Perhaps it was as payback for the slights he received at the hands of Michael Eisner that Jeffrey Katzenberg sent up the conventions of Disney animated movies in “Shrek,” but now the Mouse House has gone its former executive one better by plopping characters familiar from movies like “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” into a contemporary New York setting, and the fish-out-of-water fable is likely to charm the holiday socks off family members of all sizes and dispositions. Incredibly, by putting a modern spin onto familiar material Bill Kelly’s script turns an old silk purse not into a sow’s ear but a new silk purse. Smart, sassy and sweet but—with the exception of one gratuitous sight gag involving a dog—never vulgar or mean, it’s a knowing but not condescending modern family-friendly fairy tale, with sprightly direction by Kevin Lima.
The set-up, an old-fashioned 2-D cartoon drawn in something like the style of the Disney classics, fills the first ten minutes, showing the love-at-first-sight meeting of handsome but dim Prince Edward (James Marsden) and the lovely, naive Giselle (Amy Adams), who lives in the forest of Andalasia surrounded by happily helpful animals—chirping birds, a Bambi-esque deer, and a nattering chipmunk named Pip. They’re immediately engaged, much to the dismay of Edward’s wicked stepmother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who will lose her power if he weds.
So Narissa does what she must: taking the guise of an old hag, she magically dispatches Giselle to a place where there are no “happily ever afters”—New York City, at which point “Enchanted” turns wide-screen and live-action. The befuddled, happily clueless Giselle is taken in by divorce lawyer and single dad Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his six-year old daughter Morgan (Rachel Corvey). Her infectious personality enlists Big Apple wildlife—down to rats and roaches—to clean up their apartment in a socko musical number, “Happy Working Song” (one of a half-dozen originals by Alan Menken and and Stephen Schwartz); she even brings one of Robert’s clients back together with his intended ex. But at the same time her presence endangers his relationship with Nancy (Idina Menzel), to whom he intends to propose.
Meanwhile Edward makes his way to Manhattan to find his beloved, accompanied by Pip (unable to speak in this unfamiliar environment), but shortly followed by Narissa’s comic henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall). There follows just what you’d expect: lots of goofy humor involving the self-absorbed prince, slapstick gags detailing Nathaniel’s inept attempts against Giselle, the equally strenuous efforts of the gesticulating Pip to save her, and—of course—a growing attachment between Giselle and Robert, cemented by another show-stopping musical number, “That’s How You Know,” set in Central Park.
It’s all good if hardly inspired stuff, punched over by the first-rate cast. Adams is a fine comedienne who can play pathos as well as vivacity, and the likable, laid-back Dempsey makes a pleasant partner for her. Marsden shows a real talent for macho bluster, but adds a welcome touch of sensitivity to the mix, and—as he’d already demonstrated in “Hairspray”—he’s physically nimble and has a strong voice, too. And Spall does the comic villainy business expertly.
Unfortunately, as so often happens nowadays, things sag a bit in the last reel, where the need for a big, effects-laden finish and a feel-good wrap-up leads to some miscalculations. A sappy song, “So Close,” warbled by Jon McClaughlin at a fancy ball, initiates the downslide, and when Sarandon not only appears but morphs into a dragon for a big final confrontation, “Enchanted” becomes considerably less so. A witty postscript showing the various characters’ futures perks the picture up again, but the damage has been done. It’s not fatal, though.
“Enchanted” boasts a colorful production, in which Don Burgess’ fluent camerawork, making great use of the New York exteriors, and Mona May’s costumes stand out. The picture has the proper look of a sugary confection.
If Patrick Dempsey weren’t one of TV’s biggest current stars and Amy Adams not poised for big-screen stardom, one could imagine Giselle and Robert spinning off into a sitcom that might become the new “Bewitched.” But at least there’ll always be “Enchanted,” charming audiences happily ever after—and its inevitable sequels.