December 2, 2007

Enchanted (12/02/07)

Lettergrade: B+

Send-ups of classic Disney fairy-tale pictures seem to be more common these days, but as far as I'm aware, none of them have done it nearly as well as Enchanted. I'm not sure what the secret is... the movie has an excellent cast, catchy songs and score, and a good director named Kevin Lima, an alum in various capacities of the early 90s Disney animation renaissance, who keenly fills the movie with in-jokes and references so intricate, only the most dedicated of Disneyphiles might be able to catch them all.

All that aside, though, Lima and the other filmmakers have an excellent sense of what made a lot of the older Disney hallmarks resonate with audiences in the first place, and they do a fine job of reworking the formula here. Pretty much every facet of the picture is right on. If you break it all down on paper, Enchanted might be as guilty of being homogenized, overly sweet, and as absolutist as the movies it pokes fun at. The difference, however, is that the film is witty and inventive enough to keep me, a hardened cynic at 29, charmed and in laughter for pretty much all of its running time. The film is born out of love for its source material while never submitting to obvious or petty jokes like the Shrek movies do.

The opening segment closely matches the animation of beloved early 90s classics like Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin. Amy Adams voices Giselle, a traditionally-animated princess who, on the day of her wedding to a fantastically smug Prince Edward (James Marsden), is banished to the live-action New York City, courtesy of evil bitch Susan Sarandon (who plays evil bitch Queen Narissa). The film is primarily a fish out-of-water story with Giselle having to apply her fairy-tale intellect and world-view to her new three-dimensional surroundings. I don't like describing movies in terms of other movies (unless some shameless ripping-off has occurred), but a good analogue for Adams' Giselle is Will Ferrell's Buddy in Jon Favreau's Elf, another splendid picture in which the enthusiastic earnestness of the lead in question won me over with much aplomb.

Giselle is never fully exposed to the true horrors of the Big Apple (which do not seem to be part of this New York anyway), but instead is taken in by a pretty decent guy played by Patrick Demsey, who thinks the girl is probably certifiable, but is sympathetic and charitable to her anyway. Demsey's character is a divorce attorney who has a nice relationship with his six-year old daughter and a long-term girlfriend who's on the verge of becoming his fiancée. Soon, the self-absorbed Prince Edward arrives in NYC and begins to search for his betrothed while Tim Spall, a double-agent who lusts for Queen Narissa, poses as Edward's faithful servant while sabotaging his mission.

A responsible movie review, I feel, should not reveal aspects of a movie that the audience may take immense pleasure in discovering, so I'll stop with the specifics now. Suffice to say that Lima knows the Disney classics inside and out, and has a lot of fun playing with familiar elements... be it pushing our heroine's ability to commune with nature to ridiculous extremes, or in stretching the credibility of a spontaneous musical number in Central Park. The one false note might be the somewhat perfunctory action climax, which feels a little out of tune with the rest of the movie. I will say, however, that one brief not-so-hot scene in the midst of a very enjoyable 1 hour 50 minute running time is something of a minor miracle, and a batting average that most family pictures would kill for.

One last thing to note is that (much like in the film Pleasantville) the characters from the animated world who get exposure to more complex ideas and feelings start to really expand as the film progresses. No one plays these subtle epiphanies better than Adams, who greets her on-screen encounters with vacant naiveté while working just enough subtle nuance into her performance to suggest wheels turning and revelations being made. It's tricky material to play and its success is imperative to the film ultimately earning its ending. Adams pulls it off expertly, and it is hard to imagine the other elements of the picture coming together nearly as well without her at the center of everything.

In the final stretch, Enchanted is not entirely able to hide that, while made with lightly subversive tongue-in-cheek care, it is still designed to fall within that most desired and universal genre of all; the profitable money-maker. I'm not a fan of the obligatory Carrie Underwood single that pops up toward the end, nor do I care for some of the more corporate touches, but in spite of the decisions that might have been made with marketing in mind, one has to admire that this is still a pretty good movie, full of charm and class. Family movies that the whole family might actually like are a rare and treasured thing these days, and when they come about as well as this one does, it's hard to sit in the theater and not feel a certain degree of enchantment.

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