2007 saw the emergence of Disney into new and uncharted territory. It was still a powerhouse in terms of producing above-average entertainment for the whole family, but in recent years it had seen sister studio Pixar steal a lot of its limelight for the first time. Pixar was just coming off the back of a number of massive studio hits – 2004’s Finding Nemo, 2005’s The Incredibles, and that year its own Ratatouille, while Disney’s own smaller projects (Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Meet the Robinsons) weren’t hitting the same heady heights that other Disney releases had previously seen.
However, Disney decided to address its past as a way of moving forward with the future, and as part of a retrospective of the company and how far it had come in its then 84-year history. The plan? To create a love letter and charming send up of its own steeped mythos, including the most Disney Princess to ever Disney Princess (although due to actor likeness issues, she remains excluded from the pantheon – it’s a full issue, treat us), some cracking modern tunes, and a thoroughly enjoyable Disney classic.
Enter stage right: Enchanted.
Enchanted sees the journey of archetypal Disney princess Giselle, a redheaded, eternally optimistic, bundle of singing exuberance both voiced and played in real action by multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who finds herself catapulted from her dreamy kingdom of Andalasia into the gritty-ish streets of Manhattan thanks to a curse at the hands of Susan Sarandon’s evil Queen Narissa.
From then, the film, directed by Disney old hand Kevin Lima (Tarzan), runs along some classic fish out of water beats as Giselle tries to find her feet in the new world, running into cynical lawyer Robert (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Patrick Dempsey in dreamboat mode) and his daughter Morgan, the former of whom is planning on proposing to girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel, then famous for Wicked, now as the voice of ‘Let It Go’). Add to this Giselle’s supposed true love, Edward, a well-meaning yet boisterious prince, fiancee to Giselle, and stepson to Narissa, played with game sincerity by James Marsden, and a love quadrangle soon evolves.
Fortunately the fledgling relationships are bolstered with other bigger stories that help drive the film towards a more action-packed climax; Sarandon’s Narissa, incensed that her curse merely transported Giselle rather than outright killing her, sends her feeble henchman Nathaniel there to do the job, leading to a scene-stealing MVP turn from Timothy Spall as the belittled and beleaguered sycophant to the Evil Queen.
There’s a quite a lot to love about Enchanted, once you accept its sincerity and its silliness at the same time. The switch from animated to live action as Giselle transitions through the portals between Andalasia and Manhattan is a joy, as is the decision to make it as a hand-drawn animation world in the first place, rather than going live-action for both; it makes the film immediately more interesting, particularly as we get hand-drawn versions of most of the live-action leads and not a distinct cut off between the two groups.
The performances are as authentic as they need to be for this particular brand of fairytale – Amy Adams adds another iconic character to her roster with Giselle’s kindhearted, sincere heroine, while Susan Sarandon’s hams it gloriously as the Evil Queen by way of Joan Crawford, all arch eyebrows and simpering sinister voice. Dempsey and Marsden are both fun and fit well too, the latter with more required from his performance as a prince-out-of-water required to entirely change his entire worldview and do so with pathos and impeccable comedic timing.
The musical set pieces are pretty joyous and memorable too, thanks in no small part to the work of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz on score (they behind Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas respectively); the effervescent ‘How Does She Know’ about Robert’s inability to outwardly show his affection for Nancy is accompanied with a dance mob converging in Central Park in rainbow hues, while ‘Happy Working Song’, a loving parody of Snow White’s domestic odes, has an army of CGI animals, including flotillas of cockroaches, pigeons, and rats, assisting Giselle in tidying up Robert and Morgan’s sloppy apartment.
It’s even great to the same tropes and cliches being recycled and twisted on their heads, so as to truly make it a modern homage and not a dated parody – Giselle and Nancy avoid any catty fighting over the same man, Nathaniel experiences a third-act redemption not unlike Josh Gad’s Lefou from this year, and when Narissa explodes onto the scene as the final boss fight, it’s Robert who ends up ensnared and Giselle who must go rescue him, armed with a sword in the rain, her softness tempered with steel.
At the end of the day, Enchanted is a beaming love letter to the films that came before it and allowed it to be both a knowing wink and a celebration. For better or worse, Disney films and their princesses and princes, songs and stories, and their legends and lore, have become so firmly entrenched in modern day pop culture that a film like Enchanted, one that nods to the tropes and then joyfully subverts them, not only deserved its critical and commercial success, the upcoming sequel Disenchanted looks set to be met with the same warm welcome.
Are you a fan of Enchanted? Let us know!