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Monday, December 3, 2007


If Across the Universe was a home run, Disney's new Enchanted hits it out of the park. I saw it for the second time on Friday, and I liked it even better. Enchanted takes the prize for favorite movie of the year.

You'd think they'd have done this a long time ago. Enchanted is a parody of every Walt Disney fairy-tale movie ever made, and all of the sweet, scrubby-dubby-clean, romantic assumptions that go with them. The central idea is to bring those assumptions into the Real World and see how they work. (Answer: Not consistently, and that's the essential charm of the picture!) Nothing should be so big that it can't take a little good-natured teasing. Enchanted gives the entire body of Disney cinema a right and proper ribbing, and it's all the better that it's an inside job. What could be more just than Disney poking fun at Disney? And yet, the true genius of Enchantment is that as soon as Disney has punctured and deconstructed everything that it stands for, it then reinflates and rebuilds it right before your eyes and makes you love it all over again.

You know how Disney animated fairy tales work. (Even the modern, "hip" ones like my two favorites, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.) You know the belief in the power of true love, the presence of magic in the characters' lives, the quasi-European pre-industrial storybook settings, the endearing animal characters and the cruel, grotesque, reprehensible villains, the triumph of good over evil, and the inevitable happily-ever-after. Oh, and the songs that live with you forever. You know all that. Well, Enchanted has all of that--but for the first couple of acts of this picture, it's all presented with as much loving irony as pure affection. I mean, really, much of this flick is as interested in pulling your leg as it is in tugging at your heartstrings. Consider the opening number, "True Love's Kiss," in which we meet our plucky and oh-so-romantic heroine, Giselle (Amy Adams, first in voice during the animated sequences, later in person). This gal is all the Disney heroines from Snow White to Ariel rolled into one person. Our opening song has her rhapsodizing about the love of her dreams--and the kiss by which she'll know him--to an admiring entourage of forest animals. (One of them, a chipmunk named Pip, will follow her into Reality and become the requisite Greek chorus for the picture.) You just know the filmmakers are whispering in your ear, "This is how all those Disney flicks are, right?" I mean, it's a beautiful song, but the way it's presented, you can practically feel the writer, composer, lyricist, and director poking you in the ribs. It's incredibly gorgeous and romantic as all get-out--but it's funny! You'll get the wink and the nudge, but it will do its job just the same. Once you've been totally charmed by "Love's First Kiss," the Disney folks will have you right where they want you for the next hour and a half.

"True Love's Kiss" also introduces us to our hero--or one of them, anyway. And it's here that the genius of this picture takes on another layer. Disney animated fairy tales have a history of heroes who make you wish you could see them rendered in flesh and blood rather than ink and paint. Think of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid and the grown-up Prince after the spell is broken in Beauty and the Beast. You really want to see how these guys would look in the three-dimensional world of living matter. They are, to put it frankly, cartoon hunks. Prince Edward in Enchanted is the latest in that line--and this time the film will give us our wish, for as soon as we're out of the cartoon kingdom of Andalasia, Edward will become James Marsden (Cyclops from The X-Men) in body as well as voice.

Edward is as funny a character as Giselle. He's not exactly the brightest Prince to come out of the Mouse Factory. The most charitable way I can describe him is to say the sharpest thing about him is his sword. And that's what makes him so much fun. His cartoon dimness is in direct proportion to Giselle's cartoon sweetness. (Now, it's not that Disney Princes are necessarily the smartest characters anyway. My favorite is Prince Eric [voice of Christopher Daniel Barnes], whose initial reaction to the Little Mermaid is to get aroused by her...voice. I'm sure this is a very common occurrence: A straight guy sees some beautiful young woman and his first thought is, Whoa, check out the larynx on that babe! Yes, this happens all the time.) Anyway, the premise here is that Edward's stepmother, Queen Nerissa (voiced and later played by Susan Sarandon) will lose her throne if Edward marries, which gives her a vested interest in getting rid of Giselle when Edward brings her home. So she does what any self-respecting evil queen/sorceress in a Disney movie would do: She magically morphs into an old crone and bamboozles the girl into thinking she must make a wish into a well before she weds her beloved. Before Giselle knows what's happening, she's been hurled down the well into another universe, in which Nerissa gloats that happy endings don't exist!

Giselle's trip down the well transforms her bodily into Amy Adams, who appears out of a manhole in a sprinkling of fairy dust into...Times Square! It's here, after a series of misadventures, that she meets our other hero, a princely lawyer named Robert (Patrick Dempsey). Except that he's even more gorgeous, Robert couldn't be more different from Edward. Robert is actually intelligent. He is also broken-hearted and cynical, a single father raising his little daughter Morgan by himself (his wife left him) as he practices...divorce law! It is Robert, at his daughter's behest, who takes in the strange woman he finds wandering around the Bowery in a wedding dress that's part Mother Goose and part Gone With the Wind, and wonders why she carries on as if she's just "escaped from a Hallmark Card". And it's here that the fun really starts.

The sound of banging on glass that you hear during the next sequence is Uncle Walt pounding on his cryogenic tube in reaction to Giselle's "Happy Working Song"--a wickedly gleeful subversion of "Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to Work We Go" and "Whistle While You Work" from Snow White. And that thudding you feel in your lap during this part will be your lower jaw dropping as Giselle cleans up Robert's apartment while singing a merry tune with her helpers--the pigeons, rats, and roaches of Manhattan! No, really! The first time I saw Enchanted, I sat gaping in disbelief; the second time I was cracking up. I didn't see a lot of movies this year, but I can't imagine a scene more perversely funny than this. And this is only the first thing Giselle has in store for Robert; she soon has him spinning though a series of tableux in Central Park, where her song "That's How You Know" (which reminds us of "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid) has everyone in sight dancing and falling in love. It's one of those huge centerpiece-of-the-show production numbers, and it's done in the grandest style--much to the embarrassed Robert's chagrin.

However, after "That's How You Know," the film takes a 90-degree turn as the Real World starts to work its own magic on our lost would-be Princess. Bewildered by the experience of having an argument with Robert after he tells her there's no such thing as a Prince Edward (and doesn't he feel dumb when Edward finally shows up the next morning--the Prince has a funny journey of his own down the well and through New York in search of Giselle), Giselle gradually starts to change into a thoughtful and grounded young woman whose desire for love is just as real but not as...well...Disneyfied. By the time Edward catches up with her, she has started to become too "Real" to return his feelings. She can't even sing her emotions any more; her "duet" with the still-singing Edward intruded upon by Reality, she is forced to feel instead of sing. Which brings us to the Ball.

Yes, there is a charity ball being given in Manhattan, with a theme of Kings and Queens, to which Edward escorts Giselle while Robert brings his pragmatic fiancee, Nancy (Idina Menzel). In the midst of all this, a subplot has been brewing in which Nerissa plots Giselle's death by poisoned apple (the murder weapon of choice for evil Disney women, lacking a spinning wheel with a poisoned needle), and after a couple of failures by proxy she finally takes matters into her own hands and appears physically in Manhattan. (Susan Sarandon is magnificent in this part, and her costume should win an Oscar.) You should be able to guess the ending to all this as soon as Edward and Giselle and Robert and Nancy all arrive together at the Ball, and this is not a bad thing. Disney movies are renowned for making you not care about the predictability of their endings because getting there is so much fun. The ballroom sequence is truly a wonder. The song, "So Close" by Jon McLaughlin, is a masterpiece, and this is the part that turns the romance of the picture--the one you knew was going to be there, between Giselle and Robert--from a sweet, beautiful cartoon into a sweet, beautiful, aching reality. You'll feel as if you're right there on the dance floor with them. The romantic longing in a Disney movie always makes your heart ache sweetly (think again of The Little Mermaid), and Enchanted makes it just as effective in flesh as in drawings.

Well, anyway, Giselle's heart breaks as she prepares to return to Andalasia with Edward, leaving Robert to a future with Nancy that will be only superficially fulfilling. This is when Nerissa, back in old-crone mode, crashes the party and feeds Giselle the last of the poisoned apples. I don't need to tell you how the last act of the picture unfurls; if you've seen Snow White and Sleeping Beauty you can do the math for yourself. (Complete with the wicked stepmother morphing into a dragon.) But here's where Enchanted pulls its last ingenious twist on Disney canon, and it's the one you saw coming at the beginning of the Ball. Giselle gets to stay in the Real World and marry Robert, while Edward leaves not empty handed, but with Nancy! Yep, instead of ending up jilted, the pragmatic modern woman chucks it all to live happily ever after with a Prince in a cartoon kingdom, and Giselle gets Dr. McDreamy for a husband and the chance to be a Mom to little Morgan. To paraphrase "The Cage/The Menagerie" from Star Trek, Nancy has a cartoon and Giselle has reality. May each one find her way as pleasant.

If you've guessed that I have the soundtrack for Enchanted and have been listening to it over and over for days, and that I'm going to latch onto the DVD the minute it's released, you're right on the money. This is without question my favorite Walt Disney picture since Beauty and the Beast (another film that I will love with my last breath). From start to finish, it is pure loveliness. Enchanted will wrap itself around your heart and make it melt. Score another one for the Mouse Factory.


  1. I am most defintely going to see that. if my kids are good this week i will let them come to.

  2. You and they will love it, Edward!


  3. I stumbled upon Enchanted accidentally -- it's a long story involving a Tagalog-language film and indecision -- but I guess it didn't ... um ... enchant me quite as it did you. I thought the first two acts were great; the initial "fish out of water" sequences were funny (and the cleaning scene was BRILLIANT), but by the third act I was over it.

    Glad you seem to have been overwhelmed though ... ;)