‘Enchanted’? Absolutely

Times Staff Writer

It’s obvious but inescapable: “Enchanted” is as good as its name. An adroit combination of wised-up and happily-ever-after, its story of an animation princess thrust into New York’s gritty reality gently mocks the mighty Disney fantasy machine without losing the core of the franchise’s family appeal.

Perhaps because even mild self-mockery has never been the Disney way, this romantic comedy with music spent more than a decade locked away in development hell. Although one wouldn’t wish that on anyone, those 10 years led to several positive developments, including the return to Bill Kelly’s much rewritten script.

And though that decade did contribute to “Enchanted’s” only misstep, a finale uncharacteristically weighted toward reliance on CGI effects, it also put Kevin Lima, a live action filmmaker with a natural feel for animation (he co-directed Disney’s 1999 “Tarzan”), in the director’s seat.


Best of all, that time period allowed the casting of the wonderful Amy Adams as Giselle, a princess in the animated kingdom of Andalasia who gets the rudest of awakenings when she finds herself pushed out of a Times Square manhole cover and into Manhattan street life.

Adams, who was Oscar-nominated for her breakout role in “Junebug,” is equally splendid here as the ultimate Disney princess whose every step echoes “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.” Playing perky and gee-whiz, Adams never overdoes the earnestness or even hints at condescending to the role, and it is impossible to think of “Enchanted” without her.

It is also difficult to imagine this film without the decades of Disney animated features that have come before it, appealing to audiences for generations because they’ve created an alternate universe that bans nasty reality from the premises.

“Enchanted’s” Andalasia, in the 10-minute animated glimpse of it we have as the film begins, is such a place. Giselle, surrounded by helpful animals, and the dashing Prince Edward (James Marsden, Cyclops in the “X-Men” movies) know they are destined to be united by “true love’s kiss,” but evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) and her henchman, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), manage to keep them apart.

Worse than that, once the pair meet and plan to wed in the morning, Narissa pushes Giselle down a seemingly bottomless well. Where are you sending her?, squeaks Nathaniel. “To a place where there are no happily-ever-afters,” booms the queen. Enter, on cue, New York City.

The bright and cheerful Giselle, no surprise, is ill-suited to Manhattan and not just because her huge ball gown makes it hard to walk around. She’s never even heard of anger and is so hungry for a kind word that when someone sarcastically says, “Welcome to New York,” she brightly answers, “Thank you!”

This creature of total goodness runs into unemotional divorce lawyer Robert Phillip (“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Patrick Dempsey), who so doesn’t believe in magic that he gives daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey) “Important Women of the World” for her birthday instead of the fairy tale book she desires.

Not understanding that they are literally from different worlds, Robert and Giselle initially don’t know what to make of each other.

Robert is especially poleaxed by Giselle’s ability to make animals do her bidding, though, this being New York, the animals are rats, pigeons and roaches. His career-minded girlfriend, Nancy (“Wicked’s” Idina Menzel), is more baffled than he is.

Giselle is not the only Andalasian in town for long. While she’s breaking into song and getting everyone in Central Park to participate in a production number (Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s “That’s How You Know”) that’s a pure delight, everyone from her prince to Nathaniel to her favorite chipmunk, Pip, is making their way to these mean streets.

Everything resolves in typical Disney fashion, which is what we all wanted in the first place. In any earlier era, this resolution would have not involved the intrusive crutch of CGI imagery, but that is a price hardly worth mentioning for the pleasures “Enchanted” provides.

“Enchanted” MPAA rated: PG for some scary images and mild innuendo. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In wide release.