My 100 Favourite Films In Review – Number 72, Enchanted

72 – Enchanted:

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It’s time for some Disney again. Well, not quite. I mentioned back in my Tangled review that the public eventually grew sick of Disney’s constant stream of animated musicals in the 90s. You can credit the movie-going public with becoming that extra bit more self-aware in the 2000s. People were quick to cop on to the idealised nature of movies in general – and many a wannabe critic was eager to point out what could and couldn’t happen in real life on newly established internet message boards. Disney in particular were attacked for their familiar formula of girls only dreaming of marrying the first man they meet and nothing else. Matters weren’t helped by the Disney Princess franchise being established and the marketing to girls being targeted in a similar manner to Barbie – wondering whether or not they were good role models for children. Granted, most of those criticisms seemed to come from people who didn’t watch Disney regularly or had rather shallow views towards their stuff. Parodies like Shrek became the new formula. But sometime in 2007, after their animation studio had shut down for a while, Disney decided to poke fun at their own films. The result is the comedy Enchanted.

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Enchanted was actually developed as far back as 1997 when the Disney Renaissance would be in full swing. It was written as a racy, R-rated affair – and Giselle would have been mistaken for a stripper when she first arrived in New York. As you can expect, this screenplay got rewritten several times before being put off completely in the early 2000s. A few years later, the story was tweaked yet again. What had begun as a cynical satire – pretty much a live-action Shrek – instead became more of a send-up of Disney’s own films. The overall tone became much more affectionate.

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The movie opens in Disney tradition with a storybook beginning narrated by Julie Andrews. It tells of a magical land called Andalasia, ruled by an evil Queen Nerissa. She had a stepson who would one day take over the throne by sharing in true love’s kiss with his own special someone. We then cut to presumably this someone – a young maiden called Giselle. She’s voiced – and later played in live action – by Amy Adams. Ms Adams had a bit of a struggle in her climb to become the respected actress she is today. The struggle involved a nightmarish project known as…

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The horror…

Her time didn’t come until she had turned thirty, and was cast in Junebug. It was undoubtedly her work in that and a few other successful comedies that brought her to the attention of Disney. Amy Adams had a lot of hard work in bringing Giselle to life. I go back to some words from a famous Hollywood icon, Olivia de Havilland.

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She found herself typecast as Ingénues and wholesome good girls. But she actually preferred those parts instead of the bad girl roles, because she felt that they actually required more from an actress. You can see where she’s coming from; if your character’s function is to be doe-eyed and innocent, you have to do a lot of work to make them seem like a person instead of a decoration. Amy Adams had to do a similar thing with Giselle. She’s meant to be a parody of the classic fairy tale princess. So we’re supposed to laugh at her silliness. But we also have to root for her and sympathise with her. Take the princess parodies in Shrek 3. They’re just exaggerated versions of the classic traits of their particular character. Giselle meanwhile has to come across as an idealistic character forced into the real world.

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You might notice that the animation seems a little odd. Ironically, it’s not done by Disney themselves. They had actually shut down their animation department completely, after the failure that was 2004’s Home on the Range. James Baxter Animation was the studio that handled it – though they were established by a former Disney animator, so points for effort. Giselle and her wall-to-wall wildlife sing “True Love’s Kiss” – which is a parody of the various princess I Want Songs such as “I’m Wishing”, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” and “I Wonder”. Giselle has been dreaming of a prince and is building a mannequin of the dream boy with her friends. As is expected with a Disney parody, they amp up the saccharine nature of the song. Giselle also demonstrates her talent of summoning animals with her singing. Remember that.

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But try not to think of this.

We now meet the kingdom’s Prince Edward (James Marsden). Like Amy Adams, James Marsden had a slower climb than most. The guy got typecast as ‘the other man’ in various genres. He played a jilted guy in both X-Men and The Notebook, to offer up a contrast. Essentially he was stuck as the boring guy. But if anyone wants to accuse James Marsden of being boring in this? Honestly, if Amy Adams wasn’t also in this movie, I’d want Edward to be in every scene. Who knew Marsden had it like that? And I can really appreciate that the movie didn’t go for the obvious and make him a Prince Charmless. Edward’s a good guy deep down; he’s just pompous and has a bit of a high opinion of himself. Which – if you go by how easily he takes down a troll – is a tad justified.

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Well, maybe not that justified. It’s implied the troll is in on the game. The game is actually one orchestrated by Edward’s valet Nathaniel (Timothy Spall). He has apparently been convincing Edward to chase trolls instead of girls – so he can’t get married and therefore take the throne from the Queen. But Nathaniel’s nationwide cock-blocking is interrupted by Giselle’s singing. Edward chases after her and saves her from the troll. They share a duet in song, which is preceded by a proposal. The kingdom rejoices – except for one person.

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After I saw the movie, I went online and I was surprised to find so much hate directed at Queen Nerissa. Specifically, at Susan Sarandon’s performance. I honestly don’t get the hate. She’s meant to be a fabulous evil bitch in the same vein as Queen Grimhilde (yes, that’s actually her name), Maleficent and Cruella De Ville. And she succeeds. Very well. The next morning, Giselle is off to her wedding – wearing a dress she apparently designed herself. She’s interrupted by Queen Nerissa disguised as an old woman. She’s brought to a ‘wishing well’, which Nerissa pushes her into. She’s going to “a place where there are no happily ever afters”

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For once, I’m not kidding.

Giselle ends up in live-action New York. You can imagine what happens when a lady from a utopia like Andalasia finds herself in the Big Apple. It’s at this part I’m very glad this wasn’t R-rated, because these scenes are actually played somewhat straight. Amy Adams uses her acting to tells us that we should feel sorry for Giselle instead of laughing at the culture clash going on. Anyway, it’s time to switch over to our actual male lead.

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Robert is played by Patrick Dempsey, who got the nickname ‘Dr McDreamy’ from his role on Grey’s Anatomy. Here he’s playing Lawyer McDreamy, and he’s in the middle of refereeing a nasty divorce between two people who really don’t seem as though they were mature enough for marriage in the first place. Case in point: they’re arguing over who gets to keep a baseball card. Robert tells his assistant Sam to wrap things up. If you’re thinking that her voice sounds familiar…

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Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, ladies and gentlemen. We then learn that Robert is engaged, but the way he talks about it makes it sound more like an upcoming business merger. He breaks the news to his young daughter Morgan in the cab home – which probably made things incredibly awkward for the poor taxi driver. It seems as though Robert represents one of those Disney-haters; the ‘I don’t believe in sparkly, pink princess nonsense’ folks. And he gets Morgan a book about various powerful women in history. Strong, independent women who didn’t need no men. He wants her to drop her love of fairy tales and the like, and starting learning about reality. While it’s a good idea to teach your daughter about feminism, this feels more like…

Pop-rock star P!nk told young women to cultivate their minds with her song “Stupid Girls”. Unfortunately, the music video didn’t really understand the song’s message. It associates stupidity with dolls, make-up and pink stuff – all landmarks of traditional femininity. But really, such things are just another backhanded form of sexism – giving the message that girly=bad and manly=good. One of the movie’s biggest merits is that it tries to teach young girls that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving princesses and all the traditional girly things – as long as they cultivate their minds and talents as well. Morgan still hasn’t been conditioned out of her princess phase – and she pops big time when she sees Giselle on the side of the road.

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These two would get on so well.

Robert allows Giselle to stay the night. The movie doesn’t say it but you can tell he thinks she’s probably drunk off her mind – especially after her big speech about the power of True Love’s Kiss. The next morning, Prince Edward and Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip jump through the portal into New York. Pip unfortunately can’t talk in the live action world, so you can imagine Edward will be looking for a while. Giselle wakes up and sees the mess in Robert’s apartment, so she uses her animal-summoning powers to get a clean-up crew.

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In hindsight, this is a very obvious gag to go for. But hey, it works. And I thought this was hysterical when I first saw it. Giselle shows that she can still break into song and dance in this world, with “Happy Working Song” – which is indeed a glorious parody of “Whistle While You Work”, and pretty darn catchy. The rats, birds and cockroaches do a pretty spiffy job of cleaning the apartment. But let’s admit it; you’re going to spend the rest of the movie hoping Giselle’s magic somehow cleansed them of their diseases. The singing is interrupted by Robert’s fiancée Nancy.

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“You were singing in public and didn’t call ME!?”

Why hello there, Idina Menzel. At this point in time, she was well established on Broadway – winning acclaim for playing Maureen in RENT and Elphaba in Wicked. You might be thinking that a Tony winning actress in a Disney musical is sure to show off her pipes at some point. Well, from what I can find, Nancy did have a song earlier in production. For whatever reasons, it got cut. Idina Menzel said she felt flattered to be hired just as an actress. And she actually does show off some nice comic timing in the little misunderstanding – where Nancy finds Robert in a compromising position with Giselle. She does feel underused in the film, but she makes the most out of the scenes she has.

Judging by how quickly Nancy jumps to the conclusion that Robert has been cheating, it doesn’t say much for the strength of their relationship. Robert is also very annoyed that Giselle decides to make a new dress out of his curtains. Back in Andalasia, Queen Nerissa seduces Nathaniel into following Giselle, Edward and Pip through the portal. Just in time too, because Edward has mistaken a bus for some kind of beast. Not the first one to make that error.

Funnily enough, Amy Adams guest starred on Buffy once too. The situation here is as follows: Pip knows Nathaniel is working with Nerissa, Edward does not. Pip can’t speak in the real world, so he has to try and let Edward in on the game non-verbally. As Edward’s default guess for charades is ‘aren’t I awesome?’, you can imagine that doesn’t quite work. Nerissa gives Nathaniel some poisoned apples from Andalasia to help with the Giselle problem. Giselle causes problems of her own at Robert’s firm when she learns about the nature of divorce. And there really is no worse couple to demonstrate the concept to her than the pair Robert is representing. Robert has a similar reaction when they go for a walk in Central Park and he finds out that Edward and Giselle have only known each other one day.

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Sigh, let’s get this one out of the way now.

After Nathaniel unsuccessfully tries to slip Giselle poisoned apple number one, Robert lets Giselle know about the concept of dating. As a divorce lawyer, he doesn’t believe in the whole happily ever after thing. Someone on the film’s TV Tropes page pointed out a very good point about the conversation here. Although Robert and Giselle are arguing two opposing viewpoints – realism vs idealism – they’re both in the right. Robert’s right in that you need to spend time getting to know the other person before you can be sure it’s love. Meanwhile, Giselle is also right that you need to continually let the other person know how much they mean to you. In that way, the movie is going back to the nature of ‘something in-between’. You can have your fairy tale romance, as long as you put effort in to build a strong foundation. Giselle stresses her point via “That’s How You Know”, to which Robert has this reaction.

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This song has a different tone than the previous two. According to the filmmakers, the first two songs represented the classic era of Disney. This one reflects the upbeat, showy Broadway type numbers from the Renaissance. This is a “Be Our Guest”, “Under The Sea”, “Never Had A Friend Like Me”, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” showstopper. It’s easily my favourite song in the movie, and Amy Adams has a great voice. But someone else pointed out that they sing the lyrics from multiple locations in Central Park – and now I’m having lots of fun trying to picture what Giselle and friends were doing while they were running from location to location.

Giselle gets some birds to send flowers to Nancy as an apology, along with tickets to a fairy tale-themed ball. Nancy is stunned by this, as Robert isn’t much of a romantic. But she is no less pleased and apologises for blowing up at him earlier. Nice touch by Disney not making the other woman a shrew a la The Parent Trap (which I still love). It seems Nancy is a little too excited by Robert acting out of character. Meanwhile, Edward and Nathaniel lie low in a motel, where Nathaniel gets some life advice from a soap opera.

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Paige O’Hara, the voice of Bell. But is Nathaniel starting to wonder if his attraction to Queen Nerissa is worth it? Doesn’t stop him from locking Pip in the closet though. Robert and Giselle are now at a restaurant with Morgan. Giselle has remembered Robert’s talk about the concept of dating and asks if they’re on one, which Robert hurriedly (but not convincingly) denies. Giselle asks about Morgan’s mother – who apparently left. No wonder Morgan loves Disney Princesses; she has one thing in common with them. But this does explain how Robert became all cynical. Nathaniel tries to give Giselle poisoned apple number two, and luckily Pip has broken out of the motel and saves her. He just about manages to tell her that Edward is here before Nathaniel swats him into the fireplace.

Edward sees Giselle on the news and rushes over to Robert’s apartment block. He sneaks in and checks a few apartments – including this.

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Meet Judy Kuhn, singing voice of Pocahontas. Anyway, Edward falls asleep. Robert and Giselle get into a rather heated argument about whether or not he’s even coming. Giselle’s reactions to feeling anger for the first time are probably my favourite in the film. I mean, who bounces from being angry to being excited that they’re angry? But Giselle quickly realises she’s feeling something else too. She might be falling for a man who’s already taken. Edward arrives the next morning, but something is wrong. When he starts singing, Giselle doesn’t sing back.

Nonetheless, she asks Edward to go on a date with her before they go back to Andalasia. But it’s clear that she’s very sad to say goodbye to Robert and Morgan. Robert too is equally sad, and sadness gets swapped out for sheer confusion – when he sees that the pair he was helping get divorced have decided not to. Apparently their meeting with Giselle helped remind them why they fell in love in the first place. Giselle has a real talent there.

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She did it in only one day. What’s your excuse, girls?

She’s not having as much luck on her date with Edward. There doesn’t seem to be much chemistry between them. But he agrees to go to that ball she got tickets for Robert and Nancy – and then they’ll go back to Andalasia. She pops by Robert’s apartment and gets Morgan to take her shopping for something to wear. I’m probably fretting too much about such a short scene, but I’m suddenly wondering where the hell was Morgan’s babysitter? Or did Giselle just sneak her out of the house while Robert was still there? Nonetheless, Morgan is still delighted to experience the sensation of shopping with an older lady. Giselle tries to cheer her up by saying she’ll get to do this with Nancy soon. Morgan’s worried about having a stepmother, and Giselle tries to debunk the Wicked Stepmother myth. Unfortunately, the example she uses is…

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“Well, I’m lovely in my own way.”

Queen Nerissa hooks up with a slightly reluctant Nathaniel and prepares to put her plan into action. Meanwhile, the ball Robert and Nancy have gone too is fairy tale-themed – so everyone has gone to a lot of effort. Giselle arrives at the ball and does the traditional climbing down the staircase bit. The only problem?

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Try to guess which one is supposed to be the After.

Remember how the Catwoman movie had the heroine deciding to give herself a radical makeover once she got her powers? And remember that the makeover was completely pointless because it was still Halle Berry? I have to say that Giselle’s intended ‘she cleans up nicely’ moment kind of falls flat. She looked far nicer as a fairy tale princess. Anyway, Nancy actually appears quite taken with Edward’s flowery declaration of love for his girl. And it’s rather conveniently timed with the announcement that everyone must now dance ‘The King’s Waltz’ – where you have to dance with someone you didn’t bring. Hmm, I wonder if Robert’s firm pulled some strings here to make sure they’d have a steady flow of business in the weeks to come. The waltz is set to “So Close”, which represents another type of Disney song.

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I really love the facials from Amy Adams in this scene. Even though Giselle and Robert are clearly in love now, Amy Adams has that subtle air of bittersweet about her. You can tell that she’s playing Giselle knowing this is it. This is her goodbye to Robert and this new world she’s come to love. The dance is broken up by Nancy, and so Giselle walks off in despair. Her night doesn’t get much better, as she’s approached by Nerissa disguised as the old woman again. After some prodding, she gets her to eat the third poisoned apple.

Nerissa makes the bad decision to change back to her normal appearance (well, normal for her that is) and Edward recognises her. Nathaniel also rats Nerissa out for using poisoned apples – and the fact that they’ve only got until the clock strikes twelve to save Giselle. Robert realises he knows how this story goes and suggests Edward try True Love’s Kiss. And it doesn’t work.Well it’s not that surprising. Even Edward isn’t that surprised. He suggests that Robert do it instead. Nancy agrees. I have to say that Idina Menzel puts so much subtle emotion into one line – “kiss her, Robert. It’s okay” – and I like the fact that Nancy is the one who realises her relationship is going nowhere. Rather than getting mad, she bows out gracefully. As expected, Robert’s kiss wakes Giselle up – and the rest of the partygoers think it’s all part of the show.

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But once person who isn’t clapping is Nerissa. As Edward has told her she’ll be stripped of her title once they get back home, she’s decided it’s time to bust out the big guns…

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I have to say that Idina Menzel gives the best facials during this part. Everyone else looks terrified at the sight of a dragon, but she looks as if she’s worried she drank too much. Nerissa grabs Robert and climbs up the top of the building. Giselle picks up Edward’s sword and chases after them, all the while Nerissa making a big deal about the princess saving the prince. The Nostalgia Critic made a good point in his ‘Disneycember’ review of this film where he felt that it was a bit redundant to drop this line. The film does make a big deal about Giselle being the one to save the day. But we’d already seen the Disney Princesses do just that. Ariel saved Eric from a shipwreck, Pocahontas prevented an entire war, and Mulan won a friggin war. This kind of line would make sense back in 1997 when the script was first written. But it feels slightly out of place. But anyway, with Nerissa’s increased size also comes a stream of puns.

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Pip has now arrived on the scene and helps Giselle knock Nerissa off the building. She plunges to her death like most Disney villains, now aware that beauty did indeed kill the beast this time. Giselle saves Robert with a nifty sword trick – that I don’t recommend trying in real life – and we wrap things up. There are a couple of romantic loose ends in the form of Nancy and Edward – who decide to hook up and head on back to Andalasia…

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This part of the movie gets a lot of criticism for contradicting the lesson it preached earlier about not marrying someone you just met. But I suppose if things don’t work out, Nancy can always head back to New York. Giselle meanwhile uses her talents to open a successful fashion franchise catered to princess-crazy little girls. Both Nathaniel and Pip become best-selling authors, after writing autobiographies of their experiences. Giselle, Robert and Morgan of course live happily ever after.

Before I wrap things up myself, here’s a summary of the less obvious Disney references in the film.

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The couple Robert is helping through a divorce have the last name Banks – the family in Mary Poppins.
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Nerissa bursts into flames when she’s angry, just like Hades.
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Robert’s law firm is named after the songwriters of Snow White.
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Sam has a fish tank near her desk, and an instrumental version of “Part of Your World” plays over the scene.
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The elevator in Robert’s building resembles the Tower of Doom at Disneyland. It also has twelve floors, just like the ride.
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Paige O’Hara’s soap opera has an instrumental version of Beauty & the Beast as its theme.
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Robert’s last name is Philip, after the prince from Sleeping Beauty.
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This restaurant is named after a song from Lady & the Tramp.
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The reporter’s name is Mary Ilene Caselotti, after the actresses who voiced Aurora (Mary Costa), Cinderella (Ilene Woods) and Snow White (Adriana Caselotti).
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Nancy’s last name is Tremaine, after Cinderella’s stepmother.
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Giselle’s poisoned caramel apple has the same skull face as Snow White’s.
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Nathaniel’s book signing advertises ‘Merryweather’s Guide To Baking’ – after one of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty.
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Clara, the woman in the park is selling bird feed for $1 – referencing “Feed the Birds”, Walt Disney’s favourite song.
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“So Close” uses similar camera angles to “Beauty & the Beast”, as well as featuring a chandelier.
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Pumbaa from The Lion King is waiting at Pip’s book signing.
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Pip shouts out “who’s gonna rescue me?” – a lyric from “The Journey”, a song from The Rescuers.
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This recreates an image from Cinderella‘s “Sing Sweet Nightingale” sequence.
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Giselle defeats the villain on top of a tower, just like Mulan.

So Enchanted was a pretty decent success, and managed to send some positive attention back Disney’s way after years of poorly rated films. It seemed that the whole public had only temporarily gotten sick of their stuff – and they laughed at the parody, but still felt all warm and fuzzy. This was basically Disney poking fun at themselves, but still reminding viewers why they had loved those films in the first place. You can probably credit this film with convincing the Disney studio that the public did want to see more fairy tales and animated films – thus leading to their attempted comeback with The Princess & the Frog. Amy Adams became an instant star – following it up with hits such as Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle. Giselle almost got inducted into the Disney Princess line – but Disney changed their minds when they realised they’d have to pay Amy Adams lifetime royalties to use her image.

Enchanted does have a couple of flaws in terms of how it presents its story. For one, Nancy and Edward hooking up at the end does go against the lesson that true love takes time to develop. Rather than going for straight-up parody, the movie seems to be deconstructing that idea. So if the movie was a more direct parody, that would be more in line. So it does seem as though the movie couldn’t decide what tone it was going for. But in the bigger scheme of things, I’d still say that the movie has a lot going for it. Although its lessons were told much better in Frozen – particularly the ‘don’t marry a man you just met’ one – it still tells other good ones. The Nostalgia Chick praised the movie for capturing that good balance between idealism and reality. It tells young girls that there’s nothing wrong with wanting a handsome prince and a sparkly dress – as long as that’s not *all* you want. It pulls off that message much better than The Princess & the Frog. There are also some other good lessons such as the one that your first love isn’t always your true love. Edward and Giselle got on fine at first but didn’t work out, as did Robert and his ex. A lot of the time, fiction teaches us that first girl/guy wins – unless the other person is some kind of jerk. It’s refreshing to see a couple simply realise they’re not compatible and end things mutually. Likewise, there’s the subtler lesson in Nancy & Robert’s relationship – that being in a couple just for the sake of it isn’t worth it. So in spite of one rather broken lesson about relationships, there are several other good ones to be found in the movie. On a superficial level, it’s a genuinely funny and charming parody that’s perfect for most Disney fans. It encourages us to laugh at some of the stuff we swallowed when we were kids, and yet at the same time remind us why we loved it in the first place. There’s a shot in “That’s How You Know” of Giselle singing with a girl dressed as Rapunzel. Coupling that with Idina Menzel being in this movie, it’s almost a lovely foreshadowing that Disney would soon be able to reach an entirely new generation once again.

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I’ve been dreaming of a true movie’s grade…

*Story? A story with good ideas and good lessons, but it does lose a bit for not being entirely sure if it wants to deconstruct its tropes or not. B+

*Characters? Giselle’s character growth represents the evolution of the Disney Princesses in general – and it’s a very positive thing to behold. Edward was also a nice subversion of the Prince Charming character. Nerissa was admittedly underdeveloped as a villain, as was Nathaniel. A-

*Performances? Amy Adams…this seems like the perfect role for her. I really wish she would have won an Oscar for this. James Marsden comes close to stealing her thunder and is positively hysterical. Patrick Dempsey plays the straight man pretty well without being dull. Idina Menzel was underused but made the most of her screen time. Nerissa was underdeveloped but Susan Sarandon’s fun performance saved her. A+

*Visuals? Pretty standard stuff here. They didn’t get too inventive with cinematography or set designs, but the costumes were fun enough. Some good use of clothing evolution to show the character development of Giselle and Robert. B-

*Special Effects? The rendering of Pip and the dragon Nerissa were very good. Birds and cockroaches, a little less so. A-

*Anything Else? A good evolution shown in the songs, and of course a wellspring of Disney references for geeks such as myself. A

Join me on VE Night as I sample A Royal Night Out next.

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