Enchanted: Disney’s Romantic Comedy-Musical, Starring Amy Adams

Innovative in style and format, “Enchanted,” Disney’s enchanting film combines animation and live action in telling a classic-contemporary fairy tale in the vein of the studio’s time-honored tradition.
Blending fantasy and music, CG effects, hand-drawn animation and live action, what could have been a mishmash of a movie turns out to be a unique, unified and extremely enjoyable work due to inspired guidance of helmer Kevin Lima (the “animated” Tarzan”).

The romantic comedy-musical, which is penned by Bill Kelly, benefits immensely from the charismatic performance of the gifted Amy Adams, as a fairytale princes thrust upon modern-day New York City. Rest of the cast is also good, Patrick Dempsey, still better known for TV work (“Grey’s Anatomy”), as the single handsome father, and particularly Susan Sarandon as the evil queen, sort of Cruella de Vil for the New Millennium.

Drawing on the much-cherished narrative of “the fish-out-of-water,” the filmmakers have made a lively, energetic comedy that should satisfy both younger and older viewers, though the film may be a tad too subtle, sophisticated, and camp for children. It comes as no surprise that the scribe is Bill Kelly, since he has mixed past and present as time frames in his previous films, “Premonition,” with Sandra Bullock, and especially “Blast from the Past,” about a family (Sissy Spacek and Christopher Walken) that’s lived in underground shelters for decades.

When the saga begins in the land of Andalasia, it seems that Giselle (Adams) has everything she needs to become a perfect princessbeautiful countenance, good heart, a lovely singing voice, and even a gift to communicate with animals. Her big wish-surprise-is to meet the handsome prince of her dreams and share, as she says, true loves kiss. This comes true when Prince Edward (James Marsden, seen to an advantage this year in “Hairspray”) hears Giselle’s melodic soprano and falls-just like the rest of us-under her spell.

Plans are being made for a big wedding the very next day, but, unfortunately, Giselle falls under a different kind of spell of Queen Narissa (Sarandon), who will do anything to keep her away from the throne and son. As a result, Giselle is banished to a place as far away from this animated fairytale kingdom as one can get. She suddenly finds herself in New York City’s Time Square, a good inside joke, since the place is now dominated by various Disney enterprises.

Can a storybook view of romance survive in the “real” world When Giselles no-longer-animated Prince Edward, along with his servant Nathaniel (Brit Timothy Spall), and Giselles best friend and chipmunk Pip, arrive in New York to save her, the two worlds collide. Would her storybook view of romance and fantasy of happily every after survive in the hustle and bustle of contempo New York

What’s a girl to do in the foreign, unmagical place of modern-day Manhattan As luck would have it, damsel in distress Giselle meets handsome divorce lawyer Robert (Dempsey), a divorced man who raises by himself his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). There must be some obstacles in such romantic fare, and so Idina Menzel plays Nancy, Robert’s girlfriend about to be proposed. Truth to tell, the romantic angle is not one of the picture’s strongest suits, even when Giselle and Robert take center stage.

Unfolding as a fable, “Enchanted” is based on the premise of “What If… Placing a nave, innocent girl, that begins as an animated character, before becoming real-life heroine in a modern, harsh and cynical world may sound schematic on paper, but it doesnt feel this way on screen.

Essentially deconstructionist, Bill Kelly’s multi-layered script (which originated as a spec) does a good job at bringing up to date Disney’s familiar fairytale land, populated by past and more recent princesses, and smoothly segueing from hand-drawn animation into live action territory.

“Enchanted” begins in a typical animated world, as a can of condensed and compressed Disney world, with all studio’s icons presented in an opening sequence that runs no longer than 10-11 minutes. However, the film’s real plot kicks off, when the animated characters become actual people. Their transformation and the juxtaposition of their traits, prime among which is innocence versus cynicism–form the core of the story and its values.

Kevin Lima, who began his career as an animator and designer before becoming a director, draws on his rich background. Having helmed such diverse fare as “A Goofy Movie, 102 Dalmatians and Tarzan, he shows skills in playing with the classic sensibility of the text, both using and subverting the basic material. And while Lima holds the decades-long tradition with respect, he is not constrained by it with undue reverence, displaying a healthy dosage of irreverent humor and tongue-in-cheek innuendos that will be appreciated by mature viewers, who know the source material.

Varied reactions to “Enchanted” as a movie along age lines are expected in the funny scene (courtesy of visual effects maestro Blondel Aidoo), in which Giselle does what could be described a “Snow White cleanup” of Robert’s messy and dirty apartment, assisted by rats and pigeons, with roaches and bugs pouring out of a drain to scour the bathtub. While kids may cover one eye and groan with Ewus and Ichs, adults may be uttering Wows!

Also a plus is the film’s inclusion of good, melodic original songs from the reunited Disney vets team, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Of the half a dozen new songs, at least two will linger in memory and enter into movie lore. One is a Central Park sing-along about true love, “That’s How You Know,” the other is more of a spoof tuner, “Happy Working Song.”

Eventually, watching “Enchanted” may elicit the same varied pleasures as (re) experiencing Disney’s “Mary Poppins” or “West Side Story,” by which I don’t mean nostalgia but the kind of joy that old-fashioned musicals evoked in the pre-Vietnam War era. Comparisons to “Mary Poppins” are also encouraged by the central iconic character and her magical skills, the fact that she is played by a charming actress bound to be a star, and the potential of the musical to be related to on different levels, the serio-comic as well as the campy. As such, “Enchanted,” just like “Mary Poppins” should have long legs due to repeat theatrical viewing by niche audiences and even a longer life on DVD.

The acting is good across the board, from the fabulous Amy Adams, who emerges as a leading lady of the first rank after mostly playing second bananas, to Patrick Dempsey, so far known for his McDreamy in TV’s hit series Greys Anatomy, and sporadic big screen roles, such as Sweet Home Alabama opposite Reese Witherspoon, but has not had a viable movie career.

Supporting cast members James Marsden (Hairspray, Superman Returns), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and countless Mike Leigh’s dramas), Idina Menzel (Rent) as the dejected fiance, and last but not least, Susan Sarandon (Shall We Dance), who consciously camps up her role, all hit their high notes.

Speaking of Sarandon, whose part and over-the-top interpretation of it inevitably brings to mind Cruella de Vil, I still find it hard to accept the fact that this actress, one of the sexiest icons of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, is now resorted to playing secondary roles in mediocre features like “Alfie” or “Mr. Woodcock,” or slightly better ones, such as “In the Valley of Elah,” as Tommy Lee Jones’ wife, in which she has three or four scenes (two of which telephone conversations). But this is Hollywood, an industry where women of a certain age (Sarandon is 60), even if they are gorgeous, seldom get to play leading roles.

Technically, the successful mix of Manhattan gritty life and fairytale glimmer in “Enchanted” is the joint product of a large creative team that includes director of photography Don Burgess (who shot The Polar Express) and production designer Stuart Wurtzel (Charlottes Web). Editors Stephen A. Rotter and Gregory Perler make sure that the transition from one milieu to another is smooth and fun to watch. Costume designer Mona May is responsible for a colorful wardrobe that’s eye-catching without being too obtrusive.

All together, talent in front and behind the cameras is responsible for an enchanting experience that takes full advantage of New York City as a locale and of Disney’s classic heroines, adding one more to their growing inventory of singing femmes.

Cast

Giselle – Amy Adams
Robert Philip – Patrick Dempsey
Prince Edward – James Marsden
Nathaniel – Timothy Spall
Nancy Tremaine – Idina Menzel
Morgan Philip – Rachel Covey
Queen Narissa – Susan Sarandon
Narrator – Julie Andrews

Credits

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Barry Sonnenfeld/Josephson Entertainment production. Produced by Barry Josephson, Sonnenfeld. Executive producers, Chris Chase, Sunil Perkash, Ezra Swerdlow.
Directed by Kevin Lima. Screenplay, Bill Kelly.
Camera: Don Burgess.
Editors: Stephen A. Rotter, Gregory Perler.
Music, Alan Menken.
Songs: Menken, Stephen Schwartz.
Music supervisor: Dawn Soler.
Production designer: Stuart Wurtzel.
Art director: John Kasarda.
Set decorator: George DeTitta Jr.
Costume designer: Mona May.
Sound: Tod A. Maitland.
Sound designer: Randy Thom.
Visual effects supervisor: Thomas Schelesny.
Vsual effects, Tippett Studio.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 107 minutes.