‘Enchanted’ is a dream come trueImagine: You’re at a Disney movie. An animated storybook introduces you to a lovely princess, who lives in a tree and summons her talking forest creature friends to accompany her as she sweetly sings of the prince of her dreams. The dashing prince hears her song, finds her and they ride off to be married.
You wait for the inevitable, the revelation that this is all a dream or a joke. After all, it’s not the 1940s anymore. Audiences today are too sophisticated to go very long without a self-referential wisecrack. But nobody ever wakes up.
The twist comes as the prince’s jealous mother pushes the princess down a magic well into present-day, live-action New York City. But the movie still doesn’t mock its protagonists; the princess is still lovely and kind, the prince dashing and brave. Even the musical numbers continue. And in the end, true love conquers all.
After a while you realize, yes, they’re serious. And that’s why it’s so surprising that “Enchanted” is simultaneously the most sophisticated children’s movie and the most touching romantic comedy in the past year.
Giselle (Amy Adams), the princess, wanders the streets of New York in her fairy-tale wedding gown, forsaken by everyone except the 6-year-old Morgan (Rachel Covey), who convinces her father, a divorce lawyer named Robert (Patrick Dempsey), to let her stay the night. Robert doesn’t believe in fairy-tale love, and treats his upcoming engagement to his girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel) as a business proposition.
Later, an inevitable misunderstanding about Robert’s new houseguest drives a wedge between him and Nancy.
In the morning, Robert and Morgan awake to find Giselle has summoned New York’s city creatures to help her clean the room. Pigeons, rats, flies and cockroaches descend on the apartment.
Meanwhile, the prince (James Marsden) dives into the magical well after his beloved, and the jealous queen (Susan Sarandon) sends her minion Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) to kill the girl.
The movie’s success rests on its delightful, witty script and five fabulous performances. Adams commits entirely to her role, deadpanning the funniest lines in the film and bringing the music alive with her sweet but powerful voice. Marsden is gusto made flesh as the prince seeking his princess (and “slaying” a bus along the way to rescue the “peasants” inside).
Spall’s character is more than he seems, and Dempsey sports the perfect sympathetic personality for his part. But the final touch ― and perhaps the most impressive performance considering her age ― comes from Covey, who starts out fascinated with the princess but soon forms a deeper bond.
Enchanted also marks the welcome return of beloved Disney composer Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. The movie’s musical highlight is “That’s How You Know,” which Giselle sings to Robert when he’s at a loss over how to win Nancy back. A reggae street band backs her up, and the number of participants grows exponentially until by the end it seems all of Central Park has burst into song. It’s impossible not to be reminded of the absurd excesses of past Disney showstoppers like “Be Our Guest” or “Under the Sea.”
In many ways Enchanted is Disney’s answer to “Shrek,” which also referenced classic Disney films, but only to cynically parody them.
Though “Shrek” was a fun ride, I didn’t much care what happened to its snarky characters. But when Giselle discovers love is not as simple as she expected, it’s almost heartbreaking. I saw the end coming a mile away, but I was so caught up in the story that I’d have been disappointed if it had ended otherwise. Isn’t that how a fairy tale should be?
Name one other recent movie that’s dared to end with the words, “And they all lived happily ever after. The end.” ― and meant it.
Disney has truly made a film for kids of all ages, an antidote to modern cynicism. Whether your companion is a feisty kid who dreams of princesses or a special someone with whom you long to share “true love’s kiss,” don’t let this one pass you by.
Any heart it doesn’t melt is truly beyond hope.
Romance, Family / English
By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]