Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Enchanted" -- * *

Riding a wave of positive early buzz, "Enchanted" is an ultimately disappointing and uninspired exercise of Disney trying to give itself a good-natured ribbing with the mentality of "hey, if 'Shrek' could do it, why can't we?" At first attempting (largely toothless) satire, the film soon devolves into a typical fish-out-of-water story filled with fairly obvious jokes and ideas. Any goodwill generated here will likely be due to a wonderfully charming performance by leading lady Amy Adams, and not originality or wit therein.

Narrated by Julie Andrews, "Enchanted's" first 10 minutes are entirely animated, beginning in the land of Andalasia where fair princess Giselle (Adams), equipped with a beautiful singing voice and a kinship with animals, longs to receive her "true love's kiss." Said true love is Prince Edward (James Marsden), but both young lover's dreams are dashed by bitchy Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who banishes Giselle to "a place where there are no happy endings." This place turns out to be New York City, where the animated Giselle is thrust into the live-action world and forced to deal with reality for the first time. In New York, the immensely naive Giselle meets handsome divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and his daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), while dodging Narissa's henchman Nathaniel (a depressingly annoying Timothy Spall) and being pursued by Giselle's best friend, CGI-animated chipmunk Pip.

The real problem here isn't the performers or the lively, colorful direction by Kevin Lima ("Tarzan"), but the eye-rollingly reminiscent screenplay by Bill Kelly. Kelly is no stranger to high-concept scripts that never fulfill their potential (he also wrote "Premonition" and "Blast From the Past"), and with "Enchanted," he's come up with a cute premise, but nothing more. Even when a film's intended audience is children or families, it should always strive to avoid feeling too 'kiddie' and offer something new or genuine. Despite a handful of bright spots, "Enchanted" continually felt like kiddie fare (even during two out-of-place gay jokes) and had me checking my watch with more regularity than smiling or chuckling.

The film does benefit from the energy and versatility of its location, New York City, but even this causes some problems noticeable to anyone who's ever actually been to the place. Not to nitpick, but I've never seen Times Square and Columbus Circle as sparsely populated. The real Times Square is a pain in the ass to walk through because there's hundreds of thousands of tourists stopping every few inches to point at everything they see (e.g.: "Look, a big Cup of Noodles!") that you can barely move. Here, it's obvious there were just a few dozen extras hired to walk around so Adams could emerge from a sewer's manhole and run around in her big frilly dress.

But a more glaring faux pas (at least to me) were the billboards on display; Couldn't Disney, a company with billions of dollars and CGI at its disposal have afforded to remove massive billboards for the long extinct Broadway shows "Ring of Fire," "Lestat" and "The Wedding Singer"? And speaking of Broadway, why hire immensely talented stage divas Idina Menzel (the original leading lady in "Wicked") and Tonya Pinkins (brilliant in "Caroline, or Change") in a musical and not allow them to sing, or do much in general?

Though the film features at least one grating production number, "That's How You Know," another one, "Happy Working Song," is easily the high point of its 100-minute running time. Occurring 25 minutes in, the number enjoyably parodies Disney films' propensity for adorable animal helpers. In New York, a place where creatures tend to not be cute or cuddly, Giselle beckons animals to come help her clean Robert's apartment, but only succeeding in rounding up cockroaches, pigeons and rats. For these few minutes, the movie truly springs to life, offering a glimpse of what might have been. There are a few other cute and funny jokes interspersed throughout the proceedings (Giselle mistakes an irate midget for "Grumpy"), but mostly, "Enchanted" never gets much cleverer than the corny animated films it purports to parody.

But the biggest bright spot of them all in this sea of mediocrity is Adams herself. After a phenomenal Oscar-nominated role in "Junebug" and a few funny scenes in "Talladega Nights," Adams finally gets her own leading role and makes the most of it. Though Giselle isn't as fleshed out as she could be, Adams is thoroughly endearing and amusing throughout and solidifies definitively here that it's only a matter of time before she becomes a full-on movie star. Marsden (having a great year between this and "Hairspray") also knowingly embraces his character's exaggerated earnestness, brightening up whatever scene he may be in. But rather than working in tandem with the material, Adams and Marsden elevate it. They deserve better than this, though it's clear to see why the parts appealed to them.

Dempsey (a.k.a.: the fakest hair in Hollywood) is as boring as ever, and unfortunately gets much more screentime than Marsden. I've never seen an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," so maybe therein lies my ignorance, but I just don't get the appeal of this guy. Sarandon enjoys the shit out of herself here, camping it up wildly, but alas, she's only in human form for a total of ten minutes (not appearing till the 80-minute mark) and doesn't get nearly enough to work with.

Maybe I'm just a grouch (I couldn't get into the schmaltzy "August Rush," also opening today, either), but is it wrong of me to want even my kiddie fare to be somewhat original or funny or genuinely endearing? I know 22-year-old males who worship the Coen Brothers aren't exactly the target audience for "Enchanted," and it's bound to make tons of money regardless of what people like me think. But really, considering all the elements in place here, this should've truly been something special and not just a slightly different twist on familiar ideas/jokes/set-ups.

OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Original Song ("Happy Working Song")


Blogger JS said...

I liked "Happy Working Song" too but I have logic problems with it.

She uses the word vacuum in context yet she shouldn't know what a vacuum is yet. She suddenly calls her animal friends vermin, which seems out of character but heck, the girl just put that finger to her face after having cockroaches on it.

Yeah, thinking too much of this movie.

(Oh, and all of Patrick Dempsey's role should just go to Hugh Jackman.)

7:17 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Once you begin to analyze the fabric of Giselle's reality, it all falls apart. Given the concept of the film, it's probably best not to ask questions.

Nonetheless, here's another example: though Giselle goes out of her way to assure the Prince that a "hot dog" is not made of "dog," is it really likely that this animal-loving woman would be okay with eating cute little piggies?


10:03 PM  

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