Disenchanted casts a weaker spell than the original, despite a magical Amy Adams
Amy Adams doesn't lose a step in a sequel that almost, but can't quite, capture the greatness of the original.
In 2001, the Disney fairytale formula was completely demolished by a smelly, green ogre. Dreamworks’ Shrek mercilessly satirized the rival studio. So it was only fair that Disney would join in the fun — on its own terms.
Enter: Enchanted, the 2007 fairytale-comedy starring Amy Adams as an animated princess who finds herself rudely dropped into the real world. A movie held together by Alan Menken melodies, fairy dust, and a healthy dose of self-aware camp, Enchanted was far better than it should’ve been. It was funny, it was silly, and best of all, it was totally earnest in its dismantling of tropes — simultaneously lampshading the Disney movie beats while affectionately writing a love letter to the animated musical in all its schmaltzy glory. But none of it would have worked if it weren’t for the luminous lead performance by Amy Adams, who showed off a hysterical penchant for slapstick and an eerie resemblance to a real-life Disney princess. Now, she’s back and better than ever in the long-awaited sequel, Disenchanted.
Directed by Adam Shankman and written by Brigitte Hales, with Menken once again returning to compose the music, Disenchanted tries to overcome the legacy sequel blues by changing up the genre — this time, it’s a full-fledged musical satire compared to the direct Disney skewerings of the first film. Nearly.
While Menken brings with him a newly acerbic attitude honed during his time making the fairytale satire series Galavant, Disenchanted can’t break out of the constraints of the Disney machine. It’s a satire, yes, but with too soft a bite and too sweet an aftertaste. Although Disenchanted may be lacking the acidity of Galavant and the novelty of the first movie, it still retains Enchanted’s wholesome heart, even if it’s one that’s been overly buffed and shined to suit the Disney Channel stylings of a straight-to-streaming film. But hey, Amy Adams still hasn’t lost her touch.
Disenchanted picks up 15 years after the events of the first film. Adams’ Giselle has found her happily ever after — or has she? As told by her good chipmunk pal Pip (Griffin Newman), Giselle’s happily ever after was one filled with a crying newborn, sleepless nights, an increasingly sarcastic teenager, and a New York apartment that’s getting smaller by the day. So upon seeing the billboard for an idyllic suburb community called Monroeville, Giselle excitedly convinces Robert (Patrick Dempsey, enthusiastic, but looking a little lost) and his teen daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchin, taking over the part from Rachel Covey) to move.
But Monroeville isn’t quite the fairytale paradise that Giselle envisioned. Their new house is on the verge of crumbling, their town is ruled by wicked PTA moms led by the tyrannical Malvina (Maya Rudolph, going full camp), and Robert’s commute is a tediously long train ride to the city. Worst of all, Morgan is deeply unhappy and embarrassed by Giselle’s overeager attempts to get her settled.
Desperate to give her loved ones the happy ending she’s always dreamed of, Giselle uses a wishing wand gifted to her by King Edward (James Marsden, fabulous and far too underused) and Nancy (Idina Menzel, finally getting to show off her pipes with not one, but two solo songs) to wish for a fairytale world. Her wish transforms Monroeville into a fairytale land that is plucked straight from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Everyone wears bright dresses and frequently bursts into songs, to Giselle’s delight. But that delight turns to horror when Giselle realizes that in wishing for the fairytale world, she’s turned herself into the wicked stepmother — leaving it up to Morgan to stop Giselle’s wicked plan and save both Monroeville and Andalasia from doom.
The greatest strength of Disenchanted is once again Amy Adams, who is clearly delighted to reprise the role of Giselle, imbuing the character with the same doe-eyed awe and otherworldly charm she brought in the first film. Adams makes a meal out of Giselle’s transformation — her exaggerated physicality sharpening and twisting into a performance that just dances around camp. Adams is always game, even if the rest of the film can’t match up to her brand of magic.
But the film’s second greatest strength is one it doesn’t take enough advantage of: the musical format. Menken is clearly champing at the bit to make the feature-length skewering of Disney musicals that he excelled at in Galavant and toyed with in Enchanted. But despite a few energetic and catchy numbers, the film’s promising premise is crammed back into the Disney movie mold — complete with a CGI-heavy standoff (not unlike the first film’s) and far too many scenes of characters furiously running around to catch up with the plot.
Does Disenchanted live up to the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of Enchanted? No. But does it lose the magic of the original? Not quite. There is clearly a smarter, sharper film in there, underneath the Disney-mandated gloss. It just needed to let Menken throw in a bit more acid, and for James Marsden to be given more scenes than Morgan’s dull princely love interest. But this is, after all, a movie sequel to a beloved IP made for Disney+, made with the intent of activating our nostalgia for a simpler time (ie, 2007). Today, Disney so wholly dominates our pop culture landscape that it doesn’t want — or need — to take the risks it did back in the 2000s. And nostalgia goes down so much easier with double the sweetness, not an extra dash of acidity.
But hey, at least Amy Adams understood the assignment.
Disenchanted is streaming now on Disney+.