I’m going to try not to gush, but it’s hard when a movie is this delightful. Enchanted is even more than that, it’s original — lovely, fresh, funny, and charming to a princely degree. And this is where you and I can start to lose each other, because there’s no reviewer so smitten as the one who expected to endure a so-so movie and was surprised to find something really very good. Gratitude produces a review with a rosy glow, but if you read that review and buy a ticket expecting to see the best thing next to Citizen Kane, you could well be disappointed. It’s the very same movie, but it depends on where you’re coming from. That gap between discovery and verification is a communications hazard for readers and writers of all kinds of reviews. I know all that, but I can’t help it. Enchanted knocked me out.
This is the latest in a long, long line of “princess movies” from Disney, as anyone with a daughter under seven can wearily confirm. It begins stylishly, lingering on the Disney logo of a moonlit castle, and then the camera zooms right in through a tower’s high window. In that room there is a big old book with “Enchanted” on the cover, and the pages begin to turn just as in the prologue of many older movies. But this time it’s a pop-up book, and the folding and sliding planes, the dazzling angles, give that old convention a jolt of new life. They had me at “hello.”
Enchanted starts where other princess movies end: Within the first ten minutes, Prince Edward and Giselle meet, fall in love, and prepare to be wed. But the prince’s wicked stepmother, Narissa, fears losing the throne, and tricks the lovely Giselle into standing within shoving distance of a magic well.
Till now, the movie has been in the form of classic animation. But as Giselle falls she undergoes a transformation, turning into a real flesh-and-blood young woman (Amy Adams, suiting the part to perfection). She comes to rest on a mysterious disk which is pierced with holes, through which light comes streaming. The image rotates, and we realize that she is looking up, not down, at daylight coming through the holes on a manhole cover. Giselle shoves the lid aside and struggles out — she’s wearing her wedding dress, with an immense hoop skirt — into the middle of hectic Times Square.
I knew that this was going to be a story about fairytale characters trying to cope with city life, and I was stoically prepared for a brassy, cynical romp on the order of Shrek. But it isn’t that, and it isn’t the opposite, an oldstyle princess tale, either. Enchanted is a whole new thing. Giselle in New York is kind of like Forrest Gump: she’s naïve to the point of absurdity, and yet you come to feel that she’s the one who has things sized up right, after all.
Amy Adams couldn’t be better in this role, with a cheerful innocence and kindness that remain absurdly unshaken, no matter what she encounters. She finds shelter her first night in the apartment of a world-weary divorce lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter Morgan (a very able Rachel Covey). In the morning Giselle decides that the place needs a good cleaning, and opens the window to call the wild creatures to help. But the appeal isn’t answered by bluebirds and bunnies; from all across the city, rats scurry from sewers, pigeons lumber into flight, and a swarm of flies lifts gracefully from a street vendor’s cart. Giselle is only momentarily surprised by their arrival, then sets all her new friends to work. Cockroaches quickly nibble away a bathtub’s grime, and three of the crunchy critters perch on Giselle’s finger as she sings to them a “Happy Working Song.”