Enchanted (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Once upon a time, Disney was the king of animation. Today, in the realm of CGI and 3D, they remain at the top only by virtue of a partnership with Pixar. Hand-drawn animation - the kind responsible for many of Disney's most beloved classics - is passe (although there are frequent rumors of re-invigorating it), giving all big-screen cartoons the degree of sameness that results from increased computer participation. With Enchanted, Disney is opening a new front in the ongoing animation war. Call it "live action animation." While this is certainly not the first motion picture to blend drawn creations with real life actors, no movie to date has approached it quite this way.

The movie opens in the animated world of Andalasia, where Giselle (Amy Adams), a headstrong character in the best Disney tradition, dreams (with a little singing and dancing thrown in for good measure) of true love with a prince. That prince, Edward (James Marsden), is also a crooner and he falls for Giselle the moment he meets her. One person who isn't happy about this match is Edward's step-mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). She devises a plot to take Giselle far beyond Edward's reach - by banishing her to New York City. Abetted by his manservant, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and a talking chipmunk, Edward goes after Giselle.

Once in Times Square, the animation is gone. However, although the characters are now played by flesh-and-blood human beings, their personalities remain cartoonish. Giselle is unbelievably perky, Edward is manly (but not too bright), and the chipmunk (despite having lost his voice) shows brain power far in excess of what one might expect. Giselle is "rescued" from her predicament of being stranded in a strange land by single parent Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey). Robert may not believe her story, but he cannot leave her to fend for herself. For Giselle, this leads to an inevitable question: Who is her real prince - Edward or Robert?

The film's animated sequences have successfully captured the look and feel of classic Disney movies, albeit perhaps with tongue planted a little in cheek. Enchanted's director, Kevin Lima, was at the helm for Tarzan. The music is provided by veteran Alan Menken who, along with his late partner Howard Ashman, was responsible for the production numbers in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. The animated scenes that form the prologue aren't long, but they serve as a valentine for anyone who looks back nostalgically at the kinds of movies Disney no longer makes.

The juxtaposition of an animated character in a real body creates some intriguing fish-out-of-water situations, several of which are effectively exploited by the screenplay. (Writer Billy Kelly also penned another fish-out-of-water film, Blast from the Past.) Eventually, however, the real world begins to influence Giselle's two-dimensional sprightliness. Like a bizarre amalgamation of Pinocchio and Eliza Doolittle, she transforms under Robert's tutelage from a three-dimensional representation of a two-dimensional personality into someone who is fully rounded in all ways. For Edward and Nathaniel, something similar happens although, without Robert's influence as a catalyst, it happens more slowly.

Enchanted's most obvious asset is Amy Adams, who is probably best known for her scene-stealing work in Junebug. Here, she outshines everyone around her, including the intentionally low-key Patrick Dempsey. Dempsey, whose career was resurrected by the television show Grey's Anatomy, has begun to do movies again and he exhibits a more mature version of the charm that made him a hit with teenage audiences during the 1980s. Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon gets to wear an outrageous costume and spout over-the-top dialogue - something she hasn't gotten a chance to do since The Witches of Eastwick.

Enchanted earns its label as a "family film" by virtue of its ability to captivate audience members both young and old. The storyline, tone, and approach are strictly animated but the filmmakers' decision to present most of the action using real people makes Enchanted feel more unique than might otherwise be the case. Enchanted may not be great cinema, but it's worthy of its title.

Enchanted (United States, 2007)

Director: Kevin Lima
Cast: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Susan Sarandon, Idina Menzel, Rachel Covey
Screenplay: Bill Kelly
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Music: Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: 2007-11-21
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1