Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Susan Sarandon, Timothy Spall, Rachel Covey
A mere one week after "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" set out to be the 2007 holiday season's most enchanting and magical film for children and families alike, Disney Studios sweeps into the picture with "Enchanted," a vibrant, electric, sweet-hearted and, yes, enchanted movie that is easily Disney's best live-action outing in recent years.
The previously unknown Amy Adams, who received an Oscar nomination for 2005's underrated "Junebug," is absolutely delightful as Giselle, your stereotypical storybrook princess simply waiting to run off with her stereotypical storybook Prince Edward (James Marsden) despite the concerns of Edward's beastly stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) and her faithful servant, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall).
"Enchanted" starts off in the glorious tradition of Disney's 2-D, hand-drawn animated films before Queen Narissa tricks Giselle into making a wish upon a wishing well and sends her off into the land in which there are no happily ever afters, otherwise known as New York City.
After a few not so pleasant experiences in this strange new land, Giselle is reluctantly rescued by the non-fairy tale like attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), much to the dismay of his initially not so understanding girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel).
Embracing "Enchanted" practically commands that one have an ability to suspend belief, ignore logic and surrender to director Kevin Lima's impossibly magical fairy tale. For those who are able to surrender to the charms of "Enchanted," the cinematic experience will be filled with childlike wonder and smiles along with the inevitable hummings of Disney's most sing-along soundtrack in years.
For those who can't, or simply choose not to surrender? "Enchanted" is likely to be an uncomfortably long and cringe-worthy affair.
"Enchanted" is the sort of film that Hollywood simply doesn't make anymore. It stresses characters over CGI and actually dares to not speak down to its younger target audience, most of whom will be young girls not unlike the growing up too fast Morgan.
Few of today's actresses could possibly pull off a character such as Giselle as masterfully as the seemingly wide-eyed innocent Adams. Adams exudes pure and simple goodness as the too good to be true Giselle, a young lady who still believes in true love, happy endings and true love's kiss. So many actresses would have played Giselle either a tad tongue-in-cheek or with an obvious sense of self-awareness, but not Adams. Adams gives Disney and Hollywood one of its most kid-friendly, genuine and, yes I'll say it, marketable characters since Julie Andrews brought Mary Poppins to life. Even as Giselle becomes more grounded in her New York City surroundings, Adams ability to balance her true self with her new, such as a scene in which she realizes she is angry for the first time, surroundings is still bringing smiles to my face.
If every other aspect of "Enchanted" faltered, the film would be worth seeing for Adams' performance alone. Fortunately, even as the storyline occasionally stretches too far, the performances are uniformly strong.
Patrick Dempsey excels as Robert, the attorney who has been hurt by love and, as a result, guards his own heart and protects that of his daughter. As Giselle chips away at his armored shield bit-by-bit, Dempsey delightfully opens the door little by little into his heart. It's a restrained performance that complements that of Adams exceedingly well. Rachel Covey also sparkles as Morgan, in a performance reminiscent of the understated turn by Sarah Steele in James L. Brooks' "Spanglish."
Likewise for Marsden, who brings Prince Edward to life as a stereotypical, yet sincere Prince both noble mixed with just a touch of nuttiness. While her appearance is far too brief, Sarandon is appropriately witchy, in both her animated and real-life incarnations. Though her closing scene goes a bit too over the top given the gentle, sweet tone of the rest of the film, Sarandon's Queen Narissa will is played with just enough bark and bite by Sarandon, while Timothy Spall adds nice touches of humanity as the Queen's loyal servant and wannabe suitor.
From early scenes where Giselle seeks help at the door of a Palace Casino billboard to closing scenes complete with a magical kiss, glass slipper and a clock striking 12:00, "Enchanted" maintains a remarkable tone of sweetness, goodness, innocence and dreaminess.
Bill Kelly's script manages to blend wit, intelligence and an embracing of Disney's fairytale history, with references throughout the film to such noted stories and films as "Snow White," "Sleeping Beauty" and others. Despite the contemporary setting, however, Kelly avoids the easy script device of incorporating pop culture references and humor, instead trusting, rightfully so, that his characters will be entertaining enough.
The production design is stellar, again with the exception of an over-the-top final scene for Queen Narissa. The original song score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz is instantly hummable, both for its infectiousness and simple, sweet lyrics.
We critics have a tendency to throw around our descriptive terms such as "delightful," "entertaining," "unforgettable" and "enchanted."
However, in this case it really is true..."Enchanted" says it all.
Sorry, Mr. Magorium. "Enchanted" is the 2007 holiday season's most enchanting and magical film.
Copyright 2007, The Independent Critic