Disenchanted, the direct-to-Disney+ sequel for the best Disney live-action fairy tale film, is held together by the magic that is Amy Adams. The story, unfortunately, lacks enough of its own magic to feel completely satisfying.
In the previous film, Enchanted, her Giselle was a delightful princess-to-be trope that came to life and found herself in modern-day New York City. She discovered there’s more to life than “true love’s kiss” and ended up with Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a hotshot lawyer, rather than perfect himbo prince Edward (James Marsden). The first film captured the sincerity of striving to keep the best of fairytale ideals in a world that could use a little magic—while breaking the tropes that needed to be broken in real life through music and climactic action (shout out to Susan Sarandon for being a delicious dragon villain).
In Disenchanted, we find Giselle seeking ways to recapture magic in her life. Her family has outgrown their NYC apartment, her stepdaughter Morgan (now played by Gabriella Baldacchino) is a teen, and their family has welcomed a new baby, Sofia. So they decide to uproot to suburbia, Monroeville—a not-so-idyllic place, despite outward appearances, where mean-girl mom Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph) and her two minions (Jayme Mays and Yvette Nicole Brown) run the show.
Seeing that suburbia is not all that it’s cracked up to be and with a teen who misses her old life in the city, Giselle takes matters in her own hands when the opportunity presents itself. It does so in the form of Edward and Nancy (Idina Menzel), who as Sofia’s magical godparents gift the child a wishing wand, since she’s a daughter of Andalasia. The set-up is clever; after a fight with Morgan, who calls her “step-mother” out of anger despite the close relationship they had in the first film, Giselle uses the wand to summon the sort of fairytale life that drew Morgan to her when they first met.
When Giselle wakes up, Monroeville is a kingdom, not unlike the ones we’ve seen in series like Galavant and Once Upon a Time. And that’s where the movie kind of lost me. It quickly falls into a very similar world we’ve seen done more than once by Disney, but with the Fairytale Core filter turned up and populated by much better actors (Disenchanted does them a disservice, really). That said, the costumes on “good” Giselle and Morgan are immaculate and feel like modern fantasy fashion house Selkie meets Disney.
Speaking of “good” Giselle, Adams doesn’t miss a step in recreating the optimistic, wide-eyed spirit from the first film. When the crux of the plot is introduced—her wish makes her a wicked step-mother by the hour—it’s presented as a fantastic twist, but the idea becomes disjointed as the film goes on. There are too many plot threads, between Giselle’s relationship with Morgan that tries to be the main focus, but then there’s also Giselle versus Malvina for the crown. Nevertheless, Adams relishes in being “bad” Giselle in an astounding way and totally nails having two different and perfect contrasting energies.
The B-plots also get messy with lots of characters you normally would have wanted more of. Dempsey is given two-dimensional arc as Robert trying to find a purpose in a fairytale world as a hapless hero, which makes no sense to who he was before. Morgan also has a love story that could have been more prominent to sell us on it. And then there’s Nancy and Edward who just come to save the day, be saved, and save the day again; Nancy gets the full Fairy Godmother treatment with the film’s main musical numbers. At least Menzel finally gets to sing! Rudolph also elevates every scene and musical number she’s in as the perfect foil to “bad” Giselle.
Overall, it’s great to see all these characters back and riffing on various fairytale tropes surrounding queens and daughters; it mostly works, in large part because of the cast’s commitment to their roles. It’s a shame the story doesn’t live up to the first film—maybe it should have been a mini-series instead, to better serve the various threads and relationships that writer Brigitte Hales and director Adam Shankman clearly wanted to explore. I do hope it’s not the last we see of the characters and there’s more chapters in the world of Enchanted to see.
Disenchanted is now streaming on Disney+.
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