This week saw the early release of Disney’s Disenchanted on Disney+. The original 2007 film Enchanted was a fun musical parody of classic Disney movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Little Mermaid. It has become something of a cult classic in the intervening years and, in my opinion, is the best parody of Disney ever. Other films produced by the Walt Disney studios and elsewhere either can’t decide how much to poke fun or do it to the detriment of their own story. Enchanted was both a spoof and a love letter, noting the ridiculousness of some fairy tale tropes without relentlessly mocking the genre. What most filmmakers these days don’t understand is that you can both love something and recognize that it’s ridiculous. I think that’s where the best genre satire comes from. The performances of a pitch-perfect cast and gorgeous 2D animation made an imperfect film that’s perfect for my taste. A potential sequel languished in production hell as early as 2010, only to receive an official title and release announcement in late 2020. Could this film possibly live up to the legacy of its predecessor? Grab your wands, and let’s make some wishes.
Disenchanted picks up in New York 15 years after the first movie’s events. Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey) have settled into wedded bliss with their new daughter Sophia and Robert’s older daughter Morgan. Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) is a teenager now and struggles to get along with Giselle, especially once the family decides to move to Monroeville, a smaller, quieter town. Giselle soon finds that the move doesn’t restore the fairy-tale life she’s been missing, and Robert is less than enamored with his daily commute to the office. When Nancy (Idina Menzel) and Prince Edward (James Marsden) arrive to give their goddaughter Sophia a wishing wand, Giselle sees an opportunity to solve everyone’s problems. Her wish has unintended consequences that could only deepen the rift between her and Morgan.
The first thing that struck me about Disenchanted is its frequent, distracting callbacks to older Disney properties. That likely sounds a little silly when the first film rode the wave of Disney fandom and nostalgia. Heck, I liked the contentious Princess scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet! So what’s the problem here? In the first movie, most Easter eggs were subtle enough to be hidden from casual moviegoers. Actresses who voiced characters like Ariel, Pocahontas, and Belle showed up in cameo appearances in Enchanted. Likewise, the troupe of elderly male dancers in “That’s How You Know” were the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins, and Julie Andrews provided the film’s narration. Robert’s surname is Philip, an homage to Prince Philip in Sleeping Beauty. This is cemented by his attire and behavior in the third act when he chases Queen Narissa in dragon form to save Giselle. Nancy’s last name, Tremaine, was an obvious but unintrusive reference to Cinderella’s step family. Giselle was a melting pot of physical attributes and character traits from all of the classic Disney heroines, most notably, Snow White (kindness, timid voice), Cinderella (willingness and skill at household chores), Aurora (meeting Edward in the woods, dramatic singing style), and Ariel (red hair, clothing, saving Robert from the villainess). Similarly, Narissa was a pastiche of numerous Disney villains but takes lots of inspiration from Snow White’s stepmother, the Evil Queen; Cinderella’s stepmom, Lady Tremaine; and Maleficent. She even dressed as an old hag to present Giselle with a magic apple and later transformed into a dragon. She’s also literally the Queen of Andalasia and Prince Edward’s evil stepmother. None of this distracts from the story, though. It’s either a background detail or a facet of the characters and relationships.
In Disenchanted, this isn’t the case. This film’s approach to fan service is much more in line with Hocus Pocus 2 or the recent Pinocchio remake. In short, almost every frame is filled with classic Disney inside jokes, characters, or costumes. I don’t know why they keep doing this! Yes, I recognize Princess Aurora and King Hubert (Philip’s father) in the movie’s opening credits. I see them, and I know them, but why are they here? Why is Ray the lightning bug present for Pip’s opening and closing narration? He’s from a completely different movie. Why do the characters in Monroeville briefly sing “Be Our Guest“? How do they know that song? Does Disney’s Beauty and the Beast exist in-universe, and is this why there’s a store called “Lumiere’s Candle Works”? Why does Giselle directly quote Lady Tremaine from Cinderella when she locks Morgan in her room? This isn’t fun, amusing, or clever; it’s distracting. You’re just reminding me that other movies exist. Malvina even has a cabinet of evil knickknacks to undermine Giselle. Inside, we see Alice’s drink me bottle, a bell jar containing a single rose, a spinning wheel, and other similar items. Once Giselle has gone full evil, she instructs three short, portly fairies to watch over baby Sophia just like in Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent (2014). Who are these women, where did they come from, and how can Giselle trust them with her daughter so easily? I have no clue! It probably seems like I’m really harping on this, and I don’t know how casual Disney fans or average viewers will respond to it. But I love classic Disney; you should see my room! If this was done for anyone, it would be people like me. And I just think it puts too much emphasis on other films I’ve already seen. More time and resources should have gone toward its own characters and story.
Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph) stands in sharp contrast to Narissa, who was inspired by several Disney baddies but had her own personality and goals. Malvina wants to win and watch Giselle lose. But why? What does she really want? Why is this woman so obsessed with running a no-name town in nowheresville? Her chemistry with Adams is nonexistent, and her two lackeys (Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays) add nothing to the film. I regret to inform the makers of Disenchanted that dressing these actresses up as Cinderella’s stepsisters, Anastasia and Drisella, doesn’t make them interesting or funny. Malvina’s own gown is not impressive. It looks like a Descendants-quality costume, and you know what? That’s a shame. It just looks silly. Malvina and Giselle share a duet in “So Much Badder” that is, indeed, very bad. This also sounds like a Descendants song. I wonder if the creators intentionally took inspiration from that trilogy, or if this resulted from budget constraints. But Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz returned to compose the songs, and we know they’re better than this. And Giselle’s costumes are noticeably better quality and more interesting than Malvina’s. I especially like the maroon poof-sleeve gown and the peacock dress. The film’s theme song seems to be “Even More Enchanted,” the only song that gets a reprise outside the end credits. This song is terrible. I hate how they keep saying “enchanted” repeatedly, almost like they want to force you to think about the original. But they didn’t namedrop it like this in the first movie, and it comes off as very forced. And let me tell you right now, this film is NOT “even more enchanted.” Not even close. The music is a serious letdown, and the only song I liked was “Fairytale Life.” At least this time, they give Idina Menzel a couple of songs. She’s a Broadway legend, and most people know her as Elsa in the Frozen franchise. This reminds me of Frozen II giving Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff more songs after the first movie only gave him one short, jokey tune. Nancy’s songs are pretty bad, especially the one she sings with Edward, “The Magic of Andalasia.” “Love Power” shows off her range well, and the tune is alright, but you won’t be humming it, and the lyrics are stupid. There aren’t as many songs as the original, and none compare to “True Love’s Kiss” or “That’s How You Know.” I’m so disappointed.
The animated segments are also disappointing. They don’t really evoke the first movie’s style or even a classic Disney feeling, and Morgan asking why she’s so “pointy” made me groan. I couldn’t find exact numbers to compare this movie’s budget, but it looks and feels cheaper. The animated scenes and the costumes in the live-action portion can’t compare to the original, aside from some of Giselle’s dresses. There are a couple of subtler nods to Disney movies that I enjoyed. At the festival, the camera pans down on the town with flags in the foreground, just like the Kingdom Dance sequence in Tangled. This feels like actual thought went into it, and it makes sense in this film, so it’s not distracting. James Monroe Iglehart plays a minor character in Disenchanted, and he’s good, too. This is the kind of fan service that works. Iglehart is one of the most popular versions of the Genie in Aladdin on Broadway, and he played Lance in Tangled the Series.
Okay, so the movie’s look, sound, and use of fan service are huge steps down. But what about the characters and story? Not any better, I’m afraid. Giselle’s turn feels very forced, which isn’t helped by the magical MacGuffin scroll. Nancy and Edward give baby Sophia a magic wand and a scroll, which is how Giselle accidentally curses herself and the whole world(s). That’s right, the curse affects Andalasia as well as the primary setting. The problem is that the curse turns Giselle into an evil stepmother; this is lazy character writing. The movie would be much better if Giselle broke off from Morgan due to her behavior, if she slowly got drunk on the power of getting everything she wanted. The movie bends over backward to absolve Giselle, or anyone else, of blame for the situation. Why? She did this! Let her own it. Let her go down a dark path, realize what she’s done, and make it right. Forcing Morgan to rectify the situation makes no sense and doesn’t sit right with me. This is probably a weird sticking point, but I’m baffled by this movie’s timeline. It was marketed as picking up 15 years after the first movie, which would make Morgan 23. But she’s a teenager in Disenchanted, as the characters won’t stop reminding us. I like the idea of the problems between Giselle and Morgan, especially as the then-8-year-old Morgan instantly took to her in the first movie. Robert was the one who had to be won over by Giselle’s charm, innocence, and kindness. But the way this plays out isn’t satisfying or engaging in the slightest. What’s the source of the tension? I know the decision to move didn’t suddenly ruin an otherwise healthy bond between stepmother and stepdaughter. Morgan even calls Giselle “mom” multiple times in the beginning, which I found very sweet and is more than most stepkids will do. The whole theme of Morgan not feeling like a true daughter of Andalasia is so weird, too. Giselle treats her just as well as Sophia before the spell is cast. Giselle insists that Morgan is her daughter, and Morgan’s biological mom is dead anyway, so she might as well reciprocate. This whole relationship and the turmoil within it is poorly thought-out, hardly realized, and fixed too easily. The beginning of the film and Giselle’s problems with Morgan aren’t really dire enough to justify such a big choice, either. This crap needed a rewrite.
One of my favorite parts of the first movie was the love story between Giselle and Robert. Both actors sell the chemistry and development really well, and I found it surprisingly relatable. My husband’s name is Robert, and he also has a daughter from a previous relationship. I’m also the younger one and had much less worldly experience when we got together. However, my ex had NOTHING on Prince Edward’s good looks, sense of humor, or charm. I digress. Anyway, this made their new life together a big source of curiosity for me. A married couple is an entirely different animal from a newly-dating one, and exploring one on film offers unique opportunities for this genre. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t want Kramer vs. Kramer or anything like that, and I was excited to see how Robert and Giselle’s relationship had evolved over the years. To make a long story short, it hasn’t. Robert gets very little characterization in this film, and his problems are stated verbally by other characters and then treated like a joke. Edward and a random lady on the train observe that Robert’s life has no meaning and he’s living in a cycle. Does Robert even feel this way? Why not show us instead of feeding us this information through other characters? Once the spell is cast, Robert fights dragons and trolls, all of which is used for comic relief. It’s not funny, but the movie thinks it is. This is all resolved in one line of narration in the end, yet again letting someone ELSE tell Robert’s story. Enchanted was never like Tangled or Beauty and the Beast; Giselle was more dynamic and interesting than Robert. But Patrick Dempsey’s performance was good. He made a good straight man to Giselle and Edward’s wacky cartooniness, and his eventual love for her was quite believable. I don’t understand why this film treats the lead’s love interest as less than an afterthought. They’ve been married for over a decade now! Do they have new problems? How does the baby affect them as a couple? Do they struggle to make time for dates? Does Morgan resent Giselle for replacing her mom? The film isn’t interested in any of this. I’ve talked about this too much, but this reminds me of Incredibles 2. That film also provided disappointing or nonexistent character arcs and neglected a relationship that was central to the first movie. What a bummer.
Nancy and Edward have it even worse, and I’m pretty sure Idina Menzel and James Marsden are only in this film to create hype. Again, this reminds me of the use of Edna and Frozone in Incredibles 2. Characters like Timothy Spall’s Nathaniel are sorely missed here; he was funnier than anything in Disenchanted. Narissa is dead, so I wasn’t expecting Susan Sarandon to show up, but her lackey could have provided levity and given Edward more to do. Pip and Morgan were recast this time, and while I’m not sure why, the results are mixed. Rachel Covey is replaced by Gabriella Baldacchino as Morgan, and she’s not bad at all. She looks like her and has a lovely singing voice. However, neither of Pip’s original voice actors plays him here, and it shows. His dialogue is also worse, especially the narration. This is really bad. I knew it wouldn’t be as good without Julie Andrews, but Griffin Newman doesn’t sound like Jeff Bennett or Kevin Lima. In general, the sidekicks in this movie are horribly irritating. This film is edited like a TV movie and has the production value to match. Kevin Lima also didn’t return to direct, and Adam Shankman clearly isn’t up to the task. I don’t know why this film was made outside of bolstering Disney+’s mediocre catalog with another mediocre movie. The concept of Memory Trees is retconned into the story for some reason, and it’s just another MacGuffin, so it’s not justified by the story. Malvina and Giselle’s firefight is dumb and looks like a poor imitation of Harry Potter crossing wands with Voldemort. I also thought the idea of a spell ending or becoming permanent at midnight was more representative. When Robert and Malvina’s son stops the town’s clock, the spell is halted, but this makes no sense to me. Isn’t the clock more of a symbol? Can someone tell the writers it’s still midnight? I could go on forever about the convoluted story mechanics, watered-down characters, and unpleasant visuals on display, but you know what? I don’t think I will. I’m going to watch the first movie because the desire to do so is all I got out of Disenchanted.
Disenchanted is a massive disappointment, if you can call it that. Sending the sequel to a beloved property straight to Disney+ was a bad sign, but I’m stubborn and had hope! I love the first movie. It’s funny, sweet, has a great soundtrack, and the cast ROCKS. Disenchanted is a masterpiece of disappointment and missed opportunities. This is like Incredibles 2 all over again, except this time, the final product is even worse, and I halfway expected as much. I would absolutely skip this movie; I wish I could unwatch it. The original is on Disney+ now, and your time would be better spent watching that instead.
Disenchanted is a masterclass in missing the point. Every technical aspect is a pale reflection of the original, and the film replaces heart and whimsy with an endless array of Disney references. Go watch the original instead.
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I LOVE you rreviews. I have to very politely disagree here. You are making excellent points but I actually slightly prefer the sequel. The original mostly decostructed love stories. This one adresse a lot more fairy tale cliches. I highly respect your opinion so let’s agree to disagree and keep up your amazing work!