Once upon a time Disney was renowned for making cinematic story-telling masterpieces that became instant classics. Lately all they’ve been known for is regurgitating those classics in the form of shameless sequels and ridiculous remakes. With Enchanted they’re still rehashing the past, but this time they’ve gone and done something we haven’t seen them do in a very long time: show a little imagination. And not a second too soon, either. Poor Walt’s corpse could use a break from all that turning over in its grave.
Instead of abusing past characters and plotlines by squeezing them into silly stories about enchanted Christmases or time-traveling evil step-mothers, Enchanted uses a different approach. It takes classic elements of Disney fairytales and mercilessly pokes fun by dipping them into the cold, harsh light that is the real world. While the tongue-in-cheek comedy plays a major role, there’s also a warm, charming story here that makes the movie much more than simple satire.
Giselle (Amy Adams) is a beautiful young woman who spends her days with assorted woodland creatures making dresses and singing hopelessly idyllic songs about the day when she and her true love will find one another. Naturally, the animals can all talk and have an uncanny talent for fashion design. When Giselle is rescued from a troll by the puffy-sleeved, chivalrous-to-a-fault Prince Edward (James Marsden), the two fall immediately and madly in love. Edward proposes and the animals begin frantically building Giselle’s gown for her happily-ever-after wedding, set to take place the very next day.
This first part of the story brings to the big screen something else that we haven’t seen from Disney in a very long time: hand drawn animation. Giselle’s perfect animated world is crafted from the very finest that Disney has to offer, harkening back to the glory days before computer animation came in and wiped out all the hand-drawn warmth and magic. I’m not going to say that the good folks at Pixar haven’t produced some pretty amazing work with their digital wizardry, but I miss the beauty of the old-school animation. Enchanted offers a fleeting remembrance of how good hand-drawn was and could be again.
As she makes her way to the altar, Giselle is side-tracked by Edward’s wicked witch step-mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). Fearing that Edward’s marriage will mean she will lose her crown, Narissa decides to eliminate the threat by pushing Giselle down a wishing well which is actually a gateway to the real world. When Edward learns of this, his natural instinct is to launch a rescue mission to save his damsel in distress. Both young lovers are determined to find each other in this bizarre new land, but strange (and hilarious) things happen when the real and fairy tale worlds are thrown together.
For example, despite being in the real world, Giselle still maintains her amazing gift for having the animal kingdom at her beckon call. Of course, New York City is short on fuzzy woodland creatures, so it’s the rats, roaches and one-legged pigeons that arrive to help her with the cleaning and mending. Also, her tendency to burst forth in song when the proper emotional cue line is spoken rubs some the wrong way, and yet people appear out of the woodwork to sing and dance for one of the best live-action musical numbers I’ve seen in a long time.
Before Edward can locate his lost true love, the hopelessly romantic Giselle is rescued from the ravages of New York City by the most romantically jaded man imaginable: Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce lawyer whose wife abandoned him and his daughter years ago. At first I expected their relationship to become the ultimate cliché of cynical vs. idealistic. Instead I was surprised by a sweet love story that touches nicely on finding joy in the midst sorrow and not giving up on loving each other just because you’re not perfect. One of the characters sums the movie up nicely by pointing out that we all go through bad times, but we shouldn’t abandon the good because of them.
Hard core Disney enthusiasts have something else to celebrate besides the great comedy and endearing story. The movie is absolutely littered with nods and bows to all things Disney. Some of them are obvious, some are subtle, but if you’re watching carefully you’ll either see or hear something from another Disney movie in just about every scene. It’s a wonderful gift to fans who really know their stuff. Best of all, the songs and score for the movie come from none-other than the legendary Alan Menken, the man behind the music of some of the best Disney has made.
Roll it all together and you have a magically new fairy-tale with a clever twist. Of course, this momentary blip of creativity doesn’t necessarily mean Disney has learned its lesson. I fully expect Enchanted 2: Narissa’s Revenge to arrive direct-to-DVD summer 2009. Until then we can revel in the bliss of this magnificent anomaly and wish upon a star that it might spark some kind of new life in what used to be the happiest movie studio on earth.