Enchanted (2007)

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments

Enchanted1

Disclaimer: May entice children to manholes, rats, and cockroaches.

When I first saw the preview for Enchanted, which likely unfolded with a deep-voiced narrator spouting off cliché after cliché (“in a world where dreams come true” … you know the kind), I scoffed and shook my head, certain it would be another failed Disney creation. I’m happy to admit I was wrong. The romantic comedy is a combination of the plot twists and conventions in Disney’s animated “princess” films (most prominently Sleeping Beauty), which never lost their popularity over the years but saw a recent peak from a marketing campaign of toys and accessories that carry images of the princesses Ariel, Jasmine, Snow White, Aurora, Cinerella, and so on. But what makes Enchanted more than just a series of contrived and familiar devices is its fantastic sense of self-reflexivity, some wonderful performances, and catchy songs.

The principal story in the animated JAMES MARSDENportion of the film is as follows: an evil queen is trying to prevent her stepson from finding that “special someone,” with whom he could share “love’s true kiss” and take away her throne. Alas, despite her efforts, the stepson finds a beautiful maiden and intends to marry her. On their wedding day, the queen throws the maiden out of the kingdom, down a manhole, and into “a place where there are no happily ever afters.” This place, we soon find out, is New York City and our cartoon heroine has transformed into a live-action woman (the aspect ratio also widens at this point). With nowhere to turn, the perplexed character lands in the lap of a young girl and her divorce lawyer father, who tells bedtime stories of Marie Curie instead of Rapunzel. Sometime later the prince and his chipmunk sidekick cross over. “I demand a beautiful girl,” the prince insists of a construction worker, holding a blade to his throat. “I’d like to find one-a-dem, too, ya know?” As insurance, the queen sends her minion squire to follow the prince and stop the rescue. As she pursues her happy ending, the young maiden must also teach the surly father that dreams can come true and there is such a thing as happily ever after.

Screenwriter Bill Kelly (whose previous credits include Blast from the Past) doesn’t so much write the film, but collect and assemble it from segments of Disney classics. Like so many others, Enchanted’s story opens with a storybook. In the animated land of Andalasia (just beyond the Meadows of Joy and Valley of Contentment), the soft-spoken maiden imagines her prince with help from talking animals (e.g. Snow White, Cinderella). Together they sing a song about True Love’s Kiss (e.g. Sleeping Beauty). When the prince hears the song, he rushes to find the girl that belongs to the voice (e.g. Little Mermaid). The purple-draped queen (e.g. Maleficient of Sleeping Beauty) communicates through a magic orb (e.g. Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty) and has the power to transform into an apple-dealing old hag (e.g. Snow White) and a purple dragon (e.g. Sleeping Beauty). The film’s climactic ending takes place at a ball, where the maiden wears glass slippers (e.g. Cinderella). The movie does make an effort to change the storybook clichés at the end, when the princess comes to the rescue of the prince instead of the other way around. As if to continue the trend, the film also includes the actresses who provided voices for Ariel, Belle, and Pocahontas (plus Julie Andrews narrates). A broadcast journalist is named for the two actresses behind Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Tidbits of musical numbers from princess movies can also be heard throughout.

Though the film relies on the fact enchanted3that viewers understand and are comfortable with romantic clichés, it also recognizes the cheesiness and ridiculousness of it all when placed in the context of the real world. For instance, when the maiden needs help she approaches a little person thinking he’s one of the seven dwarves. His obvious reaction to this leads her to label him “Grumpy.” Trusting and hungry, the maid turns to an old hobo, who proceeds to steal her tiara. With all the giggling and naivety, Giselle is the typical dense heroine and many of the jokes hinge on our recognition of that. Giselle has never heard of divorce (and cries when she hears about it), or being angry (she laughs when she feels it for the first time). “It’s like you escaped from a Hallmark card,” Robert, the divorce lawyer, says. Giselle says things like, “This is a magical room” and “Aren’t you lovely?” and “You need to pour your heart out in a beautiful ballad.” This outcast is treated much like Will Ferrell’s Buddy. And like Elf, the gag doesn’t get old. In its funniest gag, Giselle awakes in the messy apartment and calls New York’s wildlife to help tidy up. This includes pigeons, rats, and cockroaches (some real, many CGI). After finishing up, she makes a new dress from the curtains (The Sound of Music).

The sequence is one of several that include a song written and composed by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast) and Stephen Schwartz (Disney flicks Pocahontas and Hunchback, as well as Broadway plays Wicked and Godspell). They’re a perfect combination for a film in which characters announce, “My heart longs to be joined in song.” Their brilliance shines through from the moment Giselle and Prince Edward meet, fall in love, plan the wedding date, and start a song. “You’re the fairest maid I’ve ever met. You were made,” Edward bellows and is abruptly cut off by Giselle, “to finish your duet.” The songwriting team earned three Oscar nominations for Happy Working Song, So Close, and That’s How You Know. Though Kevin Lima (Tarzan) directed the film, after I saw the elaborate choreography for That’s How You Know it felt more like the ghost of Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon) was at the helm. In true musical fashion, Giselle begins the song and strangers slowly join in. “You know this song, too?” Robert asks confusingly. “I’ve never heard it.” Soon hundreds of people in Central Park – some typical (elderly couples, roller skaters, stilt creatures, and other street performers) and some atypical (calypso musicians, mariachis, a bridal party, polka dancers) – begin a complicated dance that they’ve never done before all without missing a step.

Though Patrick Dempsey’s role as the lawyer and Rachel Covey’s as the daughter are a bit stale (perhaps because they’re playing “real” people), James Marsden plays a perfect cookie cutter prince, Susan Sarandon pulls off the dark-eyed and viperous queen with flair, and Timothy Spall’s turn as her underling is spot-on (as usual). But it’s Amy Adams’ Golden Globe-nominated performance as Giselle that keeps the film interesting throughout. Carrying an illuminating smile all the way, Adams fills the innocent princess’ role and gaudy dress wonderfully.

Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Enchanted gives us an animated world that exists alongside our own – as I’m sure many children would like to believe. We can only hope that the result isn’t too enchanting or we’ll have kids diving into manholes regularly.

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