RetroReviews #27: Enchanted (2007)

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JUNE 6, 2013 SCREENING: ENCHANTED (2007)

Nobody does a better job parodying Disney movies than Disney, and perhaps the finest example of that is the 2007 film Enchanted. I found this film to be extremely entertaining and masterfully made because it does something sharp with a now tired premise. Enchanted is yet another film where a cartoon character leaves their crazy universe behind and enters the “real world” (which usually means New York, and does in this case as well) through an inner-dimensional gateway.

Now that this premise has been done with every famous cartoon character from The Smurfs to Rocky and Bullwinkle, it’s hard to think of a time where a movie ever did it and kept the audience engrossed in the story. That’s where Enchanted comes in. The main character in this film is a composite character of every Disney princess you’ve ever seen, her suitor/rescuer is a composite version of every Disney prince you’ve ever seen, and the villain/main antagonist of the movie is a composite of Disney’s greatest female baddies, like if you put the evil stepmother from Cinderella, the evil queen from Snow White, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, andCruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians in a gene splicer together, added steroids, and hit frappe.

The best parodies don’t come up with an obvious one-dimensional copy of the source material, but manage to get the tone and characterization so spot on that their parody version could work in a legitimate version of that story. A fine example is the evil villain in the film Galaxy Quest, General Sarris. The film is a parody of Star Trek, but he actor plays it straight, and he’s such a cruel and vicious evil giant grasshopper-like alien that you could see him working as the villain in a real Star Trek movie. In fact, he’s actually better and more effective than most of the villains from real Star Trek movies. The same is true of the antagonist in Enchanted. She is the evil Queen Narissa, portrayed by Susan Saradon as deadly serious – and she’s extremely effective at being a purely evil, cold-hearted hateful bitch, and is extremely threatening and frightful character for a PG rated film.

One element why Enchanted works better than the countless other “cartoon character comes to the real world” films is that Princess Giselle doesn’t remain in cartoon form when she enters the “real world”. She instead becomes a real flesh-and- blood human being (played by Amy Adams), albeit while retaining all her ridiculous cartoon nature and personality. (Ralph Baski came up with a similar concept for his 1992 adult-orientated film Cool World, but it failed to live up to the potential that it does here). Anyone else from Giselle’s universe who enters the “Real world” over the course of the film also becomes a flesh-and-blood real life being, which can extremely chilling in the case of the evil queen, or extremely funny in case of her cute animal companions (squirrels, etc.) joining her in New York. Once they are in the city and interact with “normal” people, the characters continue to behave and react exactly as they would in their cartoon fantasy, giving us some hilarious moments when they randomly burst into song until someone shuts them up, and so forth.

One of the more remarkable elements is that the original pitch for Enchanted wasn’t something Disney did in-house. Instead, they purchased a script for a more “R-rated” type film that had the same basic structure, and reworked it as a “family friendly” film, while keeping the same biting satire mocking their own brand of films. The first 10 minutes of the movie takes place in the world of the animated Disney princess, and the creators of Enchanted did an amazing job managing to stuff in every standard and over-the-top cliché you can find in their “Walt Disney animated masterpieces”. Once in the real world, they also managed to slyly insert numerous references and in-jokes about Disney movies – for example, no less than four Disney princess voice-over actresses have cameos in this movie as characters in the “real world”.

The film is not without flaws – while the ending with the evil Queen transforming into a dragon and fighting the prince is effective, it’s exactly what the audience would expect and doesn’t work as a parody because its more of a cop out to resolve the story than a homage. The film could have also used an additional 10-15 minutes of running time to flesh out some of its plot points, and it suffers from the politically correct representation of the world in modern Disney films. Still, this is one movie where I have to whole heartily agree with critics and audiences that Enchanted got the praise it deserved. It grossed over $340 million on a $85 million budget, won the 2007 Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Motion Picture, received two nominations at the 65th Golden Globe Awards and three nominations at the 80th Academy Awards. Given all that, I’m surprised the film didn’t receive more “buzz” at the time it was released. It’s not a masterpiece, but as far as the genre its doing and the storyline its trying to tell, this movie is as good as it gets.

*** ½ out of ****

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