Kevin Lima’s delightful fantasy ENCHANTED is, simply put, the surprise of the year. Sometimes when you least expect it, a movie can sneak up on you and win you over when you’re least expecting it. That’s what happened to me with this wonderful family film from Disney. As much of a movie for adults as it is for kids, the fanciful tone, excellent mix of animated and live action photography, and revelatory performance from the radiant Amy Adams all add up to one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year. Bill Kelly’s funny, knowing screenplay pays homage and takes its cues from a litany of Disney classics (CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, SNOW WHITE, and THE LITTLE MERMAID are all slyly referenced) and Lima’s surprisingly steady directorial hand never lets all of the action spin out of control, even when the ending piles on one too many flights of fancy. Still, aside from some minor quibbles, this is the sort of film that only a person with a cold, cold heart couldn’t enjoy. And for all you men out there—if you think I’ve lost it, recommending a PG-rated Disney film, you really only need one reason to see this film, and that’s its lead actress. While your significant other will be smiling with delight with the musical numbers and outright charm, you’ll be crushing hard on Adams, who gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the film’s heroine.
The set-up is simple: a beautiful animated princess named Giselle (Adams) has found her prince charming, the typically dashing Edward (a terrific James Marsden). Trouble is, Edwards witch of a mother, Queen Narissa (the elegantly evil Susan Sarandon), doesn’t want her son to marry Giselle. So, she pushes Giselle down a well and sends her to a place where “happiness doesn’t exist.” That place turns out to be New York City. Circa 2007. The once animated Giselle pops up through a sewer grate in the middle of Times Square and realizes that she’s now a real person. A princess in a strange world, a true fish-out-of-water. Edward follows his love down the well and the prince finds himself in the middle of the city as well, looking for Giselle, who has happened upon a divorce attorney (ha-ha) named Robert (a bland but solid Patrick Dempsey) and his adorable daughter Morgan (the cute Rachel Covey). Their meet-cute is one of the best scenes in the film; Morgan, positive that she’s in the company of a real princess, sees Giselle hanging from a billboard of a castle (she thinks she’s found her palace), and from there, the movie never takes off and never looks back once. Trouble is coming though, as the evil queen heads to the big apple to get her son back, and to put an end to Giselle once and for all. And by the end of the film, Giselle will have to decide for herself which man in her life is her real knight in shining armor.
The movie opens (and closes) in animated form, and during the film’s live action middle-section, a parade of animated or digitally rendered characters surround Giselle in seamless fashion. There are a number of musical scenes in ENCHANTED; one of the film’s best sequences showcases Adams (who does all of her own signing and who has a lovely voice) cleaning up Robert’s messy apartment with the help of various animals and critters. The lyrics to her song are funny and sweet, and all of the musical numbers are reminiscent of bits from some of the great Disney classics. Borrowing from other stranger-in-a-strange-land movies such as SPLASH and ELF, the naïve and childish sensibility of Giselle is expertly handled by Adams, who is just beyond cute for the entire picture. And at the film’s climax, which takes place at (of course) a big costume ball/party, she makes the full transition to real-life princess with beauty and class. This movie wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is without the many charms of an actress like Adams; this is a big, robust performance that ranks with the best of the year, male or female. Comedies have long been considered to be a tough genre to garner award buzz for; it will be a crime if Adams’ delicious comedic performance is ignored by the Academy. And Marsden is sensational as the square-jawed prince who bounds around the city looking for his princess; the unbridled enthusiasm that he brings to his role is infectious. He should be considered for a best supporting actor nomination.
ENCHANTED almost goes over the top in the last 20 minutes with the arrival of a fire breathing dragon and certain characters dangling from building ledges, but Lima’s solid direction keeps the film moving at a clip. Kelly’s script is consistently engaging and is always respectful to the films that are being referenced. The visuals are lush and colorful (the talented cinematographer Don Burgess is behind the camera) and the film’s overall energy is pulsating and vibrant. This was not a film that I expected to love as much as I did, but every once in a while, there’s a film that works in ways you never expected. ENCHANTED is one of those films. It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s one of the most enjoyable. You’ll walk out smiling, singing, and in love with the irresistible Amy Adams.