Monday, January 21, 2008

Review of Disney's "Enchanted"

In these modern days of Disney animation, who would have thought anything short of Pixar could save them. And word is that Pixar actually did collaberate with Disney on this film. Whatever the cause, the effect is stellar. All the right ingredients went into this film, and to complete the analogy, it was baked at just the right temperature.

ACTORS: Amy Adams perfectly captures what the Disney princess is all about, with her winning, sometimes-naive charm. James Marsdan finds no trouble portraying the handsome-heroic-and-knows-it Prince Edward, while Patrick Dempsey fits the bill of "everyday hero" quite well. Susan Sarandon also exemplifies the antagonist, sounding almost like Eleanor Audley, the classic Disney "evil villainess" voice (Evil Stepmother, Maleficent, etc). And you already know the gist of the plot; fairy tale princess gets sent to the real world and has culture shock times ten.

What really makes the movie so fantastic is the way those two worlds blend.

PLOT: Watching these characters step out of the far fields of fantasy and encounter the "real world" is simply magical, whether it be the exaggerated heroism of Prince Edward in stabbing the "metal monster" bus, or the tender bewilderment of Giselle at feeling anger for the first time. Yet, the blend is not one-sided. Going in, I assumed fantasy would be handled as the current trend in movies so often is - getting its butt kicked by reality to the refrain of a needle abruptly sliding off a record.

But instead, a little bit of pixie dust goes a long way, and the gilded gleam of fantasy holds steady against the culture shock of real life; even winning out in some cases. The mix (and transformations) are enchanting, showing it's not just the fantasy characters who need to "grow up"; fairy tales have something to teach us too. Just as the real world forces Giselle to undergo a maturation process without completely discarding her princessy ways, fantasy helps Robert learn to believe in love again, and brings out his humanity without leaving him in euphoric naiveté.

This isn't just fantasy meets reality. This is past meets present. This is the spirit of childhood meets the realities of being grown-up. And it's a stroke of genius to forge this connection. Disney clearly recognizes that times are changing, and that in contemporary cinema - and in the culture overall - the era of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty is all but gone. But instead of permitting parody (brought on largely by Dreamworks' "Shrek") to sweep fantasy away utterly, Disney blends the two together, to ease the transition and, hopefully, to preserve the past.

And the past is certainly worth preserving. I was impressed by the exhibitions of honor in the film. For example, When extending compassion to the rain-soaked princess, Robert allows her to come to his apartment. When she falls asleep on his couch, he reluctantly permits her to remain...and informs his daughter she'll be sleeping in his bed, to avoid the obvious implications of having a strange woman sleeping in his apartment. (Not all princes wear cloaks and carry swords.) Honor among men is not a quality oft-exhibited in modern cinema any more; it was practically a thrill to see it in Enchanted.

Likewise, the unselfishness of the main characters also stood out. When Prince Edward makes his debut, he seems first to be the self-obsessed narcisist reflected in parodies like Shrek 2 (IE, hair net under the helmet to preserve those golden curls.) But when it comes down to it, Edward sacrifices his own love for the happiness of the Giselle. When his kiss cannot break the spell, his desire to see Giselle saved overcomes every other thought, and he insists that Robert kiss her. Similarly, Nancy sacrifices what she thought was her dream, not just by permitting but by insisting that Robert kiss Giselle.

The movie works wonderfully for youngsters, with just a tinge of spook as all classic Disney movies have. But on a higher level, adults can identify too. Like the film, members of the Disney generation (or any generation) have had to grow out of their simple, ideal world and meet full-on all the joys and pains of the "real world." This movie is a wonderful melding the two.

MUSIC: The music too hearkens back to Disney's grander days. The smashing compositions of Alan Menken and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz (the two collaborated on The Hunchback of Notre Dame) are appropriately cheerful, perky or sentimental as the situation requires. Additionally, James Marsdan and Amy Adams do their own singing - and excel beautifully.

Watching this movie was like being reunited with an old friend whom you haven't seen in so long that you've nearly forgotten he exists. Let's admit it, most of us grew up on the Disney classics like Peter Pan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. And let's also admit that, while shades of those Disney memories existed in the sequels and prequels and threequels that Disney has been mass-producing (falsely believing that the characters were what made the classics so grand), it wasn't the same. But Enchanted represents a return to the glory days.

Thanks, Disney, for refreshing old memories and the chance to make some new ones.

Walt would be proud.

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At March 23, 2008 at 2:46:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Andrea said...

I love your review of Enchanted. I came across it by a search in google images. I completely loved the movie because it was like a reminder of the Disney classics that I wa raised on, like you said, and I just wanted to tell you that your review was wonderful.


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