Disney rewards family viewers this holiday season with one of its most clever and entertaining films in years. An expert blend of comedy, romance and adventure, Enchanted will be just as fun for adults as for children. It will be especially appreciated by those familiar with the history and films of the Disney studio.
As a bonus, Enchanted even opens with a cartoon, a hand-drawn throwback to the golden age of animation that's filled with talking animals, hideous witches, a beautiful princess, and a lush, sweeping score. The pastel colors, kitschy architecture and classical montage are almost too saccharine, but there are twists in store that make every allusion to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pay off in unexpected ways.
Like countless fairy tales, there is a power struggle in a magical kingdom, this one known as Andalasia. It isn't long before the evil Queen Narcissa (Susan Sarandon) has cast Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) into modern-day New York, followed in short order by her betrothed, Prince Edward (James Marsden), his evil servant Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and Pip, a scene-stealing chipmunk. Giselle is taken up by Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce lawyer and single father whose pending marriage to designer Nancy Tremaine (Idina Menzel) dismays his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey).
Masked balls, poison apples, midnight transformations and other familiar fairy-tale ingredients are here, but screenwriter Bill Kelly spices them up with real-world complications. At one point or another he toys with almost the entire Disney catalogue, but in a friendly manner that respects the earlier work while updating it for less innocent audiences. Equally important is the score by Alan Menken, as well as his five new songs with lyricist Stephen Schwartz. (One of the more amusing aspects of the film is how Schwartz manages to work words like "crud," "scum" and "vermin" into Menken's airy, bouncy tunes.)
Much of the humor in Enchanted comes from Giselle's attempts to adapt to New York life. It's a star-making role for Adams, who with her fluttering hands and tremulous voice is an absolute delight as the airheaded princess. What saves her from caricature is her sincerity, offset by reactions from a nicely bemused Dempsey. Marsden is also winning as the narcissistic prince. The rest of the cast is effective, although Sarandon doesn't bring much to her evil stepmother role, and Broadway star Idina Menzel is criminally underused.
The centerpiece of Enchanted is "That's How You Know," an eye-popping, irresistible production number set in Central Park. It is a showstopper along the lines of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, choreographed with all the vitality and ingenuity of classic Hollywood musicals. The film could have used another song like it, as the latter half of Enchanted is bogged down with special effects and plot twists that are glum rather than frightening.
In a way, Enchanted repeats in miniature Disney's progress over the decades, from early animation triumphs to the sometimes disappointing live-action films of recent years. Director Kevin Lima's obvious affection for the Disney legacy is just one reason why Enchanted succeeds so well.