Monday, November 26, 2007

A Storybook Statement

Since 2D animation has gone to the wayside, the Disney company, and even the Disney brand of children’s film, has had a tough time adapting. While the partnership with Pixar gives them a link to the most powerful (in every sense of the term) children’s entertainment in the world, the true Disney films (“Treasure Planet,” “Chicken Little,” “Home on the Range”) have been marred by stupid plots, second-tier animation, and completely unequivocal success compared to the older films. The 21st Century and the digital age has required a shift in cinema that Disney animation has yet to make. However, with the new film “Enchanted,” it seems like Disney has recognized their product for what it is, was, and, seemingly, always will be. “Enchanted” is self-aware of the Disney history, but uses it as a pastiche that not only serves as one of the strongest Disney films in years, but also a signal that Disney may have figured out how to transfer their product into the digital age.

Starting out in the 2D animated, 4:3 aspect ratio of the Disney days of old, “Enchanted” is recognizing its history and playing with the modes of production and their general plot lines. Giselle (Amy Adams) is a beautiful young lady who lives in the forest and sings to the animals about finding her true love, which can only be recognized through “true love’s kiss.” Prince Edward (James Marden) hears the song and goes off to find Giselle. She falls into his lap while he sits on his horse, they kiss, and vow to be married the next day. However, Edward’s stepmother, the evil Queen Narcissa (Susan Sarandon), wants to keep her throne forever so disguises herself and pushes Giselle into a well where she is sent to a place with no “happily ever afters”: modern day New York City. Giselle, in full wedding attire, rises from the sewers into the widescreen New York City where she immediately misses the courtesy and kindness of her fairly tale land of Andalasia. She gets lost and ends up in Bowery, where she is found by an engaged divorce attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter. He sympathizes with this poor confused woman and takes her to his apartment.

This plot description is only necessary in noting that from step one onward, the same Disney pattern is being followed even in the live action world. Any astute viewer can predict where the film is going to go and what is going to happen, but if you get caught in this trap of plot it is easy to overlook the smart changes in the Disney message and the updating of their own ideology for the new age. The general complaint about Disney films is that they never apply to real life and the film’s engender some sort of ideology in young woman that they must be thin and beautiful to ever find their Prince Charming. While “Shrek” has notable played with these ideals, it continues to push the same messages. In “Enchanted,” true love is still found in the real world, but only in realizing that there is more to love than what is found in the animated fairy tale world’s Disney has proposed in the past and in Andalasia. “Enchanted” still does very much to present Giselle as a typical princess, but this is only used to play off of their prior films. The underlying message shifts, which in turn should change the way that the proposal of Giselle’s character, a young woman who has to recognize the ways of the real to find true love and get her “true love’s kiss”, as a role model is no longer troubling, as Disney critics of past films have found.

Updated messages and changing philosophies aside, there is so much joy to be found in “Enchanted” that it is difficult, unless you are a total cynic, to not fall under its spell. Amy Adams real-life fairy tale princess is played with a fancy-free attitude that can turn on a dime with the recognition of the darker forces in the world (i.e. divorce.) Adams is beyond perfect in the role and carries the film on her tiara and dresses made of curtains. James Marsden and Patrick Dempsey play along very well, especially in the recognition of the musical elements that somehow don’t make sense to Robert. Giselle’s musical number in Central Park and her calling to the creature’s of the city to clean her new home are two of the best sequences you will see in any movie this year. As if there were any question about it, Adams proves herself fully capable of being a strong leading lady. She displays such a simple grace in her performance, all the while creating such a strong sense of character. As obviously formulaic as “Enchanted” is, and, indeed, is supposed to be, Adams’ great performance helps the audience in recognizing the playfulness of the film and helps it, dare I say, transcend to greater heights. Given her Oscar nomination, but snub all the same, for the wonderful “Junebug,” and an Oscar worthy turn in “Enchanted,” Adams should be fully solidified as a goddess in the acting world (and the love of my cinematic life.)

Maybe the most noteworthy and radical message that comes from “Enchanted” is in the final act where Giselle, who has received true love’s kiss and been revived from a deadly apple, has her final battle with Princess Narcissa who turns herself into a giant, ragingly digital dragon. Giselle climbs the tower in the real world to defeat the digital dragon who has now plagued the animated world of Andalasia and the real world of New York. It is only when the digital dragon has been conquered that the characters can return to the 2D fairy tale land and others can finally find peace and true love and happiness in the real world. If that isn’t a statement on Disney’s major faults and their continuing battle to update and revise at the start of the 21st century, then I don’t know what is.

by James Hansen


Brandon Colvin said...

I agree with everything you said. "Enchanted" far surpassed my expectations and Amy Adams was just wonderful, a joy to watch. It was very thoughtful and I laughed out loud numerous times at a film that may wrongly be pegged as children's film, particularly one aimed at little girls.

Especially interesting to me was that at the end, Giselle had to rescue Patrick Dempsey's character, carrying the sword along with her. The usually masculine role of the protector was assumed by the very non-traditional princess, complete with a transfer of a traditional phallic symbol. Disney seems to have found a gateway into modernity and I applaud them for it.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but I wanted to add in some more love for Amy Adams.
I thought she was so remarkable in JUNEBUG, and I look forward to anything she pops up in. She is an extraordinary young actress, and has a really rare warmth and goodness about her.
I rarely get the kind of quality that she exudes from other modern performers...I recently actually mentioned to someone that if I was a director, I would go out of my way to find a part for her in all of my films...that alone would make them worth seeing..