Thursday, 20 December 2007


Disney’s big hit of the 2007 Christmas season is Enchanted, directed by Kevin Lima. It’s the story of Giselle, a fairy tale princess in a stereotypical animated Disney film who gets sent into the real world of modern-day New York by the wicked stepmother/queen figure. There, Giselle’s adventures surround a lawyer named Robert who doesn’t believe in fairytales, and his young daughter, who does. Meanwhile, Prince Edward, accompanied by the hyper chipmunk, Pip, follows his bride-to-be to New York to bring her back, which causes the queen to send her servant, Nathaniel, after them, with instructions to kill Giselle (with a poisoned apple, no less).

The film’s highlight is the extraordinary performance by Amy Adams as Giselle. In fact, Enchanted is worth watching just to see Adams’ delightful performance. The rest of the actors also do well. In particular, Patrick Dempsey is a good choice as Robert and Timothy Spall shines as the royal servant, Nathaniel.

Enchanted starts very strong, with a lighthearted ironic tone that mocks Disney’s classic animated films. There are some questionable editing (or writing) choices once Giselle arrives in New York, but her early interaction with Robert is inspired filmmaking. The scene in Central Park is one of my favourite of the year. The only serious flaw in the first half of the film is Prince Edward’s sudden and unexplained appearance in New York, though for me the entire film lacked a natural flow.

The film begins to lose some of its charm and cleverness in the second half as the real world takes over and the film occasionally take itself a little too seriously. This culminates in the queen’s arrival in New York, her transformation into a dragon and her subsequent death after falling from a skyscraper. This stereotypical Disney ending is deliberate and therefore to be expected. After all, countless Disney villains have similarly fallen to their deaths over the years, including the villains in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Great Mouse Detective, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast. Nevertheless, it’s rare for villains to be thrown off buildings or cliffs by our heroes, who sometimes even make an attempt to save the villain. But in Enchanted, a central character (Pip) deliberately jumps onto the dragon with the hope that it will make the dragon fall (how Robert was to be rescued by this is not clear). If there was supposed to be a sense of irony in this violent ending, aside from the reversal of roles as the armed princess tries to be the rescuer, my daughter and I failed to detect it. In a lighthearted film that was otherwise full of ironic moments, there was an opportunity here to redeem the villain (through the love of her servant, for example). Instead, we get just another purely evil black and white villain who is apparently beyond redemption. The only way to counter such evil is to eliminate it and so the queen must fall to her death so the children can cheer at the villain’s necessary demise.

In a world where children grow up in fear of terrorism, environmental disaster, war and poverty, it’s not such a bad thing to have an optimistic children’s film that suggests dreams can come true, wonderful things can happen, and people can live happily ever after. But do we really need to include the worst element of fairy tales – the redemptive violence at the death of the villain – before we can get to an ending where everyone lives happily ever after? Let’s face it; the queen did not live happily ever after. Is she not included in “everyone” or has she been so dehumanized (as depicted in her transformation into a monster) that she has left the human race? Doesn’t this ending only reinforce our tendency to see the world as black and white, where evil is always located “out there” instead of also within us, and where the only way to fight evil is with violence? It is precisely this tendency which has brought the world to its present state.

Enchanted is a slightly flawed but enjoyable film for the whole family and I do recommend it, but it gets only ***.