Disenchanted

2007’s Enchanted proved to audiences that Disney still had it, the ability to mix all of the rosy ingredients of the classic fairy-tale into a magical synthesis of hope and escapism that stays true to what “Disney” stands for. I was enchanted by this return to form, so you can imagine my delight when I found out a sequel was on the horizon.

In an arguably questionable move, Disenchanted (directed by Adam Shankman) was released on Disney +, skipping a theatrical release in favour of driving users to the streaming platform. For an intellectual property of this sort, one would expect a theatrical release, anything less would seemingly imply that the film is artistically lacking in some respect, that it fails to do whatever the first film did that made it so beloved.

So, is Disenchanted just as good as Enchanted? I think this is the wrong question to ask, for reasons that will soon become clear.

The primary setting moves from the modern urban environment of Manhattan to the traditional European-esque town of Monroeville. In wanting to return to living a “perfect” fairy-tale life, Giselle (Amy Adams), Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) move out, but they quickly find that their new life is not as they had hoped. Robert struggles with the long commute, Morgan takes an instant dislike to her new school, while Giselle draws the ire of the snooty town head, Malvina (Maya Rudolph).

Soon enough, King Edward (James Marsden) and Queen Nancy (Idina Menzel) visit the family. They bestow them with a gift – a wishing wand, a magical object from their world that does as its name suggests. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, but Giselle, being no less naïve than Snow White, loses sight of this.

Monroeville subsequently transforms into an actual fairy-tale land, where the inhabitants go about their day to day lives with glee and everyday problems do not exist. Wherein the first film we do not see much of Andalasia seeping into the real world, in Disenchanted, the real world essentially becomes Andalasia.

Alongside this change comes a sense of peril. Malvina’s disposition as the controlling type is recontextualised, and she is transformed into a Queen, specifically one bearing the visual hallmarks of evil. Giselle also starts to change, though surprisingly into a wicked stepmom.

It is not entirely clear why Giselle changes. Does the wishing wand bring out specific traits in people, or is there a simpler explanation? Perhaps the wand is a corrupting force akin to Tolkien’s ring? Whatever the case, it is made clear to us that the person Giselle is becoming is antithetical to her very being.

Adams slips right back into her role as the innocent, bright-eyed Andalasian, and it is nothing short of impressive just how seamless her performance is given the 15-year gap. Equally impressive, or perhaps even more so, is her ability to suddenly shift between personalities – not only does it lead to many humorous moments, Adams really sells the idea that Giselle is under some kind of mind-altering spell.

Credit where credit’s due, Rudolph delivers an equally showy performance as the evil Queen, putting in the sort of energy and pizazz one would expect from a Broadway performer. One of the most entertaining and memorable musical sequences involves Malvina and Giselle attempting to out-sing each other.  

But Disenchanted is a film with both highs and lows. While there are sequences that replicate the level of artistry found in the first film, not all of what we see and hear justifies itself. The story would have been better served had more time been spent on the individual characters, as opposed to the numerous song and dance numbers too forgettable to not be filler. Curious also is the treatment of Robert’s character, who essentially becomes another Prince Edward following the transformation of Monroeville. While it was interesting to see Dempsey take on the role of a fellow cast member, I do not feel like the writers handled him well; he becomes robbed of his agency, and wanders around his new world without even so much as drawing a few laughs. Thankfully, Robert is not completely neglected as a character, but it does seem like the writers struggled to find a place for him in the story.

It is important to remember that Enchanted is not the anti-fairy tale. Granted, the realist mindset of Robert and the thematic juxtaposition of true love with the divorce industry deviates from the standard fairy-tale formula, but this is done to maximise narrative potential. You read that correct. The function of pessimism in Enchanted is not to cater those that have never been moved by concepts such as “true loves kiss” and “happily ever after”, it is to address a mentality with the express purpose of refuting it. This intent is teased from the very beginning of the film; the opening animated sequence looks like a fairy tale, feels like a fairy tale, but reaches an “ending” without much of a payoff. By continuing the story in the real world, narrative elements you would not typically find in the classic fairy-tale start to appear. The “risk” of deviating from what is the fairy-tale’s base ingredients ultimately translates into a narrative that is, at its core, a fairy-tale, showing us how love can blossom even in the unlikeliest of places.

Disenchanted has been criticised for being less satirical than Enchanted – a strange critique to be sure, as I would not call Enchanted satire. In fact, Richard Cook, the then chairman of Walt Disney Studios, was quoted in The New York Times as saying: “It’s not a parody and it’s not making fun of anything. It’s a giant love letter to Disney classics.”

So, what is it then, that makes Disenchanted less of a crowd-pleaser? Enchanted was the full package, giving us a story that felt complete. Disenchanted is a wonderful revisiting, and there are aspects to this film that left a notable impression, such as the focus on Morgan and a scene where the film’s heroes physically attempt to arrest the passage of time. It is not Enchanted though, and it cannot be even if it wanted to.

Disenchanted is what happens after Happily Ever After, like reading a chapter of a book that reveals events taking place after the conclusion to the story. In a time when classic storytelling is hard to come by, Disenchanted feels like a miracle for simply existing. Yes, it may not tell as good a story as the first, but at least it does not betray its own identity. And that is something we should be thankful for.

8/10

Viewed on Disney +
Written by Ashley Roohizadegan
Ashley Roohizadegan

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