Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Shrek (2001) started a new trend in movies. It operated in the same world as classic animation such as Cindarella (1950), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) with beautiful princesses who are sweet and caring, with handsome, brave princes seeking to slay ogres and dragons in order to rescue the princess to be their one true love, and so forth. It just switched things up to where the ogre was the hero and the prince was the villain, the princess was physically beautiful but inwardly an ogre, and ogres were not exactly as presented.

Shrek 2 (2004), being a sequel, expanded on the trend but within the same franchise. Meanwhile, the purveyors of the abominably bad Happily N'Ever After (2007) took it one step further. They advertised their flick as "what if the villains actually won", made the heroine ugly, her beau into an ugly, unlikable castle servant, and the women into the rescuers. Great concept, horrible execution. Oh, and...the bad guys end up losing.

Then Shrek the Third (2007) followed up with a stinker that was closer to the Happily N'Ever After franchise than to the Shrek franchise. The first two Shrek adventures certainly mocked classic Disney flicks but it did it in a way that was funny, charming, and clearly felt a certain affinity for them. The last adventure and Happily never managed to skewer the fable conventions while still being charming.

But with all the "make the bad guys good" stuff going on, it is certainly no shock that Disney would take a shot at it. The result is Enchanted (2007), a twisted Disney flick that has many nods to its own history, the history of cinema in general, and yes, even to recent critiques.

It opened in a manner reminiscent of Shrek with a voice over as a beautifully decorated fable book was opened and turned. Then it went into an over the top, extra-cheesy opening scene of the (soon to be) princess Giselle (Amy Adams) singing a song as the animals surrounded her and contributed. They just amped up the number and kind of animals.

The early animation and rather rapid story have Prince Edward (James Marsden) defeating an evil troll (Fred Tatasciore) who was egged on by Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) who was set to keep Prince Edward from ever encountering Giselle by his evil step-mother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). As a result, he and Giselle are to be wed the next day.

Queen Narissa takes a hand, turning into a clone of the evil hag from Sleeping Beauty (1959) and offering the apple from that flick. It is a nice nod to their movies of yore. The result is Giselle arriving in the real world of New York. Things are not smooth for her there as she encounters people who are "not nice" such as the bum who steals her crown. Eventually she encounters divorce lawyer Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan Philip (Rachel Covey).

Robert is a cynical, cold, logical, unemotional man with a warm spot for his daughter. He also has a spot for people in trouble. He is currently planning to propose to his girlfriend, the ugly, unlikable Nancy Tremaine (Idina Menzel). One suspects the ugly, hawk nose, harsh facial lines, and icy demeanor are deliberate since later her appearance is softened and, while never beautiful, she is at least presented as attractive. Thus we are shown that in the real world logic trumps emotion. You don't have to be a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, or even have any emotional attachment to have a match.

There are then 2 movie-stealing scenes. In the first Giselle summons her animal friends to clean the apartment. The Mary Poppins (1964) -like cleaning scene as she sings and the animals clean is hilarious...and made more so by the cleaners being crotch licking rats, cockroaches, and a pigeon that keeps lousing things up.

The other is when Giselle tries to show Robert that to have instantaneous love you just need a love duet. The live action production number would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of the great choreographer Busby Berkeley. It was charming, intelligent, funny, and well choreographed. It was brilliant. That scene alone made the movie for me.

So did the cameo by Edgar Bergen and Mortimer Snerd who, in a blatant foreshadowing of Nathaniel going good, as Nathaniel goes out the door says, "I like happy endings, Mr. Bergen".

Good thing because after a brilliant start and middle to the movie, the end gets stupid. Disappointed with Nathaniels' repeated failures in trying to poison Giselle, Queen Narissa arrives on the scene.

She turns into a dragon, they reference King Kong (1933) as the flying dragon inexplicably climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, this time with Robert in hand. Dragon plunges to death, Robet & Giselle marry and stay in New York, Nancy and Edward marry and live in Andalasia, typical happy ending.

Along the way there was a lot of great stuff. The Prince is hilarious as he leaps around in classic rescue type actions, manages to rent hotel rooms without money, slays a bus, and, in the greatest line in movies this year, tells Robert and Morgan, "Thanks for keeping her safe, peasants." I will be stealing that line.

The movie also has a very positive message. In an era where a spate of recent movies (The Break-up (2006), The Heart Break Kid (2007), etc. have celebrated relationships ending or even outright adultery (remember that line in The Heart Break Kid where Eddie (Ben Stiller) says something along the lines of "Since I met her I have never cheated on her with my wife"?), Enchanted goes the other way.

The divorcing couple, Phoebe (Tonya Pinkins) and Ethan (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) Banks not only reconcile, they point out "Everyone has problems. But there is no point to throwing out the good because of some bad" or something along that line. They reconcile and work on building a marriage instead of letting trouble turn it into a throw-away.

Overall, this movie was upbeat, entertaining, and managed to pull it all together, albeit perhaps a bit cheesy at points. And, though it might be a bit embarrassing to admit this, it is worth seeing just for the music and dance scene with the song about How to Tell Her You Love Her or something similar.

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