a loon, everything's kept on a child-friendly keel as the people she meets simply accept that she's just not from around their part of the world and enjoys a different belief system in which everyone could and should be happy and in love.

This commitment to plausibly making flesh the animated characters is carried over to each of them with James Marsden in particular finally given the comic role he was born for, the best chisel jawed beef cake innocent since Brendan Fraser pulled on a pair of trunks for George of the Jungle. Spall too is predictably good, only now and then showing signs of taking his cues from panto instead of Walt but they’re forgivable lapses given the various disguises he’s asked to act through. Sarandan is largely called upon to mimic the queen from Snow White, her old hag make-up looking surprisingly like Jimmy Saville. Patrick Dempsey’s performance hasn’t been universally loved because he comes across as a bit dull – well yes, but anyone would opposite Adams’s unalloyed joy. He’s the real world, a literal straight man, all broken and divorced and jaded and as Giselle brings her fairytale magic into his life, he certainly lightens up, as usually happens in these screwball dynamics and there’s no denying he has some of the funnier moments.

The film is a technical marvel. Sadly, because Disney has jettisoned its cell animation department, the opening scenes set in Andalasia weren’t animated in house, but the company James Baxter Animation, capture the mood of the original animation perfectly taking visual cues from 2D animation history with Thumper-style bunny rabbits and a horse that seems to have galloped in from Hercules. The leap from animation to live action doesn’t jar though, because director and Disney veteran Kevin Lima has been careful to make the rest of the film an aural and visual feast. When Giselle first appears in New York, the mono audio of her realm is replaced with surround sound, the noise of the city assaulting our ears from all sides. Bed-decked in her massive wedding dress she has to traverse the city, carried aloft by the crowds in the vistas.

That's all punctuated by some really wonderful songs by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz entirely in the groove of their previous work on everything from Aladdin to Pocahontas, and again they’re entirely affectionate and in the case of a number that spills out across New York City probably transcends the originals because of the audacity of the accompanying non-animated images. Is it a musical? It depends upon your definition; like the characters in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, they’re certainly aware of bursting into song and one of the pivotal scenes revolves situation when that doesn’t happen. As with much of anything else in the film, it’s something which will be argued over by film critics in the field for years to come.

Some have argued the story is a bit predictable to which you can only say – of course it is. As theorist Vladmir Propp discovered, fairy tales only have a certain number of different elements; above all, despite the shifting locale, this is supposed to be an old fashioned Disney fantasy all of which follow a deliberate pattern and actually arguably here, without giving too much away, the roles are subverted anyway, giving young girls a role model in Giselle which their older sisters once found in the likes of Xena and Buffy. This might well be the first non-PIXAR kids film in ages which adults will also want to watch over and over as it takes us back to the more innocent type of storytelling we remember when we were young, bereft of the cynicism which has been quietly strangling the fun out it all.

1 comment:

  1. It's such an adorable, funny, light-hearted romp. I loved it. Because it was a Disney homage to itself, rather than a Shrek-like parody - which, as you say, already looks dated.