The conflict between the naiveté and everlasting optimism of traditional Disney-ified animated fairytales and the jaded real world of Manhattan seemed new and exciting in 2007’s “Disenchanted.” Amy Adams’ devoted portrayal of Giselle, the personification of a Disney princess, pushed her into popular fame. But, since Disney’s IP continues to dominate the industry, it’s only right that their most recent direct-to-streaming foray back into this magical well is branded “Disenchanted.”
The plot, directed by Adam Shankman, takes place around a decade after the events of the previous film. Giselle and high-powered Manhattan lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) have married and had a baby called Sofia, while wide-eyed young Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino, taking over the role from Rachel Covey) has grown into a stereotypically grumpy teen.
We rarely see the newborn, despite her presence being a motivation for the family to depart crowded Manhattan for the comfort of the suburbs, and it’s indicative of how undeveloped almost all of the new characters are in the film.
Of course, suburbia isn’t the “happily ever after” of their fantasies right after. Even though they’ve moved into a beautiful, pink, two-story home with a castle-like spire that many would consider dream home goals, the “fixer-upper” is derided by almost everyone, from Morgan to Monroeville’s PTA queen bee, Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph), and even the King and Queen of Andalasia (James Marsden and Idina Menzel, reprising their roles).
The script (which has four credited writers) doesn’t go into detail about their transition period, but it does offer Giselle and Morgan plenty of opportunities to argue.
Morgan, as an adolescent, has little time for Giselle or her lovely childhood memories. Giselle regrets the fact that she no longer “sings the correct music.” Giselle casts a frantic wish on a magic wishing wand (a house-warming present from Andalasia) for them to have a “fairytale existence” after an argument with Morgan ends with her furiously informing Giselle she’s only her “stepmother.” The song is beautifully bittersweet, with Adams’s brilliant voice tinged with sadness.
But, because stepmothers are typically evil in fairytales, this request becomes a curse, gradually transforming the town into Monrolasia (obviously inspired by Belle’s village in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Giselle’s goodness into evil. Morgan finds she has till the final stroke of midnight to reverse everything as she becomes aware of the fairytale-breaking facade.
While the script is packed with action, it’s devoid of any meaningful characters. Malvina is a stereotypical suburban queen bee, and Rudolph responds by portraying her as Evil Maya Rudolph rather than as a fully formed character.
Adams had a good time with Giselle’s decline, changing her beautiful lilt to a deep deadly tongue. The two have a few fights and one snappy duet called “Badder,” but the tension is nowhere like as wonderful as what Adams created in the previous picture with Susan Sarandon’s bad guy.
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Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, longtime collaborators, know the recipe for the great Disney song, having received three Oscar nods for their work on “Disenchanted.” Each song has a function in the story, but there isn’t a single infectious earworm. There is one standout performance, delivered by Menzel, who did not sing in the previous film. Her song “Love Power” may have a lame title, but her voice is as forceful and spine-tinglingly gorgeous as ever.
Menzel’s performance is one of the few that transcends the mediocrity of “Disenchanted,” which rises when she and Marsden (as sweet and dim as ever) hit the screen. It’s sad, therefore, that they’re limited to only a few sequences towards the beginning and at the end. The satirical tribute to Andalasia and its inhabitants is still the most powerful feature of its world-building.
Monroeville is never more than a few minutes away from a high school hallway, a commuter rail station platform, and a single coffee shop. What does this video have to say about folks who commute to or reside in the suburbs? If the objective is that it isn’t the “closest thing to a storybook,” then we need to see more of it before it becomes part of Giselle’s unintentional curse.
Malvina and her buddies (Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays), a couple of cruel females whose names we never hear, and Malvina’s generic jock son Tyson aren’t enough (Kolton Stewart). The setting is also inconsistent with the film’s investigation of the power of memory.
Although visually appealing (particularly Joan Bergin’s costumes), “Disenchanted” fails to recapture the charm or the scathing humor of its predecessor. The film, like most everything, marked Disney these days, feels like the mass-produced bobbles available at the Disney store. There could be some recognized enchantment remaining on the surface, but that’s about it.
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