Movie Review: 'Disenchanted' Fails the Original
Is Disney aiming for mediocre? They keep hitting a mediocre target with their live action films with 'Disenchanted'
Directed by Adam Shankman
Written by Brigitte Hales, J. David Stern
Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Maya Rudolph
Release Date November 18th, 2022
Published November 17th, 2022
I'm growing concerned that Disney has somehow found an algorithm that determines the exact level of mediocre. Look at their recent spate of live action movies and you can see what I am getting at. From Jungle Cruise to Hocus Pocus 2, Disney has been able to craft movies so inoffensive, bland, mediocre and passably 'entertaining' that they simply pass through you like a fast food meal, not bad, but not exactly a memorable meal.
Further evidence of this algorithmic mediocrity comes in their latest Disney Plus release, a sequel to the wonderful 2007 comedy, Enchanted, called Disenchanted. Bland, mediocre, passable, each of these benign phrases are perfectly fitting of this deeply run of the mill effort. Directed by a master of bland, middle of the road, mainstream mush, Adam Shankman, Disenchanted is not a bad movie, just a supremely bland, deeply unmemorable movie that fails to justify its existence.
Where Enchanted was wildly inventive, a loving tribute to Disney Princess tropes, Disenchanted sends up fairy tale tropes with all the skill of someone taking up juggling for the first time. Using Disney created tropes from Cinderella, Snow White, Maleficent and any number of classic fairy tales, Disenchanted appears to have been made by people whose idea of satire is aiming a fire hose of every idea without hitting any specific target.
Disenchanted picks up the story of former fairy tale Princess, Gisele (Amy Adams), living her happily ever after in New York City. It's been 10 years since she fell through a portal into the real world and met and fell in love with her handsome Prince, New York lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey). However, things are not as Happy as the phrase Happily Ever After implies. Gisele has grown weary of the big city and her relationship with her adoptive daughter, Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) has grown strained. Morgan has become a movie teenager, a bland amalgamation of sarcasm and unfocused rebellion.
In order to get her Happily Ever After back on track, Gisele asks Robert to move the family to the suburbs, specifically, a tiny hamlet called Monroeville. There, they buy what appears to be a run down former castle and set about a new ending for their story. Things do not go well and with everyone in the family at each other's throat, Gisele grows desperate for a magical fix to her problems. That magic arrives with a visit from her friends, Prince Edward (James Marsden) and his wife, Nancy (Idina Menzel).
Visiting from Gisele's animated home world, Andalasia, they've brought a gift, a magic wand, to be given to Gisele and Robert's baby daughter. Once they leave however, Gisele decides to use the wand for herself. She wishes for her new home to be just like Andalasia and the next day, it's a full on fairy tale. Robert is now an adventurer, Morgan has become a Cinderella like figure, and, since Gisele is technically Morgan's stepmother, she begins to turn evil. A plot convenient talking scroll informs Gisele, and us, that if she doesn't reverse the wish by Midnight she will turn evil and all of Monroeville will remain in this fairy tale world. Oh, and that means destroying Andalasia for some reason.
A strong example of the haphazard approach to the story of Disenchanted comes from the fact that the movie has two villains. Not only is Gisele turning into an evil stepmother, but Maya Rudolph plays a Monroeville resident who gets transformed into an Evil Queen, for reasons. This leaves the movie without a hero at the center as Morgan is far too underdeveloped to take the lead and Dempsey's Robert is secluded in a meaningless subplot that goes nowhere.
Gisele remains at the center of the story, fighting to keep from turning evil while Amy Adams vamps occasionally, living it up in her camp moments of villainy. Had the filmmakers fully committed to evil Gisele while, perhaps, raising Morgan up to the hero character or involving Dempsey in the plot to rescue her, this plot about Evil Gisele might have worked. As it is, its example of the shoddy, poorly thought out plotting of Disenchanted where we are left adrift amid brief glimpses of what Adams is truly capable of in this incarnation of the character.
Part of what makes modern live action Disney so maddening is that in each of their recent banal offerings, you can sense a better movie trying to seep in through the cracks. That's incredibly true of Disenchanted where Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph spark terrific chemistry that is undercut by the needs of banal plotting and a lazy approach to the material at hand. Give Amy Adams a chance to lean into the villainy. Let her go full camp with it, have Maya Rudolph go full camp and let them loose on each other while go villainous allows Gisele to explore her anxieties about motherhood, marriage, and the real world. It wouldn't be that hard, it would only require a little more hard work from the screenwriters. Apparently, that's too much to ask when they can get paid for delivering a series of banal to mildly appealing set pieces on the way to a rote conclusion.
The original Enchanted thrived on energy and the wonderful juxtaposition of a fairy tale Princess and her delusional take on the real world. Adams was wonderful in that role with her beauty and innocence underpinning a a steely bravery that is revealed by the end of the story. For this character to not have grown at all in the past 10 years is a disservice to the character. Gisele demonstrates zero new qualities. She's still as naïve as the day she arrived in New York. She appears to have done nothing, accomplished nothing since the first film aside from having a baby some 8 years after falling for Robert and getting married.
This complete misconception of the main character is the most dire example of the failures of Disenchanted. Thus it is a bizarre compliment to Adams that Disenchanted isn't a complete disaster. Even in the midst of a completely misguided movie, Adams radiates a lovely charisma that is impossible to dislike. Her singing style remains a comic delight and her interaction with Maya Rudolph's villainous Queen have the kind of bite and energy that the whole movie needs but lacks for the most part.
Most people watching Disenchanted won't care about the continuity of course. The target audience for Disenchanted wasn't born yet when the first film burst on to the screen in 2007, a mere 15 years ago. It's clear that everyone involved in the sequel approached this not as a sequel or a continuation of a story but as a movie intended for a brand new audience. That's a shame however, because the original Enchanted exists and you could just show your kids that movie. The sequel is superfluous, meaningless, a dimwitted reflection of the original minus the wit and invention.
Disenchanted debuts on Disney Plus on Friday, November 18th. If you like your movies bland, easy to digest, and completely forgettable, this is the movie for you. If you prefer movies with life and wit and excitement, watch the original, a far better and more interesting movie. Enchanted is not a classic per se, but for what it is, it's a lovely, sweet and fun family comedy. It's a movie with a strong premise and a capable cast. It also has clever jokes and gags, and great songs. It has everything that this mushy sequel lacks.
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