Fantasy meets reality
THE Disney studio isn’t usually given to mocking its sacred traditions and it’s hard to know what the revered founder would have made of its latest offering, Enchanted. Selfreferential parody wasn’t to Uncle Walt’s taste. It’s possible that Enchanted can be seen as a homage to Disney rather than a send- up, but anyone seeing it for the first time may take it to be an old- fashioned animated Disney fairytale, admittedly one of more than usually revolting sentimentality ( as Lady Bracknell might have said), but with all the standard Disney ingredients. Check them out.
We have a fairytale princess who lives in a castle and communes with an adoring menagerie of birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other twittering forest creatures. A wicked stepmother is jealous of the princess’s beauty and there are encounters with a nasty troll. Then Prince Charming appears, rescues Princess Giselle from some perilous predicament, proclaims that
This maiden is mine’’ and rides off with her on a prancing steed while someone sings one of those dreadful Disney songs (‘‘ I’ve been dreaming of my true love’s kiss’’, or some such) as they contemplate a future of wedded happiness.
For the first 20 minutes or so, this illusion is cleverly sustained. Enchanted begins as a cartoon, but just when we are beginning to think that the joke, if joke it is, has outstayed its welcome, the princess falls into a wishing well, having been lured to the edge by the wicked queen, and plunges an unfathomable distance to emerge through a manhole into contemporary live- action Manhattan, with its surging armies of commuters and honking traffic.
Still wearing her bridal gown ( and now in the real- life form of Amy Adams), she displays all the sweetness and trust we expect of princesses in trying circumstances, not to mention great presence of mind. A street hobo pinches her diamond tiara and she has to ask directions from puzzled bystanders.
All this, too, is familiar enough. The adventures of innocents abroad in an unfamiliar world of skyscrapers, fast- food restaurants and electronic communication was the stuff of Crocodile Dundee . The previous Christmas variant on the theme, the Will Ferrell comedy Elf , made the shrewd point that people in bizarre costumes behaving oddly in public are these days likelier to be taken for participants in retail stunts or television commercials than visitors from another world.
One misses such modest evidence of sophistication in Enchanted , though there’s a charming moment when Giselle mistakes a TV screen for a magic mirror. Pleading to know the whereabouts of her missing lover, she’s rewarded with a newscaster signing off from the corner of soand- so and such- and- such in downtown Manhattan’’. Nice touch, I thought.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As one would expect, Prince Charming follows his prospective bride through the same magic portal and emerges in New York in the person of James Marsden, dim and ardent as ever.
Giselle, meanwhile, has found shelter and companionship with Robert ( Patrick Dempsey), a sympathetic lawyer, who treats her at first as a harmless eccentric, no more disturbed than most of his married clients, and offers her the convenience of his apartment while she finds somewhere else to live.
Robert, a specialist in divorce settlements, having separated ( appropriately enough) from his own partner, lives with his sprightly six- yearold daughter, Morgan ( Rachel Covey). The child takes an immediate fancy to Giselle and the two become allies.
Soon the entire fairytale cast is reunited in the world of relationship counselling, property settlements and the general grime and sleaze of everyday urban life.
Against all her maidenly instincts and regal upbringing, Giselle finds herself attracted to Robert and less captivated by her prince of yore. With the wicked queen on hand in the person of Susan Sarandon, things can only get stickier.
It’s a lovely story. Director Kevin Lima and writer Bill Kelly convincingly merge the separate worlds of fantasy and real life, and I doubt if this has been done better.
Adams may overdo the simpering cuteness in some of her scenes, but Dempsey’s character is especially likable. Somehow everything ends happily, with no unattached lovers or disappointed suitors left with nowhere to turn.
This is a delightful family entertainment and I think Uncle Walt would have approved.
* * * DISNEY’S other holiday offering, National Treasure: Book of Secrets , is a sequel to its 2004 action adventure National Treasure . Nicolas Cage, older and wiser, is back as Ben Gates, pursuing clues to the location of a hidden treasure. I haven’t seen the first film, which by all accounts was good fun, but the new one goes on too long and shows every sign of flagging invention, with a persistent air of straining and desperation and increasingly unlikely plot twists.
There is a certain kind of action- adventure in which going over the top is confused with imaginative daring, and what is needed is not more of the preposterous but more reminders of a real and knowable world. Book of Secrets belongs to the tradition of Raiders of the Lost Ark , but Indiana Jones was a more spirited and appealing character than Ben Gates. Still, Cage, glum as he seems, is not the problem. Unlike Steven Spielberg, who knew where to draw the line, director Jon Turteltaub keeps piling on increasingly lavish absurdities, and the film feels like a huge waste of effort for little reward. Perhaps this is to be expected in a Disney collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
In the days when I set the Easter egg treasure hunts in our family, the most audacious clues led under the house or up a tree, or perhaps to the nearest public phone box. Ben Gates has to follow a trail from the Eiffel Tower to the Queen’s study in Buckingham Palace ( would you believe?), from the Oval Office in the White House to Mt Rushmore, while searching for a fabled city of gold.
Ben, of course, is too noble a chap to care about riches. He’s out to prove the innocence of his great- great- grandfather, who has been implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the discovery of a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth.
You have to admire Ben’s sense of family loyalty. The only help he gets is from his father ( Jon Voight) and a lady who specialises in ancient languages ( Helen Mirren). Surely Mirren could have played the Queen, busy reading or signing things in her study when Ben cons his way inside. That would have been something. I’m afraid the film is a lot less enjoyable than it sounds. Some will embrace it as the purest escapist pleasure, but after what seems like three or four hours of escalating nonsense I was happy simply to escape.
Fresh and beguiling: Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey enjoy life with three dimensions in Enchanted