Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘Disenchanted’ Finds Some Sparks in an Old Spell

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As sequels go, Disenchanted isn’t as bad as it could have been. But I’m not sure it’s as good as it could have been. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it soul-less, but it lacks some of its predecessor’s charms.

Adam Shankman tries his best, however. Part of the problem with Disenchanted is that deconstructionist fairy tales-even Disney ones-have moved beyond simply saying, “ooh what if it was a man in distress this time?” Enchanted paved the way, but the idea is no longer as novel as it once was and has since been done half a dozen different ways.

Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) and Giselle (Amy Adams)

Brigitte Hales’s script tries its best to fix two of the most significant flaws of the first Enchanted. The first one is despite the charm and enjoyability of the first movie, not a lot happens. The second is rectifying the original sin of casting Idina Menzel in a musical and having her one of a handful of characters who don’t sing. A crime so great it’s a testament to how good and beloved Enchanted is; a lesser movie would have been pilloried for such an egregious misstep.

Shankman is a director who is very much hit or miss, but even when he strikes, it’s not generally because of style so much as the star power attached to it. Thankfully, Shankman and his cameraperson Simon Duggan succeed in giving the film a Rogers and Hammerstein feel.

The simple version of the story is that Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey) have grown tired of the hustle and bustle of New York City. Their Manhattan apartment is beginning to feel cramped with a new baby Sophia and a now-teenaged Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino). So they decide to move to a magical kingdom known as the suburbs, Monroeville. 

Of course, the move only exacerbates the problems Giselle and her family are having. However, the problems aren’t problems so much as Giselle coming to terms with the fact that “happily ever after” is a great way to end a story; in real life, it doesn’t seem to have much sway. Thankfully her friends, the King and Queen of Andalsasia Edward (James Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel), arrive to give Giselle and Sophia a gift, a wishing wand.

Disenchanted may not win any prizes for originality, but it does a solid job hitting the beats. Granted, this is less due to Shankman and Duggan and more to the cast’s talents. Amy Adams is, of course, fantastic; that’s like saying water is wet. Though I don’t know if I can ever forgive her for her role in Hillbilly Elegy, that’s neither here nor there.

Edward (James Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel)

Adams is having a gasser of a time as Giselle. Especially after Giselle makes a wish that real life was more like Andalasia, forgetting that she’s now a stepmother and all stepmothers are wicked, Adams sinks her teeth into Giselle’s slide into a villainous stepmother. It almost singlehandedly saves the movie.

Hales’ script, however, can’t quite figure out what to do with everyone else. Morgan is turned into a teenage version of Giselle, and Robert into an Edward-like character. Both Dempsey and Baldacchino do a splendid job, but they’re forced to play fairy tale versions of characters that were never fully fleshed out. They don’t even get the joy of fighting the transformation like Adams.

Worse of all is that Morgan, at the beginning of the movie, is revealed to be a broody, angsty teen. Giselle is at a loss for how to parent a teenager that isn’t happy. But magically turning her into a Giselle 2.0 and having them solve their troubles seems like a cop-out. Angsty Morgan is never seen trying to break through the facade, and fairy-tale Morgan is just parodying Giselle. This is doubly sad because, in the beginning, we see part of the riff between Giselle and Morgan is how everyone keeps talking about Sophia as magic and the “true” daughter of Andalasia, making her feel left out.

It’s by the sheer force of the talent of Adams and Baldacchino that a scene they share at the end about love being the most potent magic had tears welling up in my eyes. The two actresses raise half-baked notions into full-fledged themes in a single scene.

As a musical, Disenchanted is clumsily executed. It has more songs, but they lack the charm and whimsy. The exception is “Badder,” a duet between Adams and Maya Rudolph’s Malvina Monroe, a perfectly conceived name that I don’t even need to tell you anything about the character. “Badder” has a vitality to it lacking in other songs, and it’s one of the few times that Shankman and Duggan break out of their “made for tv” aesthetic mold they have cast themselves in. Of course, it helps that the editing team, Emma E. Hickox and Chris Lebenzon, almost singlehandedly lend the musical number a visual pizazz. 

Malvina Monroe(Maya Rudolph)

Yes, Disenchanted allows Menzel to sing. She shares a small duet with Marsden’s Edward and has a solo number towards the end. However, her song “Love Power” would be forgettable if anyone other than Idina had sung it. As is, even she is forced to do some heavy lifting to get the song off the ground.

All the while, Morgan and Robert have their adventures-sort of. Robert wanders around the countryside, trying and failing to be a hero. At the same time, Morgan flirts with her prince charming, Malvina’s son Tyson (Kolton Stewart). Unfortunately, neither story is seriously followed so much as treated as fluff to cut away so Disenchanted doesn’t become what it already is, The Amy Adams Show.

Even Rudolph seems wasted as Malvina, although perfectly named, has little to no motivation outside of vamping and snarling. It’s a testament to all involved that Disenchanted works as well s it does because it shouldn’t. Disenchanted is neither a bad movie nor a good one; it lands somewhere in between. However, it does so on the backs of a cast deserving better material.

Images courtesy of Disney+

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