Relentlessly optimistic, “Enchanted” surprisingly works as it intends – a cute family comedy that’s perfectly safe for even the tots to attend. Buoyed by a sense of respectful self-parody and a truly superb turn by Amy Adams who never lets her fairy princess facade drop for even a moment, it works for the most part.
Yet whilst the kids will be enthralled by Gisele and the magical goings on, parents may find themselves twiddling their thumbs at times through the slow patches. “Enchanted” is an enjoyable ride throughout its runtime, but that subversive and truly clever sense of wit that underlines the efforts of Pixar and Disney’s top-drawer animated efforts is limited here – most of it restricted to the generic sounding but cleverly co-ordinated musical numbers and the odd well-timed slapstick pratfall or visual gag.
“Enchanted” sets up the story in an animated world where an evil Queen (Susan Sarandon) wants her son (James Marsden) not to marry, and when a beautiful princess named Gisele (Amy Adams) comes along to threaten that – the Queen casts her down a well – one connected to a manhole in the real human world of New York City’s Times Square. Soon the Prince, his chipmunk friend, his manservant (Timothy Spall) who is a double agent for the Queen, and her majesty herself follow to try and find her, whilst she has become a hanger-on to a flustered single father divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who thinks she’s escaped from a madhouse but gradually comes around.
It’s a solid concept, Disney gets to exploit a live-action and animated mix along with its own solid history of fairy princess tales. Yet the meandering plot fails to properly exploit either that premise or the comedic value of such a setup, instead hitting all the predictable marks and playing it so safe that much of the true potential for inventiveness let alone originality has been wrung out of the script.
The good news is that it means a lot of tot-aimed toilet humor is missing – no fart jokes in sight. The bad news is there’s no subversive adult gags as well – pop-culture references and off-colour sexual innuendo is gone meaning the ‘strongly moral’ crowd will adore this, and it will age better, but the more cynical real world adults won’t be so keen for a return trip. It also means that only scant moments of genuine cleverness make it through – such as Gisele’s rat & roach-led housecleaning musical number – and they’re easily the film’s high points.
It’s other big strength is its cast from Adams unflinchingly sweet and loveable personality to Marsden’s big-toothed goofy smiles and comic ability. Dempsey and Idina Menzel as the Earthly humans of the tale are stuck with the dullest roles but make do with them what they can, whilst Sarandon seems bored chewing the scenery in her few minutes of screen time. Its Adams and Marsden’s commitment and unabashed enjoyment of their roles though that helps overcome much of the sheer credibility issues that the setup obviously generates but never questions.
“Enchanted” ultimately serves as one of the better recent family comedies that the Mouse House has delivered (the woeful “Herbie: Fully Loaded or “The Game Plan” anyone?). Throughout the 60’s and 70’s the studio made a name for itself in this genre with films like “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” “That Darn Cat,” “Freaky Friday” and “The Love Bug” which still work beautifully today. If they can keep up or better yet improve on the standard presented in “Enchanted,” the studio might just be able to kick off its second renaissance.