Poisoned Apples in the Big Apple
Enchanted / Agent Bedhead
Film Reviews | December 15, 2007 | Comments ()
Enchanted is a pleasant surprise of a children’s film that carries the so-called spirit of the season. Directed by Kevin Lima (Tarzan, 102 Dalmations), the film uses a clever script penned by Bill Kelly (Blast from the Past) that edges into social commentary. Enchanted harbors a deconstructionist attitude that playfully engages in some reversal of gender roles and indulges in a self-parody of the Disney genre itself.
The film’s first 12 minutes are animated in the classic hand-drawn, 2-D old school Disney fashion. The animated heroine, Gisele (Amy Adams), strongly resembles Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Like all of the animated Disney heroines, Gisele has the ability to communicate with animals. Gisele lives in Andalasia and is a typical Disney princess with no visible traits other than beauty and vainglorious hope that her Prince Charming is out there somewhere. Prince Edward (James Marsden) hears her singing one day and happens to catch her after she falls from a tree. This is, of course, love at first sight, and the two decide to marry on the next day. However, the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) wants to rule the kingdom alone, so she tosses Gisele and her fucking hoop skirt down the magic well. The Queen’s intentions are for Gisele to arrive in a place where “there are no happy endings.”
At the bottom of the well, the naive Gisele follows a manhole that leads to the (Disneyfied) Times Square in live-action Manhattan. The endearing Amy Adams embodies her formerly-animated character with fluttering grace as she struggles to avoid vehicles that are much smaller than her dress. The displaced would-be Princess ends up rain-soaked and knocking on the castle door of a billboard. Then, the disenchanted Robert Philip (Patrick “Dr. McDreamy” Dempsey) notices Gisele’s plight. As a divorce lawyer that specializes in dissolving mythical “happily ever after” unions, Robert mistakes Gisele for an errant mental patient. McJaded’s daughter, 6-year-old Morgan (Rachel Covey), persuades Robert to let Gisele sleep on the couch, and, naturally, Robert’s girlfriend, Nancy (the underused Idina Menzel), assumes the worst when she discovers Gisele’s presence. Meanwhile, Prince Edward dives into the magic well to rescue his bride. Edward is followed by his henchman, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and a chipmunk named Pip, who does most of the dirty work of rescuing the hopeful Princess. Throughout the film, various sugar-encrusted Disney allusions appear, including poisoned apples, midnight transformations, magic mirrors, glass slippers, and a restaurant called Bella Notte (Lady and the Tramp). Even the film’s fleeting and ephemeral Narrator (Julie Andrews) reminds the audience that, ultimately, this is a fairy-tale story. These reminders ground the film in a way that pays homage to the Disney catalog while gently batting it around.
While many characters appear throughout the story, the film’s obvious focus is on actress Amy Adams as the leading lady. Her unaffected Gisele interacts marvelously with the big city in a way that makes this an enthralling duo of sorts. The filmmakers do a fabulous job of presenting a visitor’s perspective of Manhattan by contrasting the city’s street-level grittiness with the splendor of Central Park. As the film goes on, Gisele becomes accustomed to the strangeness of reality, and she becomes far less annoying as she gradually begins to develop emotions other than her ubiquitous cheeriness. The CGI effects are minimal and primarily used to provide Giselle with animal helpers. However, the final act of the film descends into computer-generated madness once the Queen’s inevitable arrival in Manhattan. Younger children may be frightened of the Queen’s ghastly appearance in these final scenes, and parents should also be aware of some mild sexual innuendo involving Prince Edward and a vibrating bed. Speaking of the Prince, James Marsden carries one hell of a presence and impeccable comic timing. His Prince, who speaks without a trace of irony, is so dim that it would take the entire Manhattan power supply to light his bulb. As the single father and romantic rival, McDreamballs does OK, but his character doesn’t require much other than acting like a jaded doorstand. Basically, he’s there to row the boat and learn from Gisele as she blossoms into her own personality.
In comparison to the Disney catalog of Princesses, mermaids, and the like, Giselle is something of a renegade in her self-awareness.Throughout the latter half of the film, her vacuous disposition lessens as she realizes her corporeal body. When Gisele experiences anger for the first time, she realizes her physicality, and through a subtle move by the filmmakers, Gisele happens to notice that McWhatshisname’s chest hair is ever-so-slightly visible at the top of his bathrobe. Thus, the typical Disney Princess achieves the ironic self-awareness often associated with postmodernist pieces of art. While these developments are unusual in the context of a Disney story, this film is hardly revolutionary in its animated deconstruction of a preexisting hierarchy. After all, Shrek and The Incredibles use extensive meta references (e.g. pop culture gags) as a concession to the parents who have to sit through these films. The problem with all this postmodernist bullshit is that, well, postmodernism is pretty much dead as a school of thought, and that all these groundbreaking revelations are pretty much old news. Enchanted may appear unorthodox in comparison to what we expect from Disney films, but I still think that it could have gone further. Perhaps the male characters could have moved past being either complete idiots or sheepishly jaded, and the jilted and jealous pre-existing girlfriend character is a well-worn cliché that should be retired. Still, Enchanted provides a slightly different version of “happily ever after” than we’re used to, and it provides the happy ending that children in the audience need to feel, well, satisfied. And as we all know, satisfied children drag their parents back to the movies for the next Disney film. Otherwise, Disney would have pressed the self-destruction button as far as its vast array of Princesses are concerned. So, in the end, the formulaic happy ending wins and Disney remains Disney. Still, Enchanted displays just enough cunning self-awareness within the Disney genre to make the film work as a successful family film.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can found destroying her prom dress at agentbedhead.com.
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