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Friday, November 23, 2007

Enchanted

Okay, I’ll say it. Enchanted is enchanting. There. It sounds corny and trite and like some god-awful phrase straight out of a Disney movie and it might as well be. After all, Enchanted is a Disney movie, an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned but new-fangled Disney fairy tale that I’m sure Walt would approve of if he wasn’t a frozen popsicle stashed someplace in a secret tunnel under the It’s a Small World attraction in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. Oh, I know The Powers That Be insist that this story is an Old Wives’ Tale, but you have to remember these are the same people that tried to convince everyone that High School Musical’s Vanessa Anne Hudgens hadn’t posed for any nude photos until after her ta tas were splashed all over the web and it was impossible to explain them away, so as long as Walt is kept chilling out of sight in cryogenic gases and the company p.r. department keeps distracting the press away from possible leaks with thousands, if not millions, of internet hits based on the search criteria “Disney on Ice” we’ll never know, but I know because I am an Old Wife, so even though I may well be digressing a bit, trust me. Now, perhaps we should meander back to the subject at hand.

Enchanted is a sweet story, looking at first like any animated classic fairy tale out of the 1940s and ‘50s. It opens with a leather-bound book on a podium and the instantly recognizable voice of Julie Andrews (Disney’s own Mary Poppins and Queen Clarisse Renaldi of The Princess Diaries 1 & 2), as our narrator. She is as comforting as warm apple pie and cuddly kittens, immediately putting the audience in as contented a place as could be, where believing in the story that is about to be told seems like a foregone conclusion.

The tale begins with a beautiful girl in her forest cottage singing to her woodland animal friends of her true love, an imaginary prince she had yet to meet. How Sleeping Beauty. Actually, the girl, Giselle, bears a strong resemblance to Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty fame, though she seems to have more of a Cinderella kind of connection to the critters in her environment. A few notes of song and she can get them to do whatever she wants. Well, I’m not going to give away the whole plot, but it only takes a few minutes before gorgeous Prince Edward manages to rescue the fair maiden from a rampaging troll and pledge his undying love, ready to live with her happily ever after.

Short movie, huh? Of course I’m kidding. Much like in my own experience, when Edward’s mother got wind he might be getting married and she’d be replaced as numero uno in his life, she goes completely meshuganah and shows herself to be a real hag, just like my mother-in-law did. She appears to Giselle looking like the apple-peddling version of the witch from Snow White to offer her a wedding gift, which, as we all know, in fairy tales inevitably leads to something bad. Christmas and birthdays must be really dicey in fairy tale land because you’d never know if it is safe to accept the present for fear of who-knows-what. In this case, Giselle checks out the gift ~ a wishing well ~ and ends up pushed down a deep hole into another world… a scary, dirty, noisy place called New York.

That’s when the real fun begins as
Enchanted turns into a live action comedy with Amy Adams (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) assuming the human form of Giselle, now confused and mystified about this strange new world she has stumbled upon. Rather than be afraid of what she finds when emerging from a sewer manhole in the middle of Times Square, she just assumes that Prince Edward (James Marsden; Superman Returns), all dashing dimples, sparkling teeth, flouncing hair, empty head, and poufy sleeves will soon follow after her to bring her home. Why she can’t just go back the same way she got there isn’t clear, but then that would cut out the romance and a couple of great musical numbers later, so try not to think too hard about these things while watching. Instead, just marvel at how cleverly writer Bill Kelly (who also scripted the intricate Premonition) manages to connect the dots that get Giselle lined up to meet single father Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey; tv’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) and his eight-year-old daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey; Duane Hopwood), who has never known a mother but yearns for one. Hmmm. Even Stevie Wonder could see where this one is going to end up.

Naturally, Robert ends up with Giselle at his place because he’s a gentleman and he couldn’t just leave a gorgeous young woman in a wedding gown alone on the streets, especially one who was babbling on about coming from a place called “Andalasia” and waiting for a prince to sweep in and rescue her. I’m surprised he didn’t try to call Bellevue, the local loony bin. I know that’s not the politically correct term, but you get the idea. I did when I tried to get my monster-in-law committed but they said that the best they could offer was twice weekly shock treatments, and wouldn’t you know, the old cow wanted three! She liked them! But, still, it seems like a logical step for Robert to try to set her up with some kind of counseling, but instead he gives her a place to sleep ~ and it being a Disney movie, it is not in his bed.

What follows in the next hour or so is absolutely delightful. With a bit of homage to both The Music Man and The Sound of Music tossed in for good measure, Enchanted recalls the heyday of music musicals where one character can burst into song and dance and soon a parade has formed in a colorful synchronized spectacle behind. It’s also a place where, just as in fairy tale land, our heroine can sing out her melodious call for assistance to the animal kingdom around her, and be greeted in response with a stampede of willing wildlife at her doorstep, only in New York she receives a different type of response than she is used to back in her animated dimension. Even so, Giselle’s motto is “It’s always good to make new friends” even if her helpers in this world are sewer rats, pigeons, and roaches.

Dempsey has said in interviews that he wondered if he would be able to take his newfound “Grey’s Anatomy” success and translate that into a film career to fall back on once the tv series had run its course. He had the misfortune of tasting fame and fortune at an early age as a teen actor and then faced many years without a decent role or financial stability, it is easy to understand his practicality in looking at roles from the vantage point that he does. In this case, he has picked a real winner, at least “on the books” as Enchanted is bound to be a HUGE hit and put the Disney profiteers into overdrive, generating merchandising tie-ins and toys in the weeks and months ahead. As Robert, Dempsey will be immortalized on everything from calendars to dolls to tee shirts to jewelry. He may be McDreamy to the college crowd and above, but to Gen whatever-the-gang-12-and-under-are-bound-to-be-labeled he will always be fighting the stereotyping as Giselle’s true love, more so than as Dr. Derek Shepherd. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This could also be a problem for Susan Sarandon as Queen Narissa, or rather it would be, but by the time the toddlers grow-up and can nail her with the same mantle of fame she has worn for 30 years as “Janet Weiss” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sarandon will most likely be dead and it won’t matter to her what her legacy ~ rather as Janet, Narissa, the latter half of Thelma & Louise, or her oft forgotten Oscar winning role as Sister Helen Prejean in 1995’s Dead Man Walking. The fact that an actress of such range and caliber is attached to this project should be a good indicator to even the most discriminating of tastes that this is not just a “cartoon” come to life as in the case of such unfortunate recent examples as Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties or Underdog.

Enchanted is fun for just about everyone, though the tiniest members of the family (and by that I mean the youngest, so if you have any dwarves in your family, don’t write) might find the climax too frightening as Narissa takes a cue from her sister witch and gets a little too “Maleficent”, going all “dragon-y” on Robert and Giselle, even reaching into the King Kong playbook for some Empire State Building action, if you can picture it, but then you don’t need to because all you need to do is go see it for yourself. Scary, but, as always, with Disney, there’s a happily ever after ending for everybody, and especially you, if you head on down to the Essex Cinemas this week.

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