Cinderella. The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast. For the past century, Disney has been charming audiences with its fairy tales. And just when the Disney Princess line started to feel a bit too saccharine for the 21st century, they created a snarky homage to what they do best. In Enchanted, Giselle, a stereotypical damsel in distress, is exiled to New York City by a jealous witch and must learn to cope with the many dangers of reality – including angry cab drivers, cynical lawyers and something called “sarcasm.” With a heartfelt storyline, original songs by Stephen Schwartz and a genuinely funny sense of self-awareness, it’s no wonder that Enchanted quickly became a Disney classic alongside its Disney Princess predecessors.
On a personal note, Enchanted is very nostalgic for me: it was the first movie I saw in theaters and it’s a movie I watched so much as a kid that I can still quote most of it word-for-word. So when I heard that Disney had announced a sequel to Enchanted, I was both excited and skeptical. As a devotee, I would never pass up a new chance to see Amy Adams’ Giselle and Patrick Dempsey’s Robert on the big screen again.
But at the same time, Disney has become notorious in the last decade for their lackluster live-action adaptations, preying on the deep-seated nostalgia of their millennial viewers to generate money that (I feel) is largely unearned. Films such as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s The Lion King have spellbinding visual effects, but are devoid of the heart of their animated counterparts.
When I first learned about Disenchanted, I guessed initially that this was Disney’s first attempt to leech off the nostalgia of Generation Z. Next would come live-action Tangled, live-action Frozen and live-action The Princess and the Frog, a process of gutting popular animated classics inside out just to make a little more profit off the world’s youngest adults.
Perhaps going into Disenchanted with such a cynical mindset wasn’t the best idea; but my low expectations meant that I was actually somewhat surprised by the movie.
10 years after falling in love, Giselle and Robert decide to leave behind the hustle-and-bustle of New York City and move to Monroeville, a Levittown-esque suburb where PTA moms and bake sales rule supreme. But despite the move, all is not well for the family. Robert is drained by commutes into the city, while Giselle’s stepdaughter Morgan, now 16, feels aimless away from Manhattan. In an attempt to give her whole family a “happily ever after,” Giselle casts a wish that inadvertently turns Monroeville into a fairytale parallel…while turning Giselle herself into a wicked stepmother in the process.
Full disclosure: Disenchanted is not as clever as Enchanted. This is understandable, as humor flows a lot faster with a fish out of water, while Giselle is right at home in a world with the simplistic rules and tropes of a fairy tale. Disenchanted strikes a very different tone than the original movie, replacing snark with artificially-sweetened sincerity and the grimy-but-lovable Big Apple backdrop, plus aesthetics that are classically beautiful but not very helpful with the movie’s storytelling.
While I appreciate that Disney didn’t simply retell the same story as the first movie, I couldn’t help but feel like Giselle and Robert– especially Robert, who goes through the entire movie without using his signature Enchanted deadpan at all – lost some of their distinct spark.
But despite its flaws, there’s a sense that the cast and crew simply had a lot of fun making Disenchanted. There’s an infectious sense of joy that exudes from every performance. The movie uses every actor to their fullest and gives them the freedom to do what they do best. Amy Adams once again nails her deer-in-headlights Giselle persona; Maya Rudolph dazzles as a controlling – albeit very funny – evil queen; Idina Menzel is given multiple solos which, frankly, should have been a part of the original Enchanted as well.
An additional small detail that I love about Disenchanted is its dedication to Giselle, even though she’s now middle-aged. When Morgan meets a cute boy at her new high school, immediately I thought, “Oh, great. Just like that, we’re discarding Giselle for a stereotypical ‘young love’ story.” But Disenchanted didn’t end up going that route. It didn't marginalize its original main character in favor of a younger woman. In a world where, even today, most female movie protagonists are younger than 25 (regardless of how old their male love interest is), it was heartening to see how female producers are working to shake up that narrative.
Disenchanted may not become a classic like its predecessor, but it is far from the soulless shells of most of Disney’s recent live-action projects. Will you remember the tunes? Probably not, but you’ll certainly remember how gleefully competitive Rudolph and Adams get in “Badder.” Does it feel like this movie stretches on and on for three hours? Yes: it’s the type of movie you put on as background noise while knitting or scrolling endlessly through Instagram. But, as it’s visually gorgeous and generally well-cast, it’s the perfect winter-vacation-watch for a college kid looking to curl up with a mug of cocoa and just a touch of nostalgia.
Thumbnail courtesy of Disney Enterprises.