Everything's bubble gum fine in cartoonland...
...but nothing makes sense anymore in hardcore NYC.
For those of us who grew up on a steady saccharine diet of Disney romances, Disney's own Enchanted is a fun tongue-in-cheek parody/tribute to that genre of cartoon princesses and talking forest animals. What we feared would be a one-joke pony - see how silly a Disney princess is in the real world? - turned out to be both sweetly charming and shockingly funny. As Manohla Dargis notes in her New York Times review, the "curse of Prince Charming" is still present - that is, the dangerously simplified view of love that we indoctrinate little Disney fans with, the one that teaches you things like "love at first sight exists and then lasts forever". But the genuine critiquing of its own cultural dogma, coupled with some surprising and blunt gender reversals as well as some really funny moments, makes this film smart, earnest and entertaining. Its careful mix of irony and authenticity really works.
Beginning in the typical Disney scenario of an idyllic forest, a cartoon Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) is preparing for the arrival of her "one, true love", the plastic and shiny Prince Edward (James Marsden). Yet Edward's evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) is bent on thwarting Giselle and Edward's marriage. She sends Giselle tumbling down a magic well which lands her in the middle of Times Square. Edward soon follows, bringing a talking chipmunk in tow (who, funnily, loses his ability to talk in the real world). The queen sends his minion, the sycophantic Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), to ensure that Edward does not find Giselle.
Our skepticism melted away during this scene and we just had to glee, "Best movie evarrr!"
Now even in New York, city of strangeness, Giselle sticks out. People laugh and point. A homeless old man steals her tiara. So after a single father, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and his daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), help her, Giselle basically insinuates herself into their apartment. While initially baffled by Giselle's happy-go-lucky cartoon attitude and tendency to break out into song, Robert slowly finds himself more and more charmed. And Giselle realizes that maybe her initial Edwardian sense of love wasn't really so real-feeling, after all. You can probably guess the dennouement. Well, Patrick's hot!
One of the best things in this film is the emphasis of how different reality is from films, especially Disney ones. When the evil stepmother sends Giselle plummeting to a Manhattan sewer, she declares she's sending her to a place where "there are no happily ever afters!" Indeed, the real world is painted in harsh strokes of cynicism. And the thing that separates Giselle most from the hardcore New Yorkers is her inability to register sarcasm, irony or negativity - the three life-sources for those people (OK, we'll lay off New Yorkers... hey, we love New York!). She is almost supernaturally cheerful, and Amy Adams does a wonderful job of infusing this Mary Poppins-esque joie de vivre with, well, Julie Andrews-esque naturalness. That is, Adams never lets Giselle become a caricature, even though she literally is one. Instead, Giselle is very real, just at the extreme Happy end of the human scale. The scene in the pizzeria where Robert shows her a little parlor trick is a perfect example of how genuine and endearing her naive good humor is. And Patrick Dempsey's laughter at seeing her awe is also pitch perfect: the glee is infectious!
The fact that the film then ends on a "happily ever after" could be seen as undermining this whole "We realize we sell fantasies" vibe, but we'd say this film is all about meeting at the happy middle. When Giselle meets Robert, he's at the extreme end of rational, no-nonsense, real worldness. He works as a divorce lawyer, he is inhibited with his long-time girlfriend, and he insists on treating his six-year-old daughter like a little adult. In one fun sequence, he gifts his daughter an academic-style book on the great women of our times (bonus point for gender relations). The girl is understandably disappointed, and when he explains that she should have some "grown-up girl bonding time" with her new potential stepmother, the girl says flatly, "I'm only six." Clearly this man could use a little childlike wonder and Disney magic.
Another strength of this film is the comedy. There are many very funny details, showing us that even though Pixar remains the god of balancing comedy for adults in films for children, Disney is not so far behind anymore. Manohla Dargis already noted the first song - Mary Poppins-esque indeed! - and we agree that it is very, very surreal and funny. That city pigeon with one leg, OMG! Our favorite line, however, is when Prince Edward, after sticking his sword through a bus, leaps in and declares, "The steel beast is dead, peasants! I've set you all free!"
The film also has some really blunt and great Girl Power moments.
And we're happy to say these moments are all followed through. That is, the girls really do save the boys in the end.
This movie really belongs to Amy Adams. She is so hilariously lovable, making the farfetched romance between her and Robert seem at once sweetly real and touching. Also, her physical comedy is amazing - from her trademark Disney mannerisms to her wide-eyed doofus look to the bit when she spits out a live fish - and she makes the movie. James Marsden puts in a more superficial but similarly funny performance as the airhead Prince Edward. We've seen him now as Blandie McCyclops in X-Men and Snivel McLame in The Alibi, so we were already semi-impressed with his variety. In Enchanted, he delivers a very fun, bubble gum performance, and it's a great send up of his own pretty boy looks. Patrick Dempsey is... sigh. We used to have such a crush on Patrick Dempsey back in middle school. Perhaps for that reason - the last time we saw him was, uh, 1995? - his boyish good looks have a touch of weary age to them. This works great with his whole real world, ex-Prince Charming appeal.
James Marsden is hilarious as Edward.
And he juxtaposes well against the world-weary hotness of Patrick Dempsey. Though, you know, some lotion and cucumbers would take care of that world-weariness.
A call to the internet: Internet, please help us. Ever since Patrick Dempsey became famous with Gray's Anatomy, we've been thinking this was merely the "Patrick Dempsey comeback". But then, discussing with a friend as we watched this film, the friend said, "Well, what was he coming back from? He wasn't famous before, was he?" And the PPCC went, "Yes! He was in, uh..."
Wasn't he in the Brat Pack? Are we imagining things? We swear Patrick was, like, fundamental to our adolescence and yet, for the life of this blog, we cannot remember any iconic teen movie he was in. Have we dropped into an alternative universe?
The happy, beautiful finish. This scene also inspired four young men to join in and revel in the Patrick Dempsey Dance.