Monday, November 26, 2007

Tim Callahan reviews ENCHANTED

[Guest Blogger Tim Callahan reviews Enchanted, a movie I only wanted to see for Amy Adams and James Marsden. Someone should put Bruce Campbell, Patrick Warburton and James Marsden in a movie together, cause they are all living cartoons. Don't forget that you too, dear, reader, can propose guest blogs here.]

Your tolerance for Disney’s Enchanted will depend upon how much you want to smack Patrick Dempsey in the face. If, like me, you don’t really understand his appeal as a leading man, but you kind of fondly remember him from back in the days when he used to pay blond teenagers to pretend to be his girlfriend, then you might not mind his milquetoasty performance in this film. If you want to slap him upside the head for his vacant smile and his empty charm, for his rise to stardom via Grey’s Anatomy, for his general mediocrity, then you probably won’t have fun sitting through Enchanted. He’s in the movie quite a bit. He’s the straight man to Amy Adams crazy, homeless princess from another land, true, but that means he’s on screen quite a bit, sucking the life out of more frames than not.

On the other hand, if you think Patrick Dempsey is the dreamiest, most charismatic performer to hit the silver screen, then you’ll probably like the movie no matter what I say, and there’s really no hope for you. Good luck, and all that.

Have I really wasted this many words on Patrick Dempsey? Yes, and perhaps my decades-long fascination with his career blurred my judgment as I sat in that darkened theater. (Not that Patrick Dempsey ruined the film for me exactly, but when I should have been watching the wonderful Amy Adams, I kept looking over at the Demp—yes, I will now refer to him as “the Demp”--thinking, “ah, you’re so inconsequential, aren’t you?”—my issue, not yours).

Even with the ever-present Demp lurking in the edges of the frame, Enchanted does have quite a bit of life for a fall family film. The animated opening sequence is gorgeous, and much longer than I would have thought it might be. It’s both an homage to classic Disney animation and an exaggeration of the frolicking, joyous, silly excess of such a fantasy world. The archetypes are all present: wicked queen, dashing prince, innocent princess, sniveling sidekick. But nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy.

When Amy Adams. as innocent Giselle (and really? Giselle? Is that supposed to be one of the jokes? The name resonates discordantly every time it’s uttered), falls into the portal to “the real world” (aka the New York City sewer system), the story leaves behind its Disney-fied trappings and becomes a mid-1980s romantic comedy. Hence, the Demp.

It’s not a bad mid-1980s romantic comedy, largely because Amy Adams is so unbelievably earnest in the lead role, but there’s not much going on in the second Act. There is one great scene, when we learn that Giselle’s ability to coerce woodland animals to help her with the chores applies even in 2007 NYC. As the scene begins, we think it’s being set up to show how different the real world is. How her silly cartoon rules don’t apply anymore. But as the pigeons, and rats, and roaches invade the Demp’s apartment, answering her call, they join in on the housework, scouring pots, tidying up the living room, folding laundry, with their creepy little hands or tentacles or whatever they have (I’m pretty sure none of the animals actually had tentacles, but I wasn’t looking that closely, and there were a lot of them flying around). It’s a funny scene when we realize what’s going on, and it’s funnier still when the Demp and daughter of the Demp (he’s a single dad and he has the ugly girl from Rent as his girlfriend, both of which add CONFLICT to Act Two—nice, try screenwriters!) see the vermin infestation and don’t quite understand the context.

But that’s about it, as far as the laughs go.

Until Cyclops shows up.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen James Marsden do anything but make serious faces as he says bad dialog, but in Enchanted he gets to make goofy, hammy faces as he says intentionally bad dialog. And he’s quite brilliant. His Prince Edward (another supposedly funny name, I presume?) is buffoonish in a lovable way, and although we don’t really want to see Amy Adams end up with him, since he’s clearly a deluded egotist of mammoth proportions, he’s gotta be a step up from the Demp, right?

I won’t ruin the ending, but Susan Sarandon’s wicked stepmother/Queen Narissa joins the fray, dressed in Disney drag, and bad stuff happens. But not too bad. You can imagine how it ends.

Enchanted feels safe, ultimately. All of the formal play that might have occurred didn’t. The film is exactly what it pretends to be: the story of a fairytale princess in a Hollywood version of New York City. It’s lightweight and fun. In the Disney pantheon, if it even deserves a spot, it’s somewhere between Mulan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame For my wife, it was more than good enough, though. Then again, I think she might have a crush on the Demp.


Anonymous said...

ok, somebody fill me in... saying somewhere between Mulan and Hunchback of Notre Dame does not clarify the quality for me. Is one of these supposed to be good and the other bad?

Timothy Callahan said...

Have you seen both? Mulan is clearly superior.

Madd_Hadder said...

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit more than you did. I also think Idina Menzel is sexy, not ugly, although I think some of that comes from her amazing singing voice, which was not used in the movie (one of the only major downsides for me). Also, I think the 3 songs deserved mentioning. They really felt like a nice throwback to the animated musicals of Disney's past, and the one song is just catchy as all hell.

Christian said...

I thought Hunchback was pretty fucking offensive. Either you stay true and depressing or you go for broke on the happy ending bit and have Quasimodo win the girl. Fuck Phoebus.

How do you turn a book about social injustice into the feelgood Disney movie of the year?

sara d. reiss said...

Idina DOESN'T SING??? wtf, when I heard she was casted for this film I thought it was yet another layer to the whole meta-thing this movie was about. What with her playing the Wicked Witch in Wicked. But I guess merely her presence is supposed to nod to that for us older kids seeing the film.

Ah, The Demp. I don't watch Grey's Anatomy, thankfully, so I remember him fondly for Can't Buy Me Love, and my 5-year old self still does have a crush on him. (or was I 7...) He did an ok turn as an axe murder on the practice. After that, wever. My love belongs only to David Tennant.

But whatever. I totally crack up at the part where Cyclops gets run over by cyclists in central park whenever I see the trailer so i'm still gonna see it.