Enchanted (2007)

After Shrek came out in 2001, the Disney Animation Renaissance was decidedly over. If Fantasia 2000 was the pulse check, Dinosaur was the pulled plug, and The Emperor’s New Groove was the Time of Death report, Shrek was the funeral. (Morbid metaphor, I know, but please just bear with me.). The not-so-jolly green giant was the first major CGI-animated film not made by Pixar to rival Disney’s box office grosses (It didn’t help that it was the first-ever recipient of the recently established Best Animated Feature Oscar), and was the product of the studio that was established by a very jaded, very bitter ex-Disney executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg. What helped pave the way even more was the track record of Disney animation through the nineties.

When The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were released in ’89 and ’91, they were heralded as masterpieces, since it had been decades since any good quality Disney animated feature had been released, and various tropes of the classic fairy tales were starting to get challenged. For example, the princesses weren’t passive objects waiting for marriage, but now active participants with agency. But by the time Pocahontas came out in 1995, audiences were getting a bit burnt out. Suddenly the formula of young princesses and heroes on journeys of self-identity interspersed with comic sidekicks and a plethora of songs were getting redundant, no matter whether the story took place in Virginia, France, Greece, China, or Africa. Suddenly the animated princess musicals based on pre-established properties with millions in merchandising sales were a punchline.

Then in came Shrek, like a hurricane, a wrecking ball, and a bolt of lightning all at once. And in addition to being CGI and a box office and critical hit, it also upset the status quo by snarking on the established Disney tropes of the previous decade with pop culture references, blue humor, and downright mocking fairy tale/Disney precedents.

So… let’s imagine we’re Disney. Shrek just wrecked our self-esteem. Our shift to computer animation from hand-drawn was controversial at best. Shrek 2 in 2004 proved the Disney-lampooning franchise was going to stick around. Attempts to diversify animation content has been hit-and miss. Maybe it’s best to just try to be good sports and make a self-referential, good-natured jest of traditional Disney clichés.

Enter Disney’s Enchanted.

Find your fresh, fancy fairy fables, my fine friends! Let’s do this!

The plot: In the animated fairy tale realm of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) meets Prince Edward (James Marsden), and they’re ready to be wed within hours. However, Edward’s stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) is not happy with this prospect. Posing as a harmless old woman, Narissa shoves the starry-eyed damsel into a world where “there are no Happily Ever Afters”, read: modern day, live action New York City.

Giselle, disoriented, confused, and scared, meets divorce lawyer and single father Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter, Morgan. As Robert’s life starts to get turned upside-down by the sugary-sweet fairy tale princess, he finds himself both annoyed and intrigued by Giselle’s naïveté and optimism. Meanwhile, Edward has pursued Giselle to New York and is trying to find her, while the queen’s manservant, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), is trying to throw him off at every turn while trying to dispose of Giselle to win the queen’s respect.

How’s the writing?: To parody is to exaggerate features for comic effect. To homage is honor publicly. The problem is Enchanted wants to be both and it just can’t. Not that there isn’t room for subtlety and/or nuance, but it’s a super-tricky tightrope that isn’t traversed easily, and I don’t think it is here.

There are plenty of moments of self-parody. The aspects that get lampooned as traditional and old-fashioned: the immediate marriage, love at first sight, the doe-eyed, passive princess…they’re seen as foolish and backward. These would be fine, except Disney’s come such a long way since the days of Walt and the fifties’ ideals. It’s not relevant anymore. It’s as though Disney hadn’t made the strides they did over the past two decades. It’s like mocking a drunkard for being drunk when they’ve been sober for a year. And even if director Kevin Lima wanted to step it up to Shrek levels of snark, the jokes are too softballed to have any real punch or bite.

But could it be regarded as a love letter or just an homage to Disney animation, warts and all? I’m afraid the answer is no. And it’s because the framing betrays it as such. Every time Giselle causes a disruption in Robert’s life, they’re featured as either comedy or all-out conflict. The vermin cleaning the apartment, her staying with him overnight, even sabotaging a case at his legal firm all are issues she induces, unintentionally or no. In the end, yes, she does much more good than harm, but the comedic focus and general arc in the plot is her struggling to contemplate how to navigate the real world and its societal norms. I don’t care about the Banks couple reuniting, I just remember the awkward encounter they had with Giselle that resulted in her crying. I get the apartment’s clean, but I just remember Robert flipping out about all the rats, roaches, and pigeons in his home. This results in a movie showing how much Giselle – and by extension, Andalasia – doesn’t belong in our modern world.

So is it a movie that challenges archaic traditions in animated fairy tales and rebuffs them? Yes. Is it also a movie that wants to show us how dreams can still come true and magic can happen? Yes. But the movie continually loses that focus, making the message muddied and confused.

Does it give the feels?: It’s probably best to approach this movie as a romantic comedy rather than a Disney animated fairy tale. Once you’re in that mindset, you can get invested in Giselle and Robert’s struggles, but not by much.

See, what makes it weird is that there isn’t much romantic chemistry between Giselle and Robert. It’s not the actors, because how they execute their scripts are great. But the movie just teases a romantic, even sexual attraction between them. Even when the ever-popular “true love’s kiss” rears its head, it still doesn’t feel like they are a romantic couple. Maybe it’s the fact they aren’t young kids, maybe it’s the fact they have both been in previous relationships, or maybe it’s the lack of general romantic chemistry written for them, it’s hard to get invested.

Prince Edward is too dim to be invested in his struggles, Nathaniel’s moments of self-reflection feel disingenuous, and Pip just comes off too obnoxious to empathize with as he struggles to communicate with Edward. Even when the dramatic tension flares when Giselle bites into the apple, the cinematography would rather show off the trick effect of an apple bouncing toward Robert’s boot than what happened to Giselle.

Who makes it worth it?: Even though I was not terribly interested in Giselle as a character in the story, Amy Adams magnificently pulled off the personality of an adorable princess from Walt’s era without becoming abrasive, cloying, or saccharine. I even like the line where she regards anger as something she’s only heard of, further cementing the detached reality of a girl from a universe that’s 2D in more ways than one.

Sadly, though, because Giselle’s animated visage is a caricature of Adams, Disney has to pay royalties if they ever continue to use her image. That’s why, you may be wondering, Giselle is not featured in Disney’s princess franchise. Sorry, Ralph Wrecks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2!

Best quality provided: I do like the songs, specifically “That’s How you Know” and “Happy Working Song”. But the way the former is shot is incredible. The cast used every resource available to showcase just how diverse, weird, eclectic, and beautiful Central Park can be. Multiple musical styles from Reggae to mariachi are incorporated, and it feels genuinely exuberant and communal.

I should also mention “Happy Working Song”, “That’s How You Know” and “So Close”, all written by Alan Menken, were nominated for Best Original Song in 2008. All three lost to “Falling Slowly” from Once.

What could have been improved: Have you ever watched a movie so bad or so forgettable, you’re pretty sure the whole thing was made for only one scene? For example, I’m pretty sure Napoleon Dynamite was made just so Jon Heder could show off his dance moves. Also, I’m pretty sure this movie was made so it could stuff as many references to Disney as possible. Among the Easter eggs are:

  • The pizza restaurant is called “Bella Notte”, a nod to the love song from Lady and the Tramp.
  • Three Disney princess voice actresses have cameos: Judy Kuhn (Singing voice of Pocahontas) is the pregnant mother, Paige O’Hara (Belle) is on a soap opera in the hotel, and Jodi Benson (Ariel) is Robert’s secretary, Sam.
  • Speaking of Sam, Robert’s last name is Phillip. In Sleeping Beauty, Prince Phillip’s horse is Samson.
  • A news reporter is named “Mary Ilene Caselotti” named after Adriana Caselotti (Voice of Snow White), Ilene Woods (Voice of Cinderella), and Mary Costa (Voice of Aurora)
  • At one point, Giselle holds up two jewels, and her refracting eyes are similar to what Dopey did in Snow White.
  • Nancy (Robert’s girlfriend and future queen of Arendelle, Idina Menzel) has the last name Tremaine. That’s the surname of Cinderella’s stepfamily.
  • Robert’s law firm is named for the three songwriters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • There are even references to movies that hadn’t even come out yet then (Not including having Idina Menzel). Both The Princess and the Frog and Tangled get blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods.

There are plenty more, but my point is it gets super distracting. The intertextuality can easily jar non-Disney fans when Caselotti pauses before the next scene cut. We Disnerds are supposed to have a moment to giggle and rib the person next to us, but it’s a wink that threatens Joe Moviegoer’s suspension of disbelief.

Also, I know the aughts weren’t exactly a great decade for LGBTQ rights, but some of the jokes here REALLY don’t age well. The discomforting pause when Nathaniel says he’s looking for a prince, and the guy who creepily grins at Edward…they’re just two jokes, but they are cheap shots of male homosexuality, lazy punchlines for us heteros to laugh condescendingly at. But hey, it’s not like we get to see Pip the chipmunk take crap on screen!…wait, that actually happened? Ugh…

Verdict: If it seems like I’m being needlessly critical, I’m not ungrateful for this movie. It gave the world Amy Adams on a large scale (Though after Man of Steel, I await to see her shine as radiantly again), and despite the clearly clumsy attempt at self-parody, I think Lima and company meant well, even if they couldn’t go all the way in mocking Disney. I award Enchanted six poison apples out of ten.

By the way, here’s the real punchline: Shrek the Third, often considered the most despised of the Shrek franchise, came out the same year. While their Rotten Tomatoes score sits at 41%, Enchanted has a 93%. Who’s laughing now?

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: