Review: Enchanted

While it walks cautiously in the shadow of self-referential monstrosities like "Shrek," Disney's latest princess feature "Enchanted" (IMDb listing) is an amusing romp that plays more happily to the all-important four quadrant ideals than anything else the studio has released this year. However, it's a charmer with severe reservations.

In the fairy tale land of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) is preparing for her wedding to Prince Edward (James Marsden), much to the chagrin of her soon-to-be stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). In an effort to remove the future princess from the picture, Narissa pushes Giselle down a fountain where she magically ends up in New York City. Offering help to the bewildered Giselle is lawyer Rob (Patrick Dempsey), who can't believe this unstoppably perky songstress is for real. When attempts by Narissa's henchmen (Timothy Spall) to kill Giselle fail, the Queen heads down the fountain herself to finish the job, while Edward traipses around the city with a rodent pal vowing to save his fiancée.

"Enchanted" marks a return of sorts to the 2D animation fold for the Disney company, choosing the opulent art form to illustrate the storybook life in Andalasia and cozy the material up to the legacy of princess movies. In fact, "Enchanted" is nothing but a valentine to the princess lifestyle; a full court press by the studio to find themselves a new glittering heroine in Giselle, using such devices as Julie Andrews' narration and cameos by the voices of past Disney royalty to make it a welcoming family affair.

Director Kevin Lima does a competent job pinpointing the fairy tale aesthetic for "Enchanted," jamming the film with talking animals, lavish costumes, and bouncy musical numbers. There are also a hundred references to other celebrated fantasies, most presented in an obvious fashion (single slippers, poisoned apples) so the audience can make a game of spotting the tributes. It's a relentlessly bubbly picture with at least two great songs (one, "That's How You Know," is an exhilaratingly choreographed showstopper) and a vibrant production design to please the eye.

Once the action heads to New York City, and live-action photography begins, Lima finds rougher execution waters. Taking a cartoon out of the cartoon realm is always asking for trouble. Luckily for this movie, there's Amy Adams, who simply *owns* the film as Giselle. It's one of those mesmerizing performances that keeps a mediocre movie afloat; a pitch-perfect effort that benefits from the actress' complete commitment to Giselle's sense of purity and wonder without ever winking at the camera. Her enthusiasm is phenomenal, even throwing off costars such as Dempsey who can only marvel at her energy. Giselle has the poise and kindness of a true Disney princess (along with great forest creature shorthand and a golden throat), but it's Adams who lends the role a heart bigger than the frame can contain. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not fall hopelessly in love with her performance.

"Enchanted" tap dances on the edge of the self-referential abyss, sporadically permitting itself a little merry awareness, but hardly loses itself to outright (and quite loathsome) satire. That is, until the end of the film, when Narissa begins to point out how the script is subverting storybook formula instead of allowing the audience the delight of discovery. I also wasn't thrilled with the use of bathroom humor throughout the picture; forever a crutch used by the fraidy-cat studio suits paranoid that kids won't respond to a joke unless there are feces or urine involved. The slumming greatly tarnishes the polish of the piece.

Even served in small bites, "Enchanted" is too self-conscious to be a true return to "Classic Disney" standards, but it's their most entertaining family film in a long time. A real surprise.

Filmfodder Grade: B