“Disenchanted” asks the existential question, “What comes after ‘Happily Ever After?,’” which is, naturally, a sequel … only (because it’s 15 years later) for streaming. Amy Adams nimbly steps back into the role of an animated princess trying to adapt to the live-action world, in an epilogue to “Enchanted” that has moments of magic without completely delivering on the premise.
As recounted in storybook fashion, Adams’ Princess Giselle settled down with her unexpected prince, single dad Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and had a baby with him. Yet life in fantastical Andalasia left her ill prepared for the monotony and drudgery of married life, causing her to seek a means of shaking up her humdrum reality.
The HBO or Hulu version of that crisis would surely have a darker and harder edge, but this being Disney+, Giselle seizes upon the idea of moving the whole family to the suburbs, a seemingly idyllic place known as Monroeville, which looked good on the billboards. The decision, however, leaves Robert with a lousy commute and Giselle’s teenage stepdaughter, Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino), feeling displaced and surly, forced as she is to leave “the kingdom of New York” behind.
The acrimony and tension at home doesn’t sit well with Giselle, who becomes desperate enough to try using a little magic that falls squarely into the “Be careful what you wish for” basket. In its most inspired flourish, the major backfire comes from the technicality of Giselle being a stepmother, a class of family member that hasn’t traditionally fared well in animated fairy tales.
The initial kick that enlivened “Enchanted” perhaps inevitable feels somewhat number in this context, what with all the singing to urban flora and fauna. As for those songs, everyone is in fine voice – including Idina Menzel, who pops in just long enough to lend her Broadway belt to what’s clearly intended to be the movie’s showstopping tune, and perhaps move a few extra copies of the soundtrack.
Although the songs come courtesy of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz – an Oscar-nominated combo for the original – the music this time is sprightly but less memorable. Similarly, the supporting cast feels alternatively under and overused, with James Marsden reprising his role as the clueless prince and Maya Rudolph portraying the local queen bee of the ‘burbs, who does get to perform one energetic duet with Adams.
Directed by Adam Shankman (who directed the musical “Hairspray,” as it happens, the same year “Enchanted” came out), the film again plays cleverly with fairy-tale conventions, without reflecting much growth, by Giselle or others, in the intervening years. If there appeared to be room to creatively advance the mythology, “Disenchanted” merely chooses to recycle it.
Granted, that formula has been good to Disney+, which has built much of its programming strategy around the cozy familiarity associated with reviving older properties in either series or movie form, including “The Santa Clause,” “Hocus Pocus” and, soon, “Willow.”
“I never sing the right song anymore,” Giselle mutters sadly at one point, before the story fully kicks into gear.
To say that would certainly be too harsh an appraisal of “Disenchanted,” but it is fair to note that compared to its deservedly admired predecessor, the sequel doesn’t hit nearly as many high notes.
In 2007’s “Enchanted,” the clash between the naiveté and eternal optimism of classic Disney-ified animated fairytales and the cynical real world of Manhattan felt fresh and invigorating. Amy Adams’ committed performance as Giselle, a Disney princess personified, catapulted her into mainstream success. But as Disney’s IP continues to saturate the market, it’s fitting that their latest direct-to-streaming dip back into this magical well is entitled “Disenchanted.”
Directed by Adam Shankman, the story is set about a decade after the events depicted in the first film. Giselle and high powered Manhattan lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) have married, had a baby named Sofia, and wide-eyed little Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino, taking over the role from Rachel Covey) has become a stereotypical surly teen. We barely see the baby despite her existence being an impetus for the family to flee cramped Manhattan for the comfort of the suburbs, and it’s symptomatic of just how underdeveloped pretty much all the new characters are in the film.
Of course, suburbia isn’t immediately the “after happily ever after” of their dreams. Although they’ve moved into a beautiful, pink, two-story home complete with a castle-like spire that many would consider dream home goals, the “fixer upper” is disparaged by just about everyone, from Morgan to the PTA queen bee of Monroeville, Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph), and even the King and Queen of Andalasia (James Marsden and Idina Menzel, reprising their roles). The script (which has four credited writers) doesn’t really explore their adjustment period, though it does give Giselle and Morgan plenty of time to bicker.
As a teen, Morgan doesn’t have time for Giselle or the magical memories of her childhood. Giselle laments she doesn’t “sing the right song anymore.” After a fight with Morgan ends with her angrily telling Giselle she’s only her “stepmother,” Giselle makes a desperate wish on a magic wishing wand (a house-warming present from Andalasia) for them to have a “fairytale life.” The song here is wonderfully bittersweet, with Adams bringing a tinge of sorrow to her shining voice.
But stepmothers are always wicked in fairytales, and so this wish naturally becomes a curse, slowly turning the town into Monrolasia (clearly inspired by Belle’s village from “Beauty and the Beast”) and Giselle’s goodness into evil. As she becomes aware of the fairytale cracking veneer, Morgan discovers she has until the final stroke of midnight to undo everything.
While the script is heavy on action, it’s incredibly light on any kind of real characterization. Malvina is a stock suburban queen bee, with Rudolph responding by playing her less as a wholly realized character than as Evil Maya Rudolph. Adams has fun with Giselle’s descent, altering her sweet lilt to a deep poison tongue. The two get a few showdowns, and one zippy duet entitled “Badder,” but the tension is nowhere near as delicious as what Adams crafted with Susan Sarandon’s big bad in the first film.
Longtime collaborators Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz know the formula for the perfect Disney song, having nabbed three Oscar nominations for their work on “Enchanted.” Here each song serves its purpose for the narrative, but there is nary a catchy earworm. There is one showstopper, performed by Menzel, who did not sing in the previous film. Her song “Love Power” may have a woefully generic name, but her voice is as powerful and spine-tinglingly beautiful as ever.
In fact, Menzel’s performance is one of the few that manages to transcend beyond the subpar trappings of “Disenchanted,” which soars when she and Marsden (just as charming and dimwitted as ever) grace the screen. It’s unfortunate, then, that they’re relegated to only a handful of scenes towards the beginning and during the final act. The parody-homage within Andalasia and its inhabitants remains the strongest element of the world-building.
Monroeville is never built out beyond a few minutes in a high school hallway, the commuter train station platform, and one coffee shop. What does this film actually have to say about those who leave the city for the suburbs or those who live in them? If the idea is that it’s not the “closest thing to a fairytale” after all, then we need to see more of what it actually is before it becomes part of Giselle’s accidental curse. We need to meet more than just Malvina and her cronies (Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays), a few mean girls whose names we never hear, and Malvina’s generic jock son Tyson (Kolton Stewart). The setting also never fully meshes with the film’s exploration of the power of memory.
Although it’s gorgeous to look at (especially Joan Bergin’s costumes), “Disenchanted” fails to truly rekindle the magic, or the biting wit of its predecessor. Like most things stamped Disney these days, the film feels just like the mass-produced bobbles for sale at the Disney store. There may be a little bit of recognizable magic left on the surface, but that’s about it.