It’s fair to say I’m probably not the target audience for the new Disney family film Enchanted. It’s also a safe bet that it was a bad idea sneaking in to see it right after my third viewing of the Coens’ great No Country For Old Men. The thing is, there is plenty of good buzz surrounding this movie. It has (as of this writing) a healthy Metacritic score of 75 and a stellar 93% at Rotten Tomatoes.
I’m not immune good family movies. Pixar of course is founded on them and their output ranges in quality from good to great. Though they’re beautifully animated, they succeed largely on story, character and execution. Unlike the Shrek movies for example, they appeal to all age groups without ever stooping to fart jokes for the kiddies or post-modern winking to keep adults from wanting to hang themselves. Even Monsters, Inc., the most cloyingly sweet and sentimental Pixar film, is a joy to watch (“Kitty!”). Ratatouille is one of the best movies of 2007, easily holding its own against more adult fair like Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the aforementioned No Country For Old Men. Pixar’s The Incredibles might be one of my favorite movies. Ever. You see, I don’t automatically discount family movies. Good is good. Unfortunately, bad is also bad. Enchanted is bad.
The story begins in the musical, animated land of Andalasia that has been cobbled together from bits of previous Disney classics like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Amy Adams provides the lovely voice of Giselle who is engaged to marry handsome Prince Edward voiced by James Marsden. Alas, Susan Sarandon’s evil queen Narissa has other ideas and she banishes Giselle to a place “where there are no happily ever afters” – real life Manhattan.
Once in the big bad city, Giselle (now played by Adams in the flesh) is rescued by single father/divorce lawyer Patrick Dempsey whose own daughter (a cute Rachel Covey) likes this new fairytale princess much better than the woman daddy is actually engaged to marry. You can see how this is going to work out: Dempsey’s fiancé gets jealous, Prince Edward shows up to save his beloved, chaos ensues, songs are sung and an irritating CGI spectacle demanded by nervous studio executives worried about short attention spans is thrown in. Ultimately, a bit of fairytale magic is introduced to Manhattan and a bit of Manhattan is injected into Andalasia, order is restored and everyone goes home happy…unless you’ve gone through puberty and haven’t yet been hypnotized by parenthood.
It’s not for lack of trying. Enchanted flaps its wings madly, but never quite gets off the ground. The first sign of trouble arrives right after the Disney logo with the opening animated Andalasian segment. It looks like a hastily scratched out afterthought. Disney’s nod to its own golden age is a mistake. It amounts to a complete betrayal of everything that made those earlier films great and is only a reminder of how lifeless Enchanted really is. 10 minutes into the movie, we’re already off on the wrong foot. It gets worse.
Once the story gets to Manhattan, the fairytale characters are all annoying and two-dimensional (no pun intended…ok maybe a little) while the ‘real’ characters are leftovers from a below average sitcom. Amy Adams and the rest of the cast do their best with very little, but it’s all for nothing. There has been some early talk about Adams getting an Oscar nomination for this. Nothing against Adams who I loved in Junebug, but no way. Sure, there never seem to be quite enough good female roles to fill out all of the Academy’s actress categories, but Adams through no fault of her own would be a stretch even in an off year.
On the bright side, Enchanted does occasionally offer a glimmer of redemption, enough at least to keep you from walking out of the theater and heading straight to the nearest bar or off a cliff. Upon waking up in Dempsey’s townhouse on her first morning in the big city, Giselle sings a tune out the window a la Snow White, but instead of bluebirds and bunnies and chipmunks rallying to her side to help her clean the place up, it’s rats, pigeons, flies and cockroaches. It’s gross, but funny and the whole sequence has a zest sadly lacking in the rest of the movie.
There’s another bit where a CGI chipmunk who has accompanied the prince to rescue Giselle finds he can’t talk in Manhattan like he can in Andalasia and he’s forced to act out an amusing pantomime to warn Giselle of the dangers facing her at the hands of the evil queen. It’s funny but lasts all of 5 minutes.
Finally, the big centerpiece, the Central Park musical number, shows some promise and threatens to make the movie a little bit interesting, but like the rest of Enchanted, it ultimately fails to completely engage. Part of the problem here and with the rest of the movie is that the songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are uniformly flat. I admit I found myself humming one of them later in the day, but it is now completely forgotten.
Had the songs and production numbers truly delivered, Enchanted could’ve easily been forgiven. Unfortunately, despite sporadic sparks of creativity, it doesn’t have so much as a pixel of the grace and charm that enlivens even the weakest Pixar film (Cars for those of you keeping score at home). It is a boring, dispiriting, soggy mess; the kind of family movie that makes people hate family movies.
I admit I’m probably in the minority of opinion on this. Conveniently released at the onset of the Christmas shopping season where everyone seems to have been lobotomized by repeated trips to the shopping mall to purchase the peace, love and joy so lacking in the rest of their lives, Enchanted will probably be a huge hit; the perfect narcotic to smooth over the parking lot jitters; the cinematic equivalent of Anton Chigurh’s cattle gun between the eyes.
“Hold still” shoppers.
Enchanted. USA 2007. Directed by Kevin Lima. Written by Bill Kelly. Music composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall and Susan Sarandon. 1 hour 48 minutes. Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo. 2 stars (out of 5)