December 11, 2007



The ultimate "feel good" movie! You will be ashamed of every last drop of cynicism in your blood by the end of this spoofalicious gem. "Enchanted" is a far cry from "yeah, wouldn't it be nice if life were like that, but it's impossible" dark parodies like "The Brady Movies." Instead, it asks with utterly unjaded sincerity and simplicity: "Why not?" And we are hard pressed to find an answer to the contrary.


Giselle (the perfectly-cast Amy Adams) is a soon-to-be princess in the old-fashioned animated Disney-esque land of "Andalasia." The wicked stepmother (Susan Sarandon) of her hubby-to-be prince—afraid for her throne--exiles Giselle to a place where there are "no happily ever afters"—the real New York City. Amy Adams seamlessly transitions from animation to real-life in an almost preternatural way. (You won't be able to take your eyes off her.) A "rational," reasonable, no-nonsense single Dad, Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey*), also engaged, finds Giselle wandering about the city and takes her in. The contrast of the super positive-thinking Giselle with Robert, the hardened New York divorce lawyer is not only hilarious, but a downright indictment. (After all, wasn't this Adam and Eve's first sin, suspicion of Goodness? "Negative thinking," if you will?) Giselle delights all she comes in contact with, especially Morgan (Rachel Covey), Robert's princess-obsessed daughter, and most adults can't get enough of her, even though they think she's nuts.


The "Happy Working Song" will surely be the most talked-about musical number from "Enchanted" far into the future, but the core-spectacle of the movie is when Giselle characteristically breaks into gleeful song and dance in Central Park—and half of the Big Apple with her. The song "That's How You Know" by the always-phenomenal team of Mencken and Schwartz, reminds that love is about the little things. (The actors are also the real singers.)


"Irony" is mentioned twice by characters, but nothing in the script smacks of the least hint of it. There is only a contrast, and we feel obliged to choose sides (stacked heavily in favor of Giselle). The one-dimensional Giselle (people are either "kind" or "not very kind," her expletives consist of "Oh!" and "Oh, no!"), who only knew her prince for one day before getting engaged (because she "knew his heart"), learns about concepts like  "dating," and emotions like "anger" from Robert. Love-weary Robert receives much more from Giselle: a complete romantic makeover, much to the pleasant surprise of his fiancée.


The also-one-dimensional Prince Edward of course comes looking for Giselle, who never doubts for a minute that he will find her. His archaic speech and swashbuckling are sparkling features of "Enchanted." Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), emanating green lightning from her fingertips in the middle of Times Square, is a novel image of imaginary evil breaking through into real-dom. It reminded me of what C. S. Lewis said in "Abolition of Man" about why rational-scientific moderns no longer believe in fantasy: "Because an evil warlock has enchanted them!" The costume design, down to the Prince's embroidered leather gauntlets, is Oscar-worthy.


Giselle's sees the world through a child's eyes, really. To a child, the world is magical. And isn't it? I find this world pretty magical. Things "are as they are," but do we really grasp their essence? Their "deep down freshness," as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say? Do we consistently try? Of course, to the believer, it is God who gives hope, who makes all things possible, the reason we can believe "all matter of things shall be well," but our free will can also take us far, which must be what God intends since He gives us free will. And thank God for the movies that often show us how we might use it! Isn't Christianity meant to be something like Giselle's startling well-wishing ("I wish you every happiness!"), seeing everyone's beauty, almsgiving (giving away whatever comes her way), and conviction that "nothing is more powerful than true love's kiss"?


 "Enchanted" tells me that if I do not believe that "dreams can come true," then I am stuck, conditioned, the bird who doesn't know his cage door is open. I don't want to use my free will positively. I accept a mediocre world where tenuous love is inevitable and immutable. The movie suggests that we move from the two poles of idyllic love and "I'll take what I can get" love to something in the middle where "real" really lies.


Giselle's moment of proving comes when she is offered a poisoned apple that will make her forget her separation from her true love, an antidote for the real world's misery. Is she willing to accept some thorns with the roses? Isn't this (suffering) what life with its changing fates asks of each of us?


By the end, Giselle becomes permanently "real," much like Pinocchio, but has she lost some bright simplicity for some dark complexity? Was it a good exchange? It felt to me a little like a fall from grace: Will she continue to inspire all in her path now that she sees life's dark side clearly? (And I loved her fairytale dresses better than her off-the-rack Nordstrom gown). But it must be worth it because it was for true love.


Although the hyper-kinetic antics of a CGI chipmunk (except his enjoyable acting out his messages because animals can't talk in the real world) get a bit annoying, and the ending goes way over the top into the decidedly unmagical Land of Audience Disbelief, "Enchanted" is truly that. (On the other hand, the evil stepmother's outsized, overreacting rage rings true, in that murderous greed and power insist that what is big and loud and warlike will prevail, not love.) The ending of this quasi-musical also felt like it needed another big musical number or a reprise of "That's How You Know."


"Enchanted" is a meaningful romp that could be summed up by the realization of a divorcing couple (whom matchmaker Giselle gets back together): "Every couple has problems and bad times. Do we sacrifice everything because of them?" "Enchanted" makes us grateful for the Giselles in our lives, who let us know that faith, hope and love are real and possible, whether we want to believe it or not.


*Matt Damon, "sexiest man alive," my foot.

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