Disney Studios, for all its transgenerational and multimedia magic, has never been known to have a great sense of humor about itself. It must be an awful corporate burden to carry the weight of "family entertainment" on its collective shoulders, and that has led Disney frequently down the path of sometimes portentous blandness, even under Walt's personal direction. How wonderfully refreshing it is then to see not only that vaunted Disney magic on full and abundant display in Enchanted, but to have it wrapped in an amazingly funny self-referential and, dare I say, hip package.
Part animated, part live action, Enchanted is a brilliantly realized parody of the Disneyfied "happily ever after" ethos, albeit glamorously clad in a princess' gown that is not afraid to, to quote one of its delicious Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz songs, "wear its heart on its sleeve." Following the familiar Disney trope of true prince and princess love thwarted by an Evil Queen, Enchanted ups the ante by having the Evil Queen transform the animated princess into a "real live girl" who finds herself lost and helpless on the mean streets of New York.
Amy Adams as the princess Giselle brings just the right amount of naïveté coupled with native spunk to her wide-eyed interpretation of a really, really nice woman-child finding herself surrounded by homeless thieves, and perhaps even more disturbingly, a divorce attorney equally winningly played by Patrick Dempsey. In a mismatched love story that is strangely reminiscent of another Disney release from years past (albeit by a subsidiary), Splash, these two people from literally different worlds soon find they have more in common than they might have imagined. Things become more complicated, as they are wont to do in fairy tales, when Giselle's animated Prince, Edward (James Marden in a strapping and frequently hilarious performance), chases her into the "real world" to rescue her, while Robert's girlfriend Nancy (whose brilliant idea was it to cast fiery Tony winner Idina Menzel in this non-singing role?) becomes understandably jealous when she finds a singing and dancing Princess keeping house with her beau. And then of course there's the Evil Queen, wonderfully voiced in the animated sequences and then later brought wickedly to naughty, naughty life by a lip-smacking Susan Sarandon, and her bumbling evil henchman Nathaniel, portrayed by Timothy Spall who is evidently working out some actorly karma, having first been the rat Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter, and now in this film spending most of his time torturing a hilarious CGI chipmunk named Pip (voiced by the film's director, Kevin Lima). And did I mention Robert's adorable daughter, superbly played by Rachel Covey? W.C. Fields would have shunned this film with a twenty foot pole, what with its surplus of animals and one completely lovable child.
It's hard to know who deserves the most accolades in this pitch-perfect exercise. Certainly writer Bill Kelly, who so effortlessly pays hommage to virtually every Disney classic, animated or not, frequently in throwaway visual references, deserves a Simba-share of the glory. Director Kevin Lima does a distinctly excellent job of focusing attention exactly where it needs to be at all times, also guiding uniformly vivacious performances from all of his leads. He also mounts three large set pieces, two of them the kind of musical epics we haven't seen this artfully staged in years, perhaps decades. The inventiveness of the entire film is augmented by some exciting visual ideas, especially in the finale, when both the real life and animated worlds segue back and forth into and out of pop-up storybooks. But I must reserve my special honor roll for Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, who outdo their previous work, both individually and collectively (though I, for one, found much of their Pocahontas trite, sorry to say). From the manic satire of "Happy Working Song" to the calypso flavored "That's How You Know" (reminiscent in its rhythm track, if not its harmony, of Menken's "Under the Sea") to the power ballad "So Close," these master songwriters manage to not only call up some classic Disney songs of the past but also write completely in a modern pop milieu that is at once supremely melodic and lyrically astute. Listen to how perfectly Menken especially evokes the choral palette of early Disney stalwart Leigh Harline in the opening animated sequence, whose animation itself harkens back to the halcyon days of Snow White.
Rumors of Disney's animation division's death circulate regularly every few years, even as its live action division treads on with sometimes pretty mediocre product. The somewhat surprising box office success of Enchanted proves that there's still plenty of magic left in the good old Magic Kingdom, if only the right magicians are hired to help make it happen.
A beautifully detailed 2.35:1 image, with deeply saturated color and excellent contrast, makes Enchanted's animated and live action sections equally glorious to behold.
The cracklingly good Dolby 5.1 soundtrack sports excellent separation and fidelity, though a couple of musical moments sounded a bit bass heavy to me.
There are some excellent extras on this one disc release (and how nice it is to have a nicely jam-packed single disc rather than the largely empty two disc "special editions" some films seem to need to release). There are three well-done featurettes showing how the three big set pieces of the film were done, a Carrie Underwood music video of "Ever Ever After" (about the only song in the score not nominated for an Oscar this year), six deleted scenes with introductions explaining the reasons for their deletion, and a pretty forgettable "pop up" adventure featuring Pip, the crazy lovable chipmunk. There are also the expected previews of other Disney fare.
Family entertainment is alive and well with Enchanted. Viewers will most definitely be happily ever after after having watched it. I'd give this a DVD Talk Collector Series recommendation if I were not positive that due to Disney's penchant to re-release multi-disc "special editions" of their product, another release of Enchanted with more content (and hopefully little or no filler) will no doubt be forthcoming sooner or later. In the meantime, however, this is most definitely higly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet