Sunday, June 14, 2009

Enchanted (2007)

The more I watch this movie, the more I fall in love with it. Enchanted begins as a typical, super twee animated Disney fairy tale. Giselle (Amy Adams) lives in a treehouse with a bunch of talking animals, constantly fixating on her dream husband. Prince Edward (James Marsden) roams around his kingdom hunting goblins with his sidekick Nathanial (Timothy Spall), encouraged by his Maleficent-esque step-mother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who hopes he'll be too busy to meet and marry a girl (thereby upseating her right to the throne for some reason). He hears Giselle singing about love (what else is ever on any girl's mind?) and rescues her from a troll, declaring "We shall be married at once!" three seconds after learning her name. Minutes before the wedding, Giselle is coerced by an old woman (like the one in Snow White) to look into a wishing well, and is consequently pushed in. She changes from animated to actual, and arrives terrified and confused in Times Square through a pot hole. Wandering around in a beyond-poofy wedding dress searching fruitlessly for the local castle, she luckily runs into Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a cynical single-parent divorce lawyer, and his daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). They take her to their apartment and she instantly falls asleep on the couch, waking up to notice the place's messy state and calling upon her animal friends (rats, bugs, pigeons, etc) to help her clean it up while she sings "a happy working song".

When Robert's new fiancee Nancy (Idina Menzel) shows up to take Moran to school, she's shocked to find Giselle in a bathrobe and stomps out. For the rest of the day Robert is sort of stuck with Giselle, who persistently alleges that her Prince Edward will be coming for her soon. He assumes she's a bit crazy, but can't bring himself to leave someone so naive and trusting alone in the city. They walk around Central Park to a grandiose self-aware musical number as she gives him advice on getting back with Nancy. He tries to explain that marrying someone one day after meeting him/her is not really a good basis for a relationship. Meanwhile Edward has come up through the pot hole to find her, slashing away at "dragon" buses and proclaiming majestically his own perfect attributes. Nathanial, who is secretly working for Narissa, follows him with three poison apples meant to kill the future bride. When Edward and Giselle meet up again, Narissa takes it upon herself to enter our world, holding Robert as hostage and forcing Giselle to take serious action. For the first time in her life, she gets to do the heroic rescue.

Armed with a killer premise, Enchanted is romantic, adventurous, and incredibly funny, taking sharp aim at the fairy tale archetypes Disney has consistently employed in most of its previous films. The painfully sweet girl who talks to animals and is good at cleaning, always a victim, always talking about love; the self-confident prince who falls for the first pretty girl he sees and doesn't really understand what it's like for a lady to have a personality; the sniveling, easily-manipulated side kick; the jealous step-mother inexplicably imbued with magical powers (magic=evil I guess, unless it's the controlling-animals kind): all are turned on their heads (well, except the villain, I suppose) when they are dumped into our all-too-real and scary live-action world. Giselle learns that it's actually good to have, you know, a conversation or two with a person before you determine if you love them. The prince gets knocked down a peg or two. The servant stands up for himself. And a woman saves the man from the fire-breathing dragon. (Can you believe it? A lady saving a man? Holy equal-opportunity, Batman!)

Aside from its excellent satirical qualities, this movie gets me with its wry humor and impressive performances. The self-aware singing is hilarious: Patrick Dempsey is all, "you guys know this song, too? I've never heard this song!" Amy Adams is amazing as Giselle, propelling forward with gleeful innocence and light-fingered grace. Her genuine wonder and eagerness
make her easily likable, and her gradual transformation and awakening of independence are perfectly portrayed. That scene in which she feels anger for the first time and it kind of turns her on? Daaaang. Also I have to mention James Marsden's spot-on performance. My god, he is so perfect in this role. He commits himself wholly to this over-the-top, laughably self-absorbed persona yet somehow remains sympathetic. His august and bombastic way of speaking on any subject combined with excellent comedic timing really create the quintessential princely parody, reminiscent of Sondheim's narcissistic princes from Into the Woods. His inquisitive and confused delivery of "Think-ing?" in itself deserves an award.

The main thing that frustrates me about this film is Idina Menzel's character, Nancy. She just seems incredibly flat, especially compared to everyone else. She throws the word "romantic" around left and right, and it seems unlikely that someone who does that would be up for marrying a cynic like Robert, who often scoffs at Giselle's "love-dovey version" of love. And (*Spoiler Alert*) the way she runs off and marries the prince at the end seems to defeat the whole point of Giselle learning about true love and having an actual basis to a relationship. I understand they wanted to give everyone a happy ending, and she wasn't a major character so there's no time to devote a real resolution to her I guess, but it's bothered me every time I've seen the movie. However, I like to think that the way she grabs Edward and kisses him is supposed to hint at a more egalitarian relationship? Like he won't be in control of everything, as he would in a typical fairy tale ending? Maybe? Also putting Idina in a movie with musical numbers and not having her sing seems a bit criminal.

Otherwise, great job, everyone! Disney has effectively pnwnd most of its own movies. Maybe now we can take the next step: a story in which there's a woman who does stuff for herself and isn't a princess. And also maybe doesn't have to get married in the end. But that's too much of a stretch, I guess- unless of course our heroine wants to get together with another lady (gasp) in which case marriage is naturally out of the question. I guess we can all sit back and see what ways they find to mess up The Princess and the Frog before watching more wonderful Pixar movies without any female leads (though this might be a good start).

4.5/5

Honestly this is probably one of my favorite musical sequences in a film. It just fulfills all those fantasies I have about one day having my life turn into a full-blown, sing-along musical.


"Happy Working Song" mp3

2 comments:

  1. Totally agree. Though I'd really like to see more Idina Menzel in movies, in general.

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  2. Totally didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did - I dare say it's Disney's best Pixar-free offering in years!

    Couldn't agree with you more about the waste of Idina Menzel. Putting her in a musical and not letting her sing a note seems like a complete waste of talent.

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