“Enchanted” may fail to fix Disney foibles, but the revised fairy tale formula will beguile viewers willing to embrace the cliches. At once, it is homage to the Disney musical and an amalgamation of classic narratives, a romantic comedy both trite and funny, respectful and sardonic. It gets the ingredients right, even if the aftertaste is predictable.
In the collision of two states of mind — glass-half-full optimism and glass-half-empty pessimism — Kevin Lima’s “Enchanted” illustrates the encounter between Giselle (Amy Adams), a beautiful princess estranged from her prince charming, and Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a classically single father and divorce attorney. When Giselle, who spawns from animated “meadows of joy and valleys of contentment,” lands in the Big Apple (Times Square, no less), she literally falls into the arms of Robert, who disbelieves in marriage professionally. The two teach other about reality and fantasy in the throes of a Disney search for “true love.”
The movie begins with an open pop-up book bearing the classic fairy tale slogan “once upon a time.” A traditional animated exposition of Giselle fretting about with her loyal hoard of talking animals sets the stage for a familiar story. When she serendipitously falls into handsome Prince Edward’s arms, they will, of course, get married at once, based purely on looks.
But this is all a masquerade for the real fable. None other than an evil queen (Susan Sarandon), disguised as a decrepit old lady, dupes the princess into falling down a well that leads to a land of “no happily ever after.” Giselle, who doesn’t know the word “angry,” plunges into a mire of angry New Yorkers, confused and disoriented by reality.
Adams plays an enchanting Giselle, reminiscent of Daryl Hannah in “Splash.” Like Hannah, Adams plays the “fish out of water,” amazed by modern marvels, such as indoor plumbing, visibly distinguishable from her urban backdrop in princess attire. Dempsey is, once again, the McDreamy character, sporting suits rather than his familiar “Grey’s Anatomy” scrubs.
The movie’s pastiche of animation and realism provides the landscape for ironic jabs at classic tropes. Watching the handsome prince flamboyantly march around NYC with his antiquated sword, mistaking televisions for magic mirrors, pokes fun at outdated Disney characters. A dinner sequence takes place at “Bella Notte” (of “Lady and the Tramp” fame), a “Snow White”-esque poisonous apple threatens the princess, and a glass slipper is consciously left on a ballroom floor. There is even an evil Shrek-like ogre in the fantasy land — a subtle dig at Disney’s competition, DreamWorks.
Stereotypes do not wane, despite Lima’s attempts to re-envision the classic tale, creating a confused concoction of tribute and irony. The mother is conspicuously absent. The stepmother looms, although she is proclaimed to be a “nice stepmother.” An evil witch employs a faithful servant to poison the bride-to-be to secure her dominion. And, like many Disney movies, “Enchanted” hints at non-PG moments: Giselle lustfully touches Robert’s bare chest and Prince Edward (James Marsden), on his door-to-door search for his princess, meets a man whose smile implies homosexual undertones.
The movie alludes to everything except reality, which is paradoxically at the foreground. Romping around New York City in gowns sewn from curtain fabric, Giselle juxtaposes with her metropolis background singing and dancing, like Julie Andrews (who narrates), to the tune of idealism. The viewer is led to believe that everyone she comes in contact with will live happily ever after.
Much of the film achieves a balance between hackneyed tales and dry sarcasm, but the ending lacks follow-through. The big overblown special effects ending a la “King Kong” comes off tacky. If the point is to expose some hypocrisy of the fairy tale genre and modernize it, then “Enchanted” shies away from embracing its objective. Robert allegedly shelters his daughter from indulging in the unrealistic “happily ever after” myth, giving her a book about women in history rather than the desired storybook, but he, too, succumbs in the end.
“Happily ever after” is poked and prodded at, but, as “Enchanted” illustrates, it’s still attainable, especially in books and movies that aren’t brave enough to try something new.