Disney's 'ENCHANTED' reviewed

Holiday audiences were Enchanted with the new animated-to-live-action fairy tale, and so were we.
There's a good reason why Walt Disney Pictures’ Enchanted cleaned up at the box office over the Thanksgiving holiday: it's that rare "family movie" which the whole family actually will like.

Enchanted opens with a charmingly familiar animated sequence, in which lovely peasant girl Giselle (Amy Adams) sings to her woodland friends of her wish to meet the prince of her dreams. Right on cue, handsome Prince Edward (James Marsden) hears her song and leaps to her side. It is love at first sight, and wedding bells ring the next day.

However, Edward's evil stepmother (a tired cliche due to be retired), Queen Nerissa (Susan Sarandon), with no intention of letting a peasant girl near the throne of Andalasia, banishes Giselle from her magical, musical, animated land to a place where "there are no happily ever afters"--the gritty, live-action reality of modern-day Manhattan.

Before wide-eyed, innocent, poofy-wedding-gowned Giselle can become hopelessly lost in the concrete jungle, she's rescued by a charming but no-nonsense divorce lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and his six-year-old daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), who likes Giselle right off. Robert, pragmatic about life and love, finally is about to propose to girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel)--after years of dating--when Giselle, quite literally, drops into his life.

Meanwhile, a flesh-and-blood Edward, his servant Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and Giselle’s CG chipmunk Pip follow the bride to New York. Soon, Giselle's two worlds collide, and she doesn't know where she really belongs. Finally, Nerissa blows into town, and the stage is set for the inevitable showdown.

Screenwriter Bill Kelly utilizes all the best elements of Disney's classic princess tradition, while at the same time offering up the creakiest cliches for healthy self-parody. Giselle mistakes a diminutive businessman for Grumpy the dwarf, and she later pours out her heart to a toothless hobo, before he runs off with her tiara. It looks like live-action, but it feels like Disney animation, due in part to director Kevin Lima (Tarzan, 102 Dalmatians).

And, thanks to Oscar-winning music composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pocahontas), it sounds like a Disney cartoon, as well. You may be too creeped out to notice during "Happy Working Song," which features a chorus of New York City rats, pigeons and cockroaches cleaning Robert's apartment. But the pedigree is unmistakable on the breathtaking centerpiece "That's How You Know," a lavish love number featuring a colorful cast of 150 singers and dancers in Central Park.

And, even during such a showstopper, Oscar nominee Adams shines as the effortlessly-lovable Giselle. She's the heart of the film, and we never forget it.

But this is hardly a one-piece orchestra. The brave but hopelessly dim Edward is X-Men alum Marsden's best role to date. He never hesitates, whether he's diving into the magic well after Giselle, or driving his sword through the roof of a crosstown bus. You believe he's a cartoon prince come to life, and he's goofy, charming and touching in equal measure.

Oscar-winner Sarandon has to make full use of her voice, since she's animated until her dramatic third-act entrance, a terrific moment when she ascends from the sewers and sends sparks flying in Times Square. Unfortunately, it's pretty much downhill for her from there. There are some disappointingly unspectacular production moments in Enchanted, and Act Three has more than its share.

But director Lima can share some of the blame for the film's faults with scripter Kelly. Yes, the story is built on a mess of cliches, but that's no excuse for so much telegraphing. Because Nancy mentions how "romantic" something is in every scene, her ultimate destiny is predictable.

Some moments weren't as predictable as they were head-scratching. I've seen enough Disney animated pics to know that the heroines are generally pretty modest. So, why is Giselle so casual about Robert walking in while she's getting out of the shower?

Maybe it's meant to symbolize the conundrum at the heart of this rather fluffy flick: can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world? Judging by Enchanted, I'd have to say "no." Because, ultimately, Giselle must find her place as a successful woman in the real world, and that involves doing more than singing to birds and cockroaches all day.

[Thanks to CanMag, the IESB, ROGER EBERT, and ANN HORNADAY of The Washington Post for some helpful info.]
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