B Family-friendly fantasy comedy

  • Written by Bill Kelly
  • Directed by Kevin Lima

Howard Hawks’ famous criteria for a great film–three good scenes and no bad ones–almost applies to this family fantasy. It has more than three great scenes. But it also has a few that border on the edge of just plain bad, and some horrendously cast lead roles.

Call Enchanted a good movie, but not a great one.

Like the Shrek franchise, it’s a riff on traditional fairy tales, especially in their Disneyesqe form. It even starts with a book opening. From there it takes us to that familiar world of beautiful blonde princesses, handsome princes, cute animal friends, and old-fashioned hand-drawn animation. These opening scenes walk a very fine line, managing to be just over the top enough to let is know that they’re parody. But when the wicked stepmother tosses sweet, innocent Giselle down a well to keep her from marrying Price Edward, she emerges from a manhole cover in a live-action Time Square. She’s live action now, too, played by Amy Adams.

Adams nails the part perfectly. Naïve, upbeat, and optimistic to the point of insanity, she smiles at everyone, can’t understand concepts like divorce, and sings at the drop of a hat. The movie is never better than when she sings, especially the song where she cleans up a messy apartment with the help of her little wild animal friends. Only this time, they’re the sort of wild animals that New Yorkers try to exterminate.

She also meets, and eventually falls in love with, a single dad and divorce lawyer played by Patrick Dempsey. (I’m not giving anything away. If you’ve seen three Hollywood movies in your life, you know where their friendship is going.) But this is where the movie fails. This lawyer is a dull guy as written, and Dempsey’s lack of charisma doesn’t help. There’s no reason beyond plot necessity for her to fall in love with him.

His daughter and girlfriend are also dull. I suppose the filmmakers wanted dull New Yorkers to contrast with the wild fantasy characters, but it doesn’t really work. The guy could have been disillusioned with life (as the screenplay makes clear), and still have been fun to be around.

Luckily, there are more fantasy characters coming through that manhole, such as the handsome, chivalrous, but stupid-as-a-doorpost Prince Edward (I knew the romantic story had problems when I found myself rooting for the dumb guy over the dull one), and the wicked stepmother herself. These parts are perfectly played by James Marsden and Susan Sarandon, who clearly relishes playing a two-dimensional villain.

Near the end, the movie forgets it’s a comedy. That’s unfortunate, as the story doesn’t earn the right to be taken seriously. But before it gets bogged down, it’s enchanting.