I have to admit that, despite the generally favorable buzz that surrounded Enchanted this past year, it remained relatively low on my radar screen. Though certainly lucrative, Disney's Princess brand of late has not reflected creatively sensibilities so much as marketing opportunities. Despite the film's many glowing reviews, as I entered the theater a small chip of cynicism remained ever present on my shoulder.
It was quickly knocked off.
Enchanted is a whimsical, happy, yet still smart and often rather sophisticated musical comedy. It is a homage to the Walt Disney Studio's long standing dynamic of fairy tale animation, and it makes no apologies for embracing that premise. The very clever transition at the beginning from the Studio's relatively new digitally-enhanced Castle-centric opening fanfare into the movie itself via a very nostalgic storybook introduction (complete with Julie Andrews narration), leaves no doubt that you have entered a Disney-inspired, and equally notable, Disney-celebrated, cinematic environment.
The film's animated segments were produced by James Baxter Animation, whose namesake's resume includes tours-of-duty at both Disney and Dreamworks. The animation remains very true to its forebears such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but injects a healthy dose or two of cartoon-based exaggeration to reflect the story's broader and more comedic approach to the archetypes, settings and themes presented.
Giselle, the movie's fish-out-water heroine and her ever faithful and determined Prince Edward most definitely epitomize Disney-based fairy tale models. Thrust into the reality of present day Manhattan by the evil machinations of Edward's stepmother Narissa, Giselle upends the life of divorce lawyer Robert Phillip and his young daughter Morgan, while awaiting rescue by her fair prince and unknowingly dodging attempts on her life by Narissa's misguided henchman Nathanial.
What emerges is a battle of romantic notions as Giselle's purities of heart and intent collide directly with Robert's cynicism and also his uninspired relationship with his girlfriend Nancy.
Amy Adams is simply a revelation as Giselle, portraying the character's naivety and goofy innocence as much through nuance and body language as through dialog and song. While fellow cast members, especially Patrick Dempsey as Robert and James Marsden as Edward, are equally deserving of accolades, Enchanted is clearly Adams' showcase, and no doubt her name will likely be appearing on numerous ballots this upcoming awards season.
While some have expressed disappointment in the Alan Mencken/Stephen Schwartz musical numbers, I myself found them a refreshing departure from the more Broadway-based stylings of the 1990s Disney storybook productions. The gentler approach taken with the Enchanted numbers reflects the more understated musical qualities of Disney's earlier era fairy tales, most especially Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
In fact, Enchanted's princess pedigree is more firmly rooted in those golden era classics than their later 20th century counterparts such as Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Giselle's undying optimism and romantic idealism feel more akin to Snow White and Cinderella than to Ariel, Belle or Jasmine. Similar to this year's earlier Meet the Robinsons, the film also has a very heartfelt and emotional resolution set to song. The sequence notably revisits the pop-up storybook design that opened the film, and then allows Disney Legend Julie Andrews to intone the concluding ". . . and they all lived happily ever after."
And much in the way that Meet the Robinsons created a distinct and very emotional connection to the creative philosophies of Walt Disney, Enchanted conveys similarly the very noble themes of love, hope and optimism that Walt attempted to infuse into all his efforts. By respecting those qualities rather than mocking them (as many recent animated films have done), director Kevin Lima has fashioned an experience that will likely become as evergreen as the original entertainment that inspired it.