While it walks cautiously in the shadow of self-referential monstrosities like "Shrek," Disney's latest princess feature "Enchanted" is an amusing romp that plays more happily to the all-important four quadrant ideals than anything else the studio has released this past year. However, it's a charmer with severe reservations.
In the fairy tale land of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) is preparing for her wedding to Prince Edward (James Marsden), much to the chagrin of her soon-to-be stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). In an effort to remove the future princess from the picture, Narissa pushes Giselle down a fountain where she magically ends up in New York City. Offering help to the bewildered Giselle is lawyer Rob (Patrick Dempsey), who can't believe this unstoppably perky songstress is for real. When attempts by Narissa's henchmen (Timothy Spall) to kill Giselle fail, the Queen heads down the fountain herself to finish the job, while Edward traipses around the city with rodent pal Pip vowing to save his fiancée.
"Enchanted" marks a return of sorts to the 2D animation fold for the Disney company, choosing the opulent art form to illustrate the storybook life in Andalasia and cozy the material up to the legacy of princess movies. In fact, "Enchanted" is nothing but a valentine to the princess lifestyle; a full court press by the studio to find themselves a new glittering heroine in Giselle, using such devices as Julie Andrews's narration and cameos by the voices of past Disney royalty to make it a welcoming family affair.
Director Kevin Lima does a competent job pinpointing the fairy tale aesthetic for "Enchanted," jamming the film with talking animals, lavish costumes, and bouncy musical numbers. There are also a hundred references to other celebrated fantasies, most presented in an obvious fashion (single slippers, poisoned apples) so the audience can make a game of spotting the tributes. It's a relentlessly bubbly picture with at least two great songs (one, "That's How You Know," is an exhilaratingly choreographed showstopper) and a vibrant production design to please the eye.
Once the action heads to New York City and live-action photography begins, Lima finds rougher execution waters. Taking a cartoon out of the cartoon realm is always asking for trouble. Luckily for this movie there's Amy Adams, who simply owns the film as Giselle. It's one of those mesmerizing performances that keeps a mediocre movie afloat; a pitch-perfect effort that benefits from the actress's complete commitment to Giselle's sense of purity and wonder without ever winking at the camera. Her enthusiasm is phenomenal, even throwing off costars such as Dempsey who can only marvel at her energy. Giselle has the poise and kindness of a true Disney princess (along with great forest creature shorthand and a golden throat), but it's Adams who lends the role a heart bigger than the frame can contain. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not fall hopelessly in love with her performance.
"Enchanted" tap dances on the edge of the self-referential abyss, sporadically permitting itself a little merry awareness, but hardly loses itself to outright (and quite loathsome) satire. That is, until the end of the film, when Narissa begins to point out how the script is subverting storybook formula instead of allowing the audience the delight of discovery. I also wasn't thrilled with the use of bathroom humor throughout the picture; forever a crutch used by the fraidy-cat studio suits paranoid that kids won't respond to a joke unless there are feces or urine involved. The slumming greatly tarnishes the polish of the piece.
The anamorphic widescreen image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is gorgeous for a standard DVD, pumping up the colors without any distortion and keeping black levels stable throughout. Both animation and live-action sequences retain their big-screen sparkle, making the DVD experience a treat.
A crisp, full-bodied sonic experience is assured in either 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS offerings. Both tracks are rich with depth when the musical numbers come around, and the rest is a comforting sit of clear dialogue presentation and inventive sound effects.
"Fantasy Comes to Life" are three featurettes breaking down the "Enchanted" production experience. "Happy Working Song" (6 minutes) exposes the difficulty of working with live rats and pigeons while running through the demanding choreography the musical number required. Entailing less visual effects than you might think, it's interesting to see how this complicated section of the film made it to the finish line. "That's How You Know" (6 minutes) brings the problematical world of "Enchanted" out into the open in Central Park, where the centerpiece of the film was shot. Here, an army of dancers, singers, and street life were thrown together to capture some classic Disney musical magic. Finally, "A Blast at the Ball" (5 minutes) explores the obstacles involved in the creation of the film's finale, where visual effects meet live-action photography in highly intricate ways.
It's a short, fluffy peek at the production of "Enchanted," but there's some wonderful on-set footage that shows up now and again, making these three featurettes worth a look.
Bloopers (2 minutes) are included, and while it's a standard-issue mistake montage, there are few things more adorable than Amy Adams flubbing a line.
Six deleted scenes (8 minutes) are mainly comprised of sequences the film didn't need; pieces of fat that were trimmed for time and redundancy. They are viewable with introductions from director Kevin Lima.
"Pip's Predicament: A Pop-Up Adventure" (5 minutes) is aimed at younger "Enchanted" fans, following a new story with Pip in pop-up book form. A little too CG-slick, but the little ones will dig it.
Finally, no theatrical trailer for "Enchanted" is included, but looks at "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning," "Minute Men," "Jungle Book 2: Special Edition," "Hannah Montana: One in a Million," "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets," "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Tinker Bell" are presented.
Even served in small bites, "Enchanted" is too self-conscious to be a true return to "Classic Disney" standards, but it's their most entertaining family film in a very long time. A real surprise.
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