There could be no better title for "Enchanted" than just that, encapsulating in a single word the feeling that audiences of every age will experience while watching it. The film, a purely magical cartoon/live-action hybrid buoyantly directed by Kevin Lima (1999's "Tarzan
") and imaginatively written by Bill Kelly (2007's "Premonition
"), features a central premise so ingenious and yet so simple that it's amazing Walt Disney Pictures has never before used it. Richly comic and yet unexpectedly touching, too, the studio that the Mouse built has crafted a family feature that should deservedly span and delight all demographics as it lovingly pays tribute to its animated library while also playing with those pictures' shared tried-and-true conventions. The outcome, sparkling and heartwarming in the best senses of the words, is a brand-new classic all its own.
In the animated land of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) is a sprightly young woman whose best friends are woodland creatures and whose dream of finding a prince is in the forefront of her mind. While attempting to escape the wrath of a giant troll, she falls from a tree and onto the horse of the dashing Prince Edward (James Marsden), who immediately proclaims, "We shall be married tomorrow." All is not peachy in Andalasia, however, as Edward's evil stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), suddenly finds her throne threatened if he takes a wife. Transforming herself into an old hag, Narissa lures Giselle away on her wedding day and pushes her into a vortex that sends her directly to the live-action real world of New York City"a place," Narissa says, "where there are no happily ever afters."
Finding herself trapped in surroundings that are at great odds with her innocent and naive fairy tale sensibilities, Giselle is taken in by divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a single father newly engaged to Nancy (Idina Menzel). As the naturally sunny Giselle struggles to adapt while waiting for her fiancé to rescue her, Prince Edward and Giselle's chipmunk sidekick, Pip, arrive in Manhattan in hot pursuit. The longer Giselle stays in New York, the more whole she becomes as a person, bonding with Robert as he teaches her that life and relationships are a lot more complicated than she has been led to believe. Meanwhile, more trouble is afoot. Attempting to reach Giselle before Edward does, Narissa sends henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) after her with the dastardly mission of giving her a poisoned apple.
A delectably witty fish-out-of-water story, "Enchanted" puts a smile on the viewer's face in the first scene and keeps it there for the duration of its super-fast 107 minutes. While the script could have been written with a sharper satirical edge and misses out on some fairly obvious gangbusters situations to put Giselle inwhere is the scene where she stumbles upon The Disney Store, or one where she comes in contact with the "Alice in Wonderland" statue in Central Park?the material cooked up is nonetheless vibrantly original and frequently hilarious. Lost and adrift in the Big Apple on her first night there, Giselle cluelessly sits down next to a homeless man and asks him to give her a kind word or, at the very least, a smile to cheer her up. When she sees a billboard with a castle on it, she climbs up onto the fire escape and knocks on its cardboard door. And when she runs into a small short-tempered man on the street, she assumes he is Grumpy.
The film continues these sorts of gags to optimal effect, blending the rough-and-tumble landscape of New York City with Giselle's gift for drawing out the whimsical. To tidy up Robert's messy apartment, she calls on the help of all the nearby animals, who turn out to be houseflies, rodents and cockroaches. Later, believing that a song is sometimes all it takes to lift a person's day, Giselle finally meets her match in the form of reggae musicians on the street, who help to turn one of her tunes into a full-blown musical number spanning the length of Central Park. All Robert can do is look on in amazement at a beautiful, unapologetically cheerful woman unlike any he has ever met before. By the time Prince Edward reaches his fair maiden, Giselle is a changed person herself, helpless to her newfound feelings for Robert and recognizing that she hardly knows this prince guy she has agreed to marry. Determined to make it workRobert, after all, already has a girlfriendshe suggests they go out on a date first. After a moment of thought, Edward earnestly queries, "What's a date?"
Two years ago, Amy Adams was nominated for an Academy Award for her unforgettable performance in 2005's "Junebug
." If there is any justice, she will be a two-time nominee in a few short months. Adams is glorious as Giselle, essaying a quintessential Disney heroine with a fresh twist. Her speech, facial expressions, mannerisms, and overall physicality and personality are like a true-blue animated character sprung to live-action life, and Adams achieves this without once going too far over-the-top or straining for a laugh. She is comedically gifted all on her own, but also earthy and sympathetic enough to pull off a second half that sees her slowly but surely turning into a multifaceted human being with a kaleidoscope of emotions. One particular scene where Giselle experiences the feeling of anger for the very first time is brilliantly performed by Adams with a truthfulness that breaks your heart.
As love interests Robert and Prince Edward, Patrick Dempsey (2007's "Freedom Writers
") gamely plays the straight man without seeming like a dullard and James Marsden (2007's "Hairspray
") is flawlessly cast as the hunky, sword-carrying, absent-minded cliché that all Disney princes are. Susan Sarandon (2007's "Mr. Woodcock
") chews the scenery as the maniacal Queen Narissa, her best moments being the ones where she turns herself into an old, three-toothed vagrant. And Idina Menzel (2005's "Rent
") makes the most of her screentime as Nancy, refreshingly written not as a shrew, but as a levelheaded individual smart enough to sense that Robert and Giselle are meant to be together.
Lusciously photographed by Don Burgess (2006's "Eight Below
") and sprinkled with lovely, wink-inducing original songs by veteran Disney and Broadway lyricists Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, "Enchanted" is sheer happiness personified. Not too juvenile for adults and not too objectionable for children, the film is a fantasy of overwhelming invention and a little danger, a comedy of genuine chuckles big and small, a love story of sweetness and depth, and a gentle coming-of-age fable where the central character does not grow up so much as she grows within. Most of all, the movie is entertaining in a big way, so much fun that the viewer hates to see it come to a close. In a holiday season of predominantly serious fare, "Enchanted" proves that a motion picture can be light and frothy and yet still be intelligent and emotionally rewarding. As unlikely as it may seem, this is one of the year's best and brightest films.