Royal, with cheese

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As the daddy of a 3-year-old daughter, I am certainly well versed in the Disney canon of plucky animated princesses.

Be they snoozing, swimming, singing or spinning, I can identify each distinguishing characteristic, right down to The Little Mermaid’s sisters (Aquatta, Andrina, Arista, Adella, Alana and Attina) or Sleeping Beauty’s real name (Briar Rose). And while this knowledge adds to the appreciation of “Enchanted,” it certainly is not a prerequisite to get caught in its spell.

For “Enchanted” is that rare oddity that possesses an appeal that can truly be enjoyed – and at the very least, tolerated – by a wide demographic of audience members without resorting to pandering, exclusion, or sticky saccharine sentimentality.

It’s largely thanks to a thoroughly winning turn by lead Amy Adams, whose squeaky naïveté as Giselle, an animated princess plunged into the “real world,” feels so authentic and endearing.

Early in the film, a cartoon prince (voiced and later played by James Marsden) is seen taking down a green giant referred to as a “troll,” but who bears a striking resemblance to a certain animated ogre that has built a career of skewering fairy tale conventions.

This cinematic pimp-slap not only depicts the prince’s noble nature, but serves as a gauntlet thrown at the feet of the iconic character of a rival film studio that has amassed a small fortune mocking the profitable Disney princess juggernaut.

And while the “Shrek” franchise began with a mischievous glint in its eye, it has since turned increasingly bitter and cynical and spawned even lesser progeny and imitators (“Hoodwinked,” “Happily N’Ever After”).

This is where “Enchanted” earns its fairy godmother, its princely kiss, its magic carpet and what have you. It never once stoops to cheap, mocking contrivances, but rather tweaks them, perhaps knowing not to bite the hand that feeds. “Enchanted” demonstrates they know there is little reality in these fables, but that does not mean we should give up believing in them just the same.

The story follows about-to-be princess Giselle (Adams) who is belched from her idyllic animated world by a wicked queen into the Big Apple – a place no less convenient for its reference to Snow White’s fateful fruit as it is to the Disney-owned location of Times Square.

Giselle is immediately found by a divorced dad (played by Patrick Dempsey) who is trying to instill a more modern view of femininity to his little girl. But no matter how many karate classes she must attend, she is still into tiaras and tutus.

As Dempsey’s divorce lawyer character struggles to get Giselle back to her candy-coated world – or the loony bin – he begins to warm to her refreshingly unjaded take on the world.

Dempsey, who may be McDreamy on television is more McDreary here, and is actually the weakest part of the film. Perhaps he is eclipsed by Adams’ radiant performance, but he does little to lift himself out of the shadows.

Adams invests so fully into her character, she becomes a fully realized flesh-and-blood incarnation of a storybook princess. There is no greater proof of this than her undaunted optimism during a scene where she summons the local beasts to assist her in tidying up her dwellings. This being New York, there are no fluffy bunnies and dewy-eyed bluebirds to help with the tasks. Instead, she is swarmed with legions of roaches, rats and pigeons who proceed to scrub her surroundings and she remains resolute, eager to share the duties with her “new friends.”

Marsden also deserves credit as the dashing-but-dim-witted prince. He’s heroic and heartfelt without transforming into a total buffoon.

Susan Sarandon adequately captures the evil tics and traits of the wicked queen, but not to the heights previously set by Adams and Marsden.

The film also gets a tad too happy with itself and flitters about much longer than it should (an elaborate “grand ball” dance sequence seems designed to showcase singer Jon McLaughlin, who just happens to be on tour at the moment of the film’s release), and this may prove to be more tiresome than Cinderella’s spindle prick to the younger audience members.

But whenever Adams graces the screen, eyes widened to the size of dinner plates and a chasm-sized grin on her face, you don’t need a mirror to tell you who’s the fairest of this fairy tale.

~ by usesoapfilm on November 27, 2007.

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