Disenchanted Review: A Surprisingly Enjoyable And Overdue Sequel

If you need any proof of the faulty decision-making exemplified by the Oscars, consider that they failed to give Amy Adams an Academy Award for her sterling work in the 2007 Disney fantasy "Enchanted." Adams' performance in "Enchanted," in which she delivered a true breakout-star turn as an animated princess brought into the real world who was forced to learn about how our world is a bit different than hers, is a genuine force of nature. Though Adams was not a true ingenue at that point (she'd already received her first Oscar nomination, for "Junebug"), she revealed her immense depth in screwball comedy, romance, and drama in her role as Giselle of Andalasia. But as remarkable as the performance was, revisiting the role that made her an A-List star 15 years down the line is a true risk. Yet it's a delightful surprise that the Disney+ sequel, "Disenchanted," in spite of having a thudder of a title, is a moderately charming affair bolstered, per usual, by a phenomenal lead performance from one of our best living actresses.

Giselle has been living in New York City with her knight in shining armor, down-to-Earth attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and his daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) for roughly a decade. But the lengthy period after happily ever after has gotten to Giselle so that she wonders if there's more in store for her. So she and Robert, and the less willing Morgan, head to the New York suburbs to a picturesque small town overseen by the friendly but fierce Malvina (Maya Rudolph). The adjustment period of the move is so rough that Giselle is inspired to wish for some fairy-tale magic from her home of Andalasia to come to the real world. But that wish goes awry quickly, with Giselle beginning to adopt another classic Disney trope: that of the evil stepmother.

Some of the plot machinations — the screenplay is credited to Brigitte Hales, with the story credited to David N. Weiss, J. David Stem, and Richard Lagravenese — are a bit creaky. The setup of this film takes enough time that the collision of the real and fairy-tale worlds takes place 45 minutes into its 118-minute runtime. But once it does, "Disenchanted" enables the immensely talented Adams to move into a gear as equally fun as watching her embody quintessential Disney-princess stereotypes, as she plays both heroine and villainess. Though Rudolph's queen-bee character is the more traditional villain, Adams' ability to shift between personalities is a hoot. Just as "Enchanted" riffed on old-school Disney heroines, so too does "Disenchanted" riff on old-school Disney villainesses, with both Adams and Randolph taking inspiration from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," and "Sleeping Beauty" with their cheerfully flamboyant performances.

"Enchanted," so heavily boosted by the ebullient work from Adams, James Marsden, and Timothy Spall, struggled mightily when dealing with more real-world storylines (largely because those storylines felt dull and uninspired). So it's a novel and welcome choice that "Disenchanted" enables just about everyone to get in on the fun with heightened performances meant to evoke cartoonish fairy-tale visions. Adams and Rudolph are both extremely funny, as when sharing a villainous duet in the equivalent of an evil sing-off, but Dempsey (getting a chance to go big a la Marsden, who returns briefly) seems to relish being more than the straitlaced type.

Having fun being bad

What works most in "Disenchanted" is the general sense of joy there is in making a somewhat more old-fashioned musical in the vein of classic Disney fare. (Morgan, now a surly teenager, briefly scoffs at the idea of Giselle singing, but it's fortunately a one-and-done comment that's easy enough to chalk up to a teenager being embarrassed by her parent's behavior than a studio being nervous about embracing the musical genre.) Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz reunite here, after having worked on the original "Enchanted" as well as a couple of Disney's animated films. Though few of the songs have quite the same ineffable staying power as "How Do You Know" from the original, the anthemic "Love Power" is well suited for its main performer, returning cast member Idina Menzel as a transplant from the real world who now lives in Andalasia. (Menzel, you may recall, did not get a chance to sing a single note in the original "Enchanted." Consider it the least surprising development that the voice behind Queen Elsa of Arendelle not only gets a big in-film number but the end-credits remix as well.) 

The script also has a good deal of fun playing around with audience recognition of villainous tropes, as when Giselle's trusty squirrel sidekick Pip (voiced by comedian/podcaster Griffin Newman) goes through a shocking transformation of his own to align with being an evil stepmother's plaything. Just as "Enchanted" playfully winked at recognizable aspects of the good side of Disney animation, so too does "Disenchanted" tackle the darker side and do so in a package almost as winning as its predecessor. So many of the actors, also including supporting players Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays as two suburban lackeys, get a kick out of being bad, and it's easy to see why.

If there's anything truly baffling about "Disenchanted," it's that an all-ages fantasy featuring a very famous movie star is being kicked straight to streaming. "Enchanted" was an agreeable, well-liked family film (one released almost 15 years ago to the day, also during the Thanksgiving holidays). The fact that we're getting a sequel implies Disney knows there's interest among audiences. And yet this film – one whose production is impressively mounted, whatever its budget may be – will only be available on streaming. It's an unfortunate situation for a film that manages to defy most expectations for such a late-stage sequel. "Disenchanted" is saddled with a silly title, it's true, but the story within that title is a lot more enjoyable than would have seemed likely.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10