#ThrowbackThursday – Enchanted

Original US release date: November 21, 2007
Production budget: $85,000,000
Worldwide gross: $340,487,652

I missed Enchanted during its theatrical run.  I caught it upon its DVD release after hearing so many good things about it and I found it to be one of my more surprising viewing experiences in memory.  Like a modern Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Cool World (but more appropriate for all audiences) with a twist, the film took animated characters and transported them into the real world.  At once both a tongue-in-cheek homage and a parody of Disney’s classic animated princess films, the movie is anchored by a memorable performance by Amy Adams and Disney’s willingness to poke a little fun at itself while being buoyed by a surprising wit and sophistication amidst strong production values and quality musical numbers.  Enchanted brought it all to the table.

The film opens in the classic Disney hand-drawn animation style with Giselle (Adams) in her peaceful homeland of Andalasia.  In true Disney animated fashion, Giselle happens upon the charming and seemingly flawless Prince Edward (James Marsden) and the two immediately decide to marry as soon as possible.  However, Edward’s evil stepmother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) isn’t so enthused by this turn of events as she realizes that, upon the marriage, her reign as queen will come to an end and Giselle will assume the throne.  Narissa concocts a magical plan to send Giselle away from Andalasia, and succeeds in doing so, transporting her to modernistic, live-action New York City where she meets jaded lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey), his daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), and Robert’s girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel).  It’s a clash of cultures as Giselle searches for a way back to her betrothed in Andalasia while finding that she also may just have a place in the American culture, as well.

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A veteran of Disney films (having directed 1999’s Tarzan and written for 1992’s Aladdin, among other credits), director Kevin Lima does virtually everything right with Enchanted, to the point that it’s hard to decide where to begin discussing the film.  In that case, I’ll start with the single most important ingredient in the film: Amy Adams.  This film wasn’t even close to being Adams’s first role, but it was unquestionably the one that put her on the map.  And it’s easy to understand why.  Adams commits wholeheartedly to Giselle and shows a deft understanding of how to balance Giselle’s naïve optimism with her human ability to adapt and learn from her environment.  Giselle’s enthusiasm for life is both enviable and infectious, and Adams’s performance here made me a fan.  It’s impossible for me to imagine anyone else playing this part at the same level as Adams.  In the time since, she has become one of this generation’s best performers and it’s because of her turn in Enchanted that the doors flew open and opportunities swarmed her in its wake.

Adams’s authenticity as Giselle is only the tip of the iceberg, as the overall presence of that authenticity in every crevice of the film is what ultimately makes it work.  Besides Adams, we have Dempsey, Sarandon, and Marsden all giving believable and natural performances as their respective characters.  When placing oneself in their shoes, its observable that each of them – both in terms of script and performance – react to the others in entirely reasonable ways based on their own life experiences.  Dempsey’s Robert is not only jaded but also complacent, having been worn down by everyday life in the city.  When Giselle enters his world, the two of them begin to rub off on each other.  There’s resistance, but it all feels organic.  Nothing is forced, nothing is contrived, and everything is relatable.

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Also admirable is the sheer restraint that Lima puts on display.  On the surface, Enchanted is a fish-out-of-water love story about two cultures being thrust together without warning or even complete realization of their predicament.  It would have been easy (and must have been tempting) to have every single gag revolve around resulting misunderstandings, but Lima only does so when it makes sense, refusing to overdo it and pound the audience over the head with it.  (Some other recent films could have learned from his example.)  Besides the restraint, Lima also shows remarkable awareness and attention to detail, always being mindful of when those situations would arise and handling them in nimble and entertaining ways.  Giselle doesn’t understand our turns of phrase or complexity.  Robert is taken aback by her positivity and innate spirit.  But neither ever overreact or come across as disproportionately responsive in any way.

Upon its release, I recall many describing the film as “making fun” of Disney.  That’s not only reductive, but also outright misinformed.  Enchanted is a Disney film.  Why would Disney be out to get . . . uh . . . Disney?  No, the film is instead an homage from 2007 Disney to classic Disney that shows that Disney, themselves, are capable of doing something that its most voracious critics are typically not: laughing at themselves.  The film has a blast with looking at the absurdities inherent in the old-school Disney princess films while also acknowledging how great they and Disney’s other works truly are.

(L_R)  AMY ADAMS, RACHEL COVEY, PATRICK DEMPSEY, JAMES MARSDEN

There are countless Easter eggs referencing those old films (and not just the princess films) as well as cameos by the actors who brought some of them to life, such as Paige O’Hara (Belle from Beauty and the Beast), Jodi Benson (Ariel from The Little Mermaid), and Julie Andrews (the original Mary Poppins, herself).  Even more fun upon reflection is the time travelling Easter egg that Disney, themselves, couldn’t have possibly been aware of at the time: playing Robert’s girlfriend Nancy in the film is Idina Menzel, who everyone now knows as the name behind perhaps the epitome of Disney princesses, Elsa from Frozen (well, except for John Travolta, who knows the name behind Elsa as Adele Dazeem).

As if that’s not enough, something I truly appreciate regarding Enchanted is its approach to discussing modern relationships and the most prevalent issue that plagues them.  In the film, we have two couples.  All four people who comprise the couples are good, decent people.  No one mistreats their partner.  No one mistreats others outside of the relationships.  Everyone is caring, loving, and goodhearted.  But the couples as we meet them aren’t right for each other.  Yet, everyone fights to stay where they are out of both a misplaced sense of obligation and a comfort with the ease of their current situations.

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They aren’t doing what’s best; they’re doing what’s easiest.  In real life, this happens all the time.  Every one of us has seen it and most of us have been guilty of it.  It’s probably happening with some of you, right now.  The film makes the point that this is no way to live.  Sacrificing one’s own happiness for the sake of someone else’s, or just because one person entered their life before another, only leads to greater heartache and problems down the line – very often divorce in those cases where the couple forces their relationship along to that extreme.  Seeing the progressive idea that compatibility is more important than relationship “dibs” being put on display so casually, elegantly, and tastefully puts this film on another level that is completely unexpected from one of its type.

Practically the only slight issue with the film worth mentioning is that the narrative has to jump through some hoops towards the end in order to continue justifying Queen Narissa’s motivations once the other events have resolved themselves.  But that’s a minor quibble and a small matter when taking everything else into consideration.  In Enchanted, Disney, Lima, Adams, and the rest have given us a timeless yet modern tale about female empowerment that delights, entertains, uses its brains, and cemented Amy Adams as a fixture in the industry.  With all of the success – both creatively and financially – that Disney has had throughout its existence, Enchanted is one of its best works and will hopefully remain entrenched in pop culture history as a film that was ahead of its time and will be forever relevant, not to mention a whole heck of a lot of fun.

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