Although I had heard good things about Enchanted, I didn’t have high expectations, since some of the good things I had heard came from 3- and 6-year-old girls.
Surprisingly, it’s good, even for adults. It has a clever premise uncheapened by cop-outs or contrivances. It is charming, funny, and refreshing. It manages to be bright-eyed, naive, and optimistic without being ironic or forced.
Once Upon a Time...
PG for scary images, innuendo
Enchanted opens in Andalasia which looks surprisingly like a 2-D Disney “Princess” cartoon. The heroine, Giselle (Amy Adams), sings a song where she pines for True Love’s Kiss. With her perfect, idealistic voice she summons bluebirds, fawns, and chipmunks to help do her chores. Elsewhere in the kingdom there’s a noble prince slaying a giant, snot-green ogre. There’s also a wicked queen bent on foiling heroic plans. The gimmick is introduced ten minutes later when the queen pushes our heroine into a magical well that comes out upside-down under a manhole in 3-dimensional, real-life New York City.
The best twenty minutes are Giselle’s first hours in the Big Apple. Her golly-gee innocence and ridiculous layer-cake dress make her a freak in the city. Luckily it’s New York where a little freakishness is tolerated. Even luckier, she runs into Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney who has enough pity for the mentally ill that he takes Giselle under his care long enough — he assumes — to get her on the nearest bus or taxi or airplane back to the Midwest where she probably came from.
As funny as it is to watch her flounder, it’s also a mildly thoughtful lens through which to see modern city life. Stuff we take for granted — thieves, leering men, divorce — really is kinda dirty when viewed through the innocent eyes we all want our children to have.
Perhaps the funniest scenes illustrate that Giselle really does have some magical power, even in our world. To clean Robert’s apartment, she kicks off her working song, summoning all of the “woodland” creatures that are available in New York City, if you can picture that. And when she tries to explain the power of true love’s kiss to Robert as they stroll through central park, she wins over all the buskers and musicians she passes, escalating her song into a gigantic production number on a sunny springtime New York afternoon.
Happy Endings and Otherwise
But the fish-out-of-water story turns into a run-away-from-the-villain story for the second act, which isn’t as fresh or funny. Her Prince Charming (“Edward,” actually) comes through the manhole, followed closely by the evil queen’s toady Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) and one of Andalasia’s talking chipmunks.
And as for the finale, well, there’s no perfect way to end such a film. A typical fairy tale ending is what’s called for, and that’s what we get. But the needs of the plot give the happy ending an unintended wrongness. The Little Mermaid had to return to the sea where her human lover could not join her because they were from different worlds. Try as Disney might, there’s no good way to bridge the two worlds. In New York, Giselle is sexless, annoying, and probably mentally ill. A divorce attorney who tried to start a relationship with such a woman would be — and should be — disbarred and locked up. In fact, one of the repeated culture-clash jokes is that it’s impossible for men to see her as a romantic figure, at least in our Kingdom.
But at the end, the movie sweeps past all that in its rush to unite the gentle (conveniently single) daddy and his precious daughter with the fairy tale princesses. It’s best to just ignore the problems and let yourself get won over by the exuberant, musical, multiple happy endings. Best not to think what might happen with the mismatched couple after their relationship matures a little more.
Enchanted caught me by surprise with its good heart, its self-referential game-playing, and its clever gimmick that allows, in our post-ironic era, big-production musical numbers in Central Park. Not bad for a “Princess” movie.