Arriving after other studios – DreamWorks in particular with its ‘Shrek’ movies – had been poking fun at fairy tale tropes, 2007’s ‘Enchanted’ felt like Disney throwing a loving nudge in the ribs to its own storied history of candy-coated Grimm adaptations and fantasy films.
A fish-out-of-water story of Giselle (Amy Adams), a young, wish-upon-a-starry-eyed woman in the animated realm of Andalasia who finds herself pushed – literally – into our own world by Susan Sarandon’s Evil Queen Narissa, ‘Enchanted’ generated a lot of fun from slyly deconstructing the idea of true love’s kiss, singing to animals as you do chores and handsome princes setting forth on quests.
It ended, as Disney’s fairy stories tend to, happily, with the magical menace vanquished and Giselle preparing for life with divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his six-year-old daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey) in New York. Her actual Andalasian prince, meanwhile (James Marsden’s heroically daffy Edward) landed snarky Nancy Tremaine (Idina Menzel) and returned to the world of hand-drawn dragons, ogres and such.
The songs were catchy, the jokes landed and Adams and Marsden in particular made the whole thing work.
‘Disenchanted’ premiering on Disney+, picks up roughly a decade after the first film, and discovers what happens after the Happy Ever After. “After ever after?” asks a cartoon chipmunk in the animated prologue. “You get married, and nothing else happens.” Which is not true by any means. And in the case of this movie, “Ever After” means the stark reality of married and child-rearing life.
Having welcomed a new baby into their family, Giselle and Robert are ready to uproot the brood and move to an apparently suburban paradise called Monroeville. It’ll mean big changes – Robert will face a daily commute into the Big Apple and Giselle is beginning to wonder if the magic has gone… or at least diminished. While she and Robert are happy, there’s just something missing.
Morgan, meanwhile – now played in suitably sulky teen form by Gabriella Baldacchino – is far from pleased at being torn from all she knows to live in what looks to be a fixer-up of a castle-style home.
The mood is lifted, at least for Giselle and Robert, by the surprise arrival (via magic wishing well portal, of course) by Edward and Nancy, who stop in to gift the couple’s new baby Sofia an Andalasian wishing wand. Which makes Morgan feel all the more left out, since only “a true daughter” of Andalasia can wield it.
Naturally, Giselle ends up using it to wish that her life were more of, well, a fairy tale, but soon regrets it when the world around her starts to feature fantastical elements again… and not in a good way.
She ends up slowly transforming into a wicked stepmother and clashes on the villainous front with Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph), the self-proclaimed head of the community, who covets the power for herself.
Robert, meanwhile, becomes the sort of heroic prince that Edward would want to hang out with, looking to slay dragons, while Morgan is reduced to a Cinderella-style figured, loaded down with chores and falling for Malvina’s son Tyson (Kolton Stewart).
As directed this time by Adam Shankman, ‘Disenchanted’ seeks to capture the same charm as the original, and in its favor, entertainingly moves the themes and characters forward in believable ways.
Adams, of course, still has the required blend of comic and dramatic chops to carry off Giselle, who could potentially be (and occasionally is) utterly twee and annoying at every turn. There’s a genuine joy to her performance, especially later when she’s embracing her darker side.
Dempsey feels less well served this time, largely reduced to his own subplot, but that’s not much of an issue, since he was always a little bland to begin with. Rudolph, too, is not given the space she really needs to make Malvina work as well as she might, having done more with smaller comic characters in other movies and shows. Yet when she and Adams face off, there’s enough smack-talk (and smack-sing) to keep you laughing.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect, cast-wise, is a further reduction of screen time for Marsden, who steals every scene he wanders into as the declarative, comically overblown Edward. While he’s a character who probably does work better as a garnish rather than a main ingredient, he chews that role (and any surrounding scenery) with gusto, and the movie is better whenever he’s on screen.
This time around, the magic level of the whole enterprise is somewhat reduced, the sequel just missing the mark when it comes to capturing the same lightning in a bottle. The biggest offender on that front here is the songs, which is all the more dispiriting considering that the musical team sees the return of ‘Enchanted’s Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. None of the tunes are anywhere near as memorable or well-staged as ‘Happy Working Song’, and when you have Idina Menzel (no slouch on the Broadway front thanks to ‘Wicked’ and the pipes behind ‘Frozen’s ultimate earworm ‘Let it Go’) belting out what should be a showstopper of a third act offering called ‘Love Power’ and even that can’t move the needle? You know you’re in trouble.
Which is not to say that the movie is totally a wasted quest. There is still plenty to enjoy, even if gently deconstructing fairy tale conventions is never as fresh the second time around. It has been a long wait for a sequel to ‘Enchanted’ and though this isn’t quite the exact follow-up we’d have wished for, it’s still good to see these characters and their story back on our screens.
‘Disenchanted’ receives 3 out of 5 stars.