Saturday, 17 May 2014

From the archive: "Enchanted"

The year's surprise holiday hit, Disney's Enchanted, has a certain novelty on its side. It begins as two-dimensional animation of the kind no-one appears to be doing anymore, not while there are whizzy computer programs to be tinkering with. Giselle is a wide-eyed princess in a magical kingdom, where - in time-honoured Disney tradition - a coterie of cuter-than-cute animals (doves, chipmunks, bunnies) attend to her every call. Her quest to find true love with a hunky prince is rudely interrupted when a wicked stepmother banishes her to "a place where there are no happily-ever-afters": real world, live-action New York, circa 2007. The prince passes through the same portal to try and bring Giselle (now played by Amy Adams) back, but he turns out to be altogether clueless in flesh-and-blood form, and besides, the princess has already fallen into another's arms: those of a thoroughly practical, soon-to-be-married divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey), who's trying to ween his young daughter off fairytales, and whose first assessment of Giselle is as follows: "A seriously confused woman."

The obvious inspiration would be DreamWorks' Shrek franchise, which similarly assembled fairytale elements in order to poke fun at them. As a Disney production, Enchanted is naturally rather keener to preserve the magic and come through with those happy-ever-afters: it knows the only wildlife available to a princess in latter-day New York would be rats, pigeons and cockroaches, but that doesn't stop our heroine from breaking into a Mary Poppins-style tidying-up song alongside them. There's effective villainy from Susan Sarandon as the wicked stepmom and Timothy Spall as her sidekick, and Dempsey makes for a workable Prince Charming. The breakthrough star, however, is the delightfully spacey Adams, who was so wonderful in her supporting role in last year's Junebug, and is only marginally less so in a lead role here.

Not only does Adams manage to more or less seamlessly coordinate her motions and gestures with those of the cartoon Giselle, she also seems to understand how the character's innate Snow White mannerisms - the girlish effusions, the batting of lashes, the tendency to burst into song in public - might well be read as signs of mental disturbance in any non-picturebook world, and it's from this disparity that Enchanted gains its biggest laughs. I suspect you'll need an exceptionally sweet tooth for some of it - one musical number in Central Park does very much resemble another commercial for one of Disney's theme parks - and it's doubtless cornier than it seems while you're watching; a late makeover montage offers some decidedly unmagical product-placement to boot. But it's a strong festive option, loaded with great charm where Bee Movie has great gags, and The Golden Compass has nothing very much at all.

(December 2007)

Enchanted screens on BBC1 tonight at 5.05pm.

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