Enchanted is a very problematic film. The zenith of everything Disney has done in the past century is all right here – it is the quintessential Disney movie. Singing animals, talking animals, good-natured princes, stupid lackeys, evil queens, moron princesses are all accounted for, modernized, sleek, and polished to a magic mirror sheen, overflowing with staggering Broadway charisma. It’s a huge, expensive-looking production with a short prologue of the gorgeous animation Disney used to be known for.The twist: the animated critters wind up in real-life New York and mingle with real people. Hardly reaching the stratospheric politicizing of the similarly-premised Fables comics, Enchanted offers hints of intelligence and the obligatory Shrek-esque winks at how silly the animated-real-life merge is, but the message at the end is the same as it’s been since Snow White: girls, be cute, be dumb, attract a rich guy, marry him then stay home. The highly-recommended Fables is all about how there is no happily ever for our favorite fantasy characters. Life is a never-ending a struggle where you divorce, lose your home and lose your faith.
Enchanted, at its best, suggests that too. The main character Robert (Patrick Dempsey) is a down-to-earth divorce court attorney with a young daughter, Morgan, to take care of and a fiancee, Nancy (Wicked‘s Idina Menzel). When Robert comes across Princess Giselle (Amy Adams), recently transported from her animated kingdom (she lives in the Disney castle logo), he’s baffled by her naivety though curious how this girl could be so dumb, er, cute. Instead of turning her into the nearest asylum he brings her home for the night upon the blue-faced request of his snot-nosed spawn who so desperately wants a a fanciful, dopey mommy and not the grown-up professional working woman Nancy is. Eventually Giselle’s betrothed, Prince Edward (Cyclops) shows up in our world, followed by his dumpy sidekick (Timothy Spall, popping up everywhere these days) who is really the turncoat lackey of the evil Queen, hammed up to cloying new heights by Susan Sarandon. Oh, and there’s a CG-animated chipmunk named Pip.
The majority of Robert’s and Giselle’s time together is Robert telling her how the real world works (it sucks) and Giselle reminding him that romance and whimsy is the answer to everything. Housework needs to be done? Sing a happy little working song! Wife wants to leave you? Tell her beautiful she is! Life got you down? Dance a little jig! She has a bright-eyed answer or over-produced song number for every problem there is and Enchanted‘s tongue seems to be planted in its cheek at first until Robert abandons reason and actually starts falling for her toothache-inducing madness. Who can blame him? Amy Adams (remember her as the Southern girl with braces in Catch Me If You Can?) fucking sells the swill she’s spinning. She’s adorable, can reach those high notes and most importantly, she has amazing fashion sense! Even more important, she’s just the kind of mommy Morgan wants!
Now, Morgan. She’s the real villain of the movie. She seems destined to grow up an idiot, the type of irrational consumer whore an adolescence raised on Disney oversaturation ensures. Her introduction has her rejecting a birthday gift from her own dad: a book about important women in history. Sure, maybe daddy should’ve bought something more her speed – a Troll doll for instance – but it’s a disturbing move that rang several warning bells in my head. It’s a blatant anti-intellectual declaration: Rosa Parks and Madam Curie ain’t got shit on Princess Ariel and Princess Jasmine.
In what could’ve been an interesting turn, it’s Giselle who has the book in a later scene because she’s learning all about the real world and its customs – dating for example (Robert explains “It’s when you go out and discuss your likes and dislikes!”), as opposed to falling in love and marrying the same day. But the book is quickly tossed aside once more and any hint of Giselle’s characterization is illusory at best. No, she instills the best values in little Morgan – the crazy girls, desperate for new clothes for an upcoming costume ball (in Manhattan?), nab Robert’s credit card and go on a lavish shopping spree, complete with chewy pop song montage. There’s no scene of Robert discovering their purchases but at that point he’s so convinced by Giselle’s romantic whimsy I’d imagine he pats their heads and gives a little a whistle instead of hacking them apart like the out-of-control broomsticks they are.
The sexism is rampant and the plot is a cheat. The couples effectively swap partners at the end with disturbing haste – Nancy, despite Prince Edward’s abundant idiocy, falls for his spiel because his words of love “lack a hint of irony.” Nevermind the prince probably hasn’t a clue what irony is. It’s all very idealized and child-like – one of the final shots is Robert, Giselle and Morgan happily prancing about the apartment in a bizarre trance-like state – but there’s a dark feeling about the whole thing that’s unshakable. The movie clearly prefers fantasy and romance and things that are impossible to fulfill or achieve so when it’s over and you’re back in the real world and you realize Central Park doesn’t explode into song and dance in real life … it just feels depressing. It’s just “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if things really were like this.” It’s glitzy, empty-headed escapism at its grossest height.
That said, it kills me to admit it was pretty entertaining. The Disney references were fun to catch, Amy Adams is cute and charming, the animation and CG is actually impressive, and The Happy Working Song is pretty infectious. For a “feel good” family film it’s decent but fairly deceiving – okay, it’s fucking deceiving – but I suppose that’s what Disney does best.
Also, the chipmunk poops.