Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The blog gets ENCHANTED

What's that - two blogs in one day?!?! Yep, check my earlier post to see a review of I AM LEGEND and more. But, while I had a little time I thought I'd write down my thoughts on the latest from the House of Mouse ... enjoy!


- Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle ... I had a sneaking suspicion that Enchanted might be something special, but still, I went into it with a bit of a skeptical eye. I mean sure, this was a Disney movie, but really, has that meant all that much in recent years? With the very notable exception of Pixar and a few particular PIRATES, when was the last time that we got a true, honest-to-god, instant-classic DISNEY, as in WALT DISNEY, movie? Well kids, here it is. Enchanted is a Disney movie through-and-through, and man, was it good to see. This is a movie that will take you back and make you feel like a kid, and if you are a kid, well, I can't think of a movie this year that could be anything better. Evil witches, true love, princesses, adventure, humor, music - it's all here, and I pretty much enjoyed every minute of this movie. Yes folks, a hardened, at times bitter man I may be, but at heart I am a man raised on Walt Disney and Jim Henson and DC Comics and all of that Good stuff, and very quickly it was clear that Enchanted had won me over - this is a film that Disney can be proud of, that can be held up alongside Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid as a true treasure.

Okay, you might ask, but how can that be? Isn't this one of those post-modern movies that riffs on all the classics and infuses thos great old-school, non-ironic fairy tales with a heaping dose of nu-school self-aware 'tude?

Well, that's exactly what I was worried about, and I really am sick of series like Shrek that coast along on their combination of fairy-tale trappings with pop songs and movie references and the like. Ironically I think it was Disney itself that started the trend, with Robin Williams doing Jack Nicholson impressions as the Genie in Aladdin, and then later on Shrek (part 1) did a nice job of paying tribute to the old-school stuff while ushering in the era of CGI 'toons. But what was at first a cool novelty quickly became the norm, and now you can't go a week without a new hipster-cool, CGI-animated flick popping up, promising to entertain the kids while making sly double entrendres for the adults with a soundtrack (CD available now!) by Smash Mouth. But what's so amazing about ENCHANTED is that it is, in it's own clever way, the antithesis of those types of films. What it does so well is walk a fine line - on one hand it winks at the conventions of all those classic Disney movies - but on the other hand - and this is what's so cool - is that it's never placing itself above those conventions ... instead, it's completely paying tribute to those films, lovingly reminding us why it is that we loved those great fairy tales in the first place.

While searching around online I actually saw some comparisons between Enchanted and Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It sounds strange, but the comparison is actually really apt. Because like Edgar Wright's genre send-ups, Enchanted lampoons its inspirations and yet you can feel the love for that source material bursting from every frame of the movie. I mean, when the film opens with narration by Julie Andrews and transports you into this classic Disney animated fairy tale universe, you laugh at how slyly Enchanted is having fun with those older movies, but at the same time ... it's as if Enchanted is screaming at you: "Remember?!?! Don't you remember what's so amazingly great and timeless about those legendary Disney works of art?!?!" And you do remember. Because there's something about that hand-drawn animation that can never be replicated in CGI, there's something about telling a great story unironically that can be so refreshing in this day and age. Sometimes, parody really is the best way to call attention to how great something was (I think of all the great movies and TV shows I've discovered simply because they were brilliantly satirized by The Simpsons ...). So yes, this is a satire, in a way, but really, it's a tribute, and even more than that, it feels like a call to action. This isn't just a nostalgic look at Disney days gone by - it's a reminder that that way of telling a story STILL works - because Enchanted tricks us into thinking we're seeing some hip, modern spin on Disney when, in fact, this IS a classic Disney movie in disguise.

Amy Adams is simply great here. I still love Ellen Page's performance in Juno, but honestly this one is up there as one of the year's best turns from a leading actress. Adams is so spot-on in that again, she is sending up the stereotypical Disney princess, and yet ... she wins us over and really makes us 100% believe in her character despite how ridiculous she could have seemed in lesser hands.

I've never been big on James Marsden before, but as far as I can tell this is the best work of his career - he's hilarious as the prototypical prince charming. Susan Sarandon makes for a great evil witch - between her delightfully wicked performance here and Michelle Pfeifer's outstanding turn this summer in STARDUST ... well, what a year it's been for wicked witches. Patrick Dempsey does a really nice job as well as the overworked real-world guy who falls for the fantasy-land princess, and the girl who plays his young daughter is terrific too. Timothy Spall is another great villain, here the quintessential sleezy henchman. Also really well done here are all of the various cartoon and CGI creatures that populate the film. The princess' little chipmunk friend is pretty classic as far as funny animal sidekicks go, and has a ton of personality and humor for a CGI guy in a real-world setting. At the theater I saw the movie in, the audience was cracking up at his antics, and I don't blame them. The CGI stuff here is so wel ldone not because it's technically dazzling (though at times it is), but it's because of the sheer character and personality put into the animation. Definitely a few drops of the ol' Disney fairy dust were floating about in this one ...

But aside from the joyful performance of Amy Adams, the other real star here is the music by longtime Disney composer Alan Menkin and partner Steven Schwartz. There are a couple of real winners here, songs you'll be humming and singing along to for a long time after seeing the film. I mean, my tolerance for musical numbers is not typically that great, but man, I already have these songs on "repeat" in my head - they're the same kind of catchy, happy, clever tunes that made Little Mermaid et al so beloved. And the whole "How do you know he loves you" musical number was just so well done, from the lyrics to the choreography -- the cuteness factor was turned up so high that you'd have to be a bitter, hateful person not to love it. I'm sorry, but it's true ...

ENCHANTED deserves its recent success, and I can only hope that it does remind people why classic Disney is in fact classic. The fact that Disney shut down its animation department a few years back was an absolute travesty, and it would be truly wonderful if this film, which so deftly belends live action with animation, was the start of a revival in traditional hand-drawn animation. I know Disney has one or two 2-D projects on the way, so let's see if they can live up to the bar set by this one. Sure, there are moments here that lean a little on the cheesy side, and one or two plot points that feel a bit glossed-over, but I was continually impressed by how well things flowed and how seamlessly this movie seemed to come together and just click on so many levels. But most of all, it had that extra layer of care put into it that really made it shine. Whether it was "Under the Sea" playing at a key moment of the film, those elegantly-animated scenes, the little clever moments of the script, or Amy Adams showing that a princess could be both a dreamer and a modern girl ... Enchanted has that Disney touch, that seal of quality. I'm surprised, but very pleasantly so, that the movie lived up to its name, and lived up to its legacy.

My Grade: A -

No comments:

Post a Comment