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Enchanted’ casts a spell on moviegoers

Analise Lipari | Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If someone asked the creative minds at Disney to come up with an amalgam of their animated movies, it would have to be called something like, “The Great Mulan-Ella and the Beast.” Or maybe “Fantasia Pan, Aladdin and Bambi in Wonderland.” Or something else to that effect.

And as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” would say, the plot would need to have “Far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!” Over-the-top scenery, crazy costuming, villains and heroes of legend or lore would be good suggestions, if not absolutely required.

Thankfully for children and inner-children everywhere, Disney has gone ahead and made its own version of the ultimate animated movie merger with its sweet, self-skewering new film “Enchanted.” To its credit, “Enchanted” takes the tropes and clichés of Disney animated films and lets them run head-on into the cynicism of reality. The film’s good humor about Disney stereotypes and postmodern twists feel genuine without being too self-deprecating.

The film opens with an animated sequence in Andalasia, the mythical home of young maiden Giselle (Amy Adams, “Junebug”), Prince Edward (James Marsden, “Hairspray”) and an evil stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). Giselle and Edward long for true love’s first kiss, and once they meet a grand wedding is immediately planned; that is, if Narissa has anything to say about it. Dabbling in wizardry and black magic like most animated Disney step-parents, Narissa pushes Giselle into a magical portal that sends her to a place “where there is no happily ever after.”

That mystic place is New York City, where a terrified and three-dimensional Giselle meets divorce lawyer Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan (newcomer Rachel Covey). Morgan’s mother abandoned the pair years before, leaving Robert feeling disenchanted with Giselle’s world of storybook romance and high-flying dreams. His relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Broadway star Idina Menzel), like much of his life, is dry and unemotional. Well, until Giselle arrives.

The princess in a Disney mish-mosh animated movie would have to be smart, beautiful, independent, magical and sweet, while also maintaining perfect hair and a gown that never wrinkles. Giselle is all of these things in her own way, and Adams deserves credit for taking on a role that lesser actresses might have played as nothing more than irony. Giselle really is that wide-eyed and innocent, and Adams plays up her princess idiosyncrasies for laughs, but in a way that reminds the audience why they loved Disney films in the first place. Her singing chops aren’t bad either – the film’s original songs all feature Adams’ own singing voice.

“He’ll find his own way to tell you / with the little things he’ll do/ that’s how you know!” she exclaims during the film’s most ornate musical number, the Central Park extravaganza “That’s How You Know.” For an actress that most Disney fans probably haven’t heard of, let alone seen one of her lesser-known films, Adams commands the screen and keeps the plot moving with ease.

The original songs are written by blockbuster Disney team Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, known best to our generation for their work with the music from other Disney flicks. The pair worked together on “Pocahontas,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Menken also worked on “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid,” among others. “True Love’s Kiss” is Edward and Giselle’s opening duet, and “Happy Working Song” pays homage to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” with Giselle’s “Whistle While You Work” mantra.

Where “Enchanted” gets much of its charm is in how it playfully toys with Disney conventions. When Giselle sings the “Happy Working Song,” for example, she opens Robert’s penthouse window to call the animals to help her. But instead of deer, rabbits and frogs, Giselle gets rats, pigeons and flies to clean Robert and Morgan’s apartment. When Edward arrives in New York to rescue his damsel, he stabs a city bus with his princely rapier and, in a clip widely seen in the film’s trailer, thinks his television is a magic mirror.

The cast members – Sarandon, Adams and Marsden in particular – seem to be having nothing but fun with their roles, and Dempsey is a solid real world foil for Giselle’s animated world antics. Timothy Spall is ridiculously wily as Sarandon’s henchman, and Pip, a CGI chipmunk, steals every scene he’s in.

“Enchanted” is so much fun that it’s hard to remember you’re watching what’s really a gentle satire. For any critics or cynics out there, see “Enchanted” – you’ll feel the Disney magic in no time.