Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2007

Yes, as a matter of fact I was 'Enchanted'

No, really - Disney actually made a good fairy-tale movie

Enchanted
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Kevin Lima
Screenplay: Bill Kelly
Starring: Amy Adams, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel and Susan Sarandon
Rated PG / 1 hour, 47 minutes
Opened November 21, 2007
(out of four)

It's been so long since Disney knew how to make a great animated feature, it turns out they had to go live-action to figure out how to do it again. Let's just say it's a lot better than, um . . . Home on the Range. And better than any animated feature the studio has put out since The Lion King. (Pixar doesn't count.)

Of course, if you want to split hairs here, Enchanted isn't technically an animated movie. Well, at least not completely. It opens like a classic Disney fairy tale - traditional hand-drawn animation, Cinderella-like heroine looking for Prince Charming, finally finding him ("We'll get married tomorrow!" - a hilarious line as the prince and would-be princess meet for the very first time) and then living happily ever . . . wait, except then the obligatory evil queen/would-be stepmother/witch, intimidated by the threat to her crown, tricks her and sends her to another world.

Ours. (Well, Manhattan anyway.)

Needless to say, our heroine, Giselle (Amy Adams) doesn't get the real world any more than it gets her. She doesn't understand why she can't just break into song when she feels like it. She doesn't understand why one can't find true love just by staring into someone's eyes. She doesn't get the concept of dating. She takes everything at face value (sarcasm, for example).

Similarly, the kindly divorce lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), who finds her stranded upon her quite-unexpected entrance, doesn't understand why she's wearing a massive wedding dress or why she somehow thinks she's from an unheard-of place called "Andalasia."

Of course, her Prince Edward (James Marsden) won't take kindly to his evil mother trying to get rid of his bride. So he jumps through to the other side as well, alongside his dubiously-doting compatriot, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) and Giselle's best friend, a talking squirrel, Pip, which mercifully manages not to be as annoying as every single other talking animal from every single talking-animal movie ever. (Not an easy feat.)

Enchanted is both a clash of real-world and fairy tale-world conventions, and for once it's a good premise that doesn't waste its opportunities. The severely contrasting logics - and the characters' reactions to them - are genuinely and consistently clever.

And the way, at certain points, the fairy-tale logic that Giselle has seemingly brought with her intrudes on the logical world that Robert depends on so stubbornly, is executed with perfection. Much to the consternation of the real-life characters who are used to unhappy endings, common sense, cynicism and, um, not breaking out into song.

(The apartment cleanup scene and Giselle's first live-action production number are particularly worthy of attention.)

The film doesn't miss out on its chances to parody every convention of fairy tales - particularly those brought to life by Disney cartoons from eras past - but in fact uses all those conventions to its advantage at the same time.

The plot self-consciously progresses along the same lines as would any princess-in-distress fable we're so familiar with - the constant references to the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and others are unmissable.

But at the same time, it subverts those conventions, creating a different dynamic altogether. The real world is always getting in the way of how the fairy tale is supposed to go, and vice versa.

It's a more difficult trick to pull off than it might seem on paper, but director Kevin Lima and writer Bill Kelly manage to do it.

Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have an Oscar-caliber performance driving your entire movie. But Amy Adams - who was robbed of a statuette two years ago for her pitch-perfect supporting role in Junebug - delivers just that. She plays a character that exists in an entirely different universe, and plays it with such conviction that it's a miracle she wasn't somehow brought down to earth by all the actors around her who had to play it straight. She nails all the cliches of the Disney heroine archetype, and never strikes a wrong chord.

The same could be said of Marsden, who with this and Hairspray seems to have found his place as a comic actor. His character has too much confidence, too much bravura, too winning a smile. Good-hearted and innocent as he is, he's as ridiculous as every "Prince Charming" must be, and he has no idea.

But it's Adams' movie. Even with all the film's humor and cleverness with form, it's one of those movies that just wouldn't work without the star selling it for us. Adams makes it easy to forgive the occasional lapses (the mis-management of Idina Menzel's character, for example). Enchanted could very well have wasted its ideas and/or fallen into the same kids-only category as so many recent Disney entries. Instead, it's more in the spirit of Shrek. And in the animated-world-clashing-with-real-world scale, it's somewhere below the heights of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but millions of miles above Cool World and that creepy Paula Abdul video.

With Enchanted, Disney has finally started to catch up. Welcome to modern filmmaking.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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