By Janie Walenda
Long before “Frozen” made fun of the love at first sight trope, “Enchanted” subverted the Disney fairytale playbook. The 2007 film is hilarious and heartfelt and utilizes its premise to deliver one of the best Disney romances to date. While “Disenchanted” is still a wildly enjoyable movie, it lacks a lot of the cleverness and meaning of its predecessor.
The premise by itself is genius. Fifteen years after “Enchanted,” Giselle, Robert, Morgan and new baby Sofia move out of New York City into the suburbs As Robert struggles with commuting, Giselle and Morgan’s relationship becomes strained. Giselle wishes for a fairytale life, not realizing that in the process she’ll become Morgan’s wicked stepmother, according to the classic fairytale trope. However, the actual plot of the film is stale. For the most part it is the most generic fairytale plot imaginable, and the film doesn’t satirize it enough to give it any bite.
Additionally, many of the characterizations and character plots are all over the place. Morgan, played by Gabriella Baldacchino, doesn’t have much personality, which is made worse by the switch into fairytale land halfway through the movie. It makes sense for Giselle’s wish to turn grumpy teenager Morgan into a cheerful Disney protagonist, but even as Morgan becomes aware of the spell, it’s unclear what her true personality is.
While it makes sense for Morgan to be the modern foil to Giselle’s fairytale shenanigans, it leaves Robert with nothing to do and with very little personality. His relationship with Giselle is no longer the main storyline, and clearly, the writers don’t know what to do with him. He has no impact on the plot, and he also loses all his personality due to the spell. While the joke of him being a more overdramatic hero was funny at first, it does not play to Patrick Dempsey’s strengths and just serves as a reminder that James Marsden is not on screen.
While under-developed from a character perspective, Giselle’s wish leads to the most enjoyable moments of the film
A choice that I found a little odd was that “Disenchanted” is a full-blown musical. Obviously “Enchanted” had musical numbers, but they were infrequent and either a parody of typical Disney songs or a refreshingly modern take on Disney songs. “Disenchanted” has many more songs and a lot less cleverness behind them. The characters who sang were intentional in “Enchanted,” which complemented the fairytale versus real-life message of that movie. In “Disenchanted” there are opportunities for that level of storytelling that the film never uses. Most of the songs are painfully generic, but “Fairytale Life (After the Spell)” and “Badder” are enjoyable. And Idina Menzel finally gets the power ballad that she deserved in the first film, and while “Love Power” is the most egregious case of painfully dull lyrics in the film, Menzel’s vocals make it at least tolerable.
The production design of “Disenchanted” is one of its brightest spots. Except for one bland costume, all of the fairytale looks are stunning, and Giselle’s and Malvina’s evil looks are iconic, making it impossible for me to choose a favorite. One of my favorite small things from the film was the design of all the enchanted kitchen objects in one number. It’s clearly inspired by “Beauty and the Beast,” and its execution was clever and expressive that even in that short scene it manages to surpass the live-action designs in 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
What really makes this film worth watching is how invested the actors are. All of them bring their best, and many of them manage to pull engaging and interesting characters from a thin script. Maya Rudolph is clearly chewing the scenery as Malvina Monroe, and she could not have been more entertaining and hilarious. James Marsden as Edward has at most ten minutes of screen time, and yet is still my favorite character in the film. He makes a very unnatural and dramatic character feel natural and effortless. His performance is so charismatic that his animated counterpart feels less energetic.
And of course, this is Amy Adams’ film. Not only is it a delight to see her as a wide-eyed Disney princess again, but she crushes Giselle’s turn as an evil stepmother. The genius of the film is that it gives Adams an opportunity to show her range like this, and she makes every moment worth it.
While the plot and characters of “Disenchanted” may be paper-thin, especially when compared to “Enchanted,” the actors and production design make the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s frustrating to think about the wasted potential, but “Disenchanted” is fun enough to warrant at least one watch, and I certainly wouldn’t object to watching it again at a movie night with friends.
“Disenchanted” is now streaming on Disney+
Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew.
Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios