Kevin Lima’s Enchanted offers us five-stars worth of Amy Adams in four-stars worth of movie. That’s not a bad average. Adams first gained major attention (after six years of TV and film work) in the independent film Junebug (2005), which was followed by thankless roles in Talladega Nights (2006) and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006). With Enchanted she comes into her own, with a starring vehicle that’s almost as good as she is and one that is beautifully tailored to her talents. Casting her as Giselle—a Disney cartoon heroine brought to life—was something akin to genius, especially considering that her character in Junebug had a not dissimilar chipperness and generosity of spirit.
Even closer to genius was giving her a role that ever so slightly spoofs itself. Yes, Enchanted clearly works in the postmodern realm of fairy tales that have flooded theaters ever since the incredible success of Shrek (2001), but the approach here is a little different. It’s less snarky—or at least it keeps its snark under control—and the live-action approach to most of the film gives it a different feel. Plus, the mockery is gentle, and the film allows itself to use the approach to let the more cynical viewer to enjoy sweeter generic conventions without feeling guilty about it the next morning. For example, the film’s musical numbers—of which it could have used more—are sly parodies of themselves. The biggest production number, “That’s How You Know,” is done in such a way that it makes sport of the whole concept of such an outburst, while becoming one of the giddiest of such numbers imaginable.
What ultimately sets Enchanted apart from its postmodern brothers and sisters is its almost complete lack of specific pop-culture references. This is not only refreshing, it also assures the film longevity because it won’t date. The story is set in motion when cartoon evil queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) sends cartoon Giselle to modern New York (via the sewer system) in order to prevent her from entering into “happily ever after” matrimony with cartoon Prince Edward (James Marsden), which would make Edward king and depose Narissa.
The concept of putting cartoon characters in human form in New York could easily have been a one-joke affair, but Enchanted sidesteps this. In large part, because the humanized cartoon characters don’t just exist to show us how nastily cynical we’ve all become, but are allowed to actually learn something about being human by their experiences—at least so far as Giselle, Edward and magnificently inept evil henchman Nathaniel (the marvelous Timothy Spall at his best) are concerned.
Some of the jokes are obvious and fall a little flat, but enough of them work that it’s hard to complain too much—and when Adams is on screen, it’s hard to even care. Whether she’s singing her “Happy Working Song” with her makeshift “forest friends” (in this case, big city vermin) or Scarlet O’Hara-ing hapless divorce lawyer Robert’s (Patrick Dempsey) window curtains into fetching frocks, she is the perfect cartoon heroine made flesh.
There’s been some kvetching about the film’s big climax and its CGI dragon (which somehow reminded me of Larry Cohen’s Q, the Winged Serpent (1982)), but as one of the tykes scared out of his wits by the dragon in Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty (I’ve confessed before that I watched this from underneath my theater seat), I was glad to see its modern variant. In fact, I was mostly glad to see everything in Enchanted—and I really hadn’t expected to be. And that’s always the most magical of movie experiences. Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo.