In what seems to be a growing trend, Enchanted is the latest entry into what should soon be called “The Great Fairy Tale Revolution of 07.” Like August Rush before it, Enchanted makes no bones about its pretensions. Unlike other tales, though, this one takes its heritage directly from the source, deconstructing the Disney classic paradigm so well that if Disney hadn’t put it out, they would have to sue.
But don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a parody. At no point is Enchanted ever mocking its lineage. Instead, it faithfully plays with every convention we have come to know and love from the genre. From the animated opening, where Giselle, a country girl in the perfect, going-to-be-a-princess someday role, sings about her “True Love’s Kiss” to the wicked step-mother and poison apples and a fancy ball with everything ending at midnight, there isn’t a fairy tale trope left untouched. Where things get changed up a bit happens about ten minutes in, when Giselle, who is about to marry Andalasia’s Prince Edward, gets pushed into a fairy-world fountain and ends up in a place where “happily ever after never happens” – New York City.
Now, Giselle is suddenly human (and played convincingly well by Amy Adams) but still a fairy princess in training. She still sees the world in the way we expect a princess to see it, as a land of endless possibilities and, yes, happily ever afters. Before Prince Edward can follow her through the fountain (and become James Marsdenin the process), she meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and her world begins to change. It seems like she’s Robert’s personal fairy godmother in that she needs to teach him all about the wonders of romantic love. She starts by getting the whole of Central Park to sing “That’s How You Know” along with her, in answer to Robert’s question of how you can tell you’ve found true love.
Well, sure there are some complications, and some bad guys, along the way. What kind of a film would this be if the heroes had no obstacles to overcome? But these obstacles are slight and the outcome is never in doubt. The film ends the way all fairy tales end – everyone who should be married, is, and the evil queen has been vanquished for all eternity. Sure, true love may not run completely straight, but in this post-modern world, that’s not a bad thing.
I’ve already mentioned Adams’ portrayal of Giselle as exemplary. She is joined by Marsden, who chews up the scenery completely in character. It would be disappointing if he were any less of a ham. These two are supported by Timothy Spall and an animated chipmunk as the sidekicks, Idina Menzel as Robert’s once upon a time fiancée and Susan Sarandon, who is delightfully evil, as the wicked step-mother.
Where the movie really excels, though, is in the cleverness of the behind the scenes teams. Written by Bill Kelly, whose recent track record of Premonition wasn’t promising, pulls out all the stops here. He is able to weave in a number of stories, myths, fables and legends seamlessly, without ever disturbing the narrative. In fact, he is often able to use them to his advantage to further his storyline. Director Kevin Lima, whose background is in animation, does a nice job with his cast, hiring animation voice actors for real life roles.
The biggest kudos, though, belong to Alan Menken. The musical genius behind the long string of Disney successes (from Little Mermaid through Hunchback) worked with lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Godspell,Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wicked) to create songs which echoed their Oscar winning counterparts. In fact, I’d be surprised if only one of the songs here was nominated come January.
Go see this now, in the theatres. You’re going to want to know what the next classic on your video shelf is going to be.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)