A follow-up to 2007’s charming fish-out-of-water musical fantasy can’t quite recapture the magic
Two years after Amy Adams broke out and secured an Oscar nomination for her dizzy, disarming turn in modest indie Junebug, she found a way to smartly parlay that same wide-eyed ebullience to a much grander stage. The Disney caper Enchanted was a canny, crowd-pleasing charmer that stood as proof of Adams’s warm movie star appeal while also managing to stand out in a busy post-Shrek crowd of progressively grating fairytale meta snark.
The sequel, Disenchanted, is landing on Disney+ rather than in cinemas suggesting, yes, ongoing corporate greed, but also an understandable wariness over how a 15-year gap might have affected audience interest. As well-received as the film was back at the time (a $340m global gross and a 93% positive rating from critics), it’s not something that’s necessarily had a visible cultural imprint and Adams has moved away from comedy to more serious fare, most recently in a string of reviled lumps of failed Oscarbait, from Hillbilly Elegy to The Woman in the Window to Dear Evan Hansen (her last hit as a lead was 2016’s Arrival). While there might be a predictably substantial downturn in quality from film to film, it’s still a shrewd move for Adams, a breath of fresh air for someone who’s been stuck in the murk.
As Giselle, the animated princess who now lives in the real world, she’s still as perky as she was back in 2007 even if the world around her might be testing her goodwill. Her stepdaughter has become a surly teenager and with a new baby, her New York City apartment has become less palace and more dungeon so she decides with husband Robert (Patrick Dempsey, the most 2007 casting imaginable) to move to the suburbs where life might more closely resemble a happy ever after.
In order to propel the film into something a little more eventful and theoretically effective than a fish-out-of-water comedy becoming a big-fish-in-a-small-pond one, there’s some strained, scrappy plotting that focuses on a wishing wand and a wish that goes wrong, turning suburbia into a fairytale land. Characters must then reckon with who they are and what they represent in a fictional landscape – the husband must fight dragons, the daughter must find love, the local queen bee must become an actual queen – and Giselle has to fight off the urge to become an evil stepmother through some convoluted guff about a glowing clock.
The slick simplicity of the original, recalling the pleasures of a subgenre that saw its biggest successes in the 1980s with films such as Splash, Crocodile Dundee, Big, Working Girl and Private Benjamin, allowed for breathing room that’s much harder to find here. The script is plagued with some busy, graceless first draft plotting, from the Once Upon a Time writer Brigitte Hales, tying itself into so many knots that we find ourselves struggling to untangle them. Given the dearth of live-action studio comedies aimed at a younger audience, it would have been preferable, if unrealistically ambitious, for the film to remain in a less fantastical realm, tasked more with the everyday challenges of Giselle adapting to suburban momdom. The early scenes, which see her come up against Maya Rudolph’s hilariously haughty housewife, have a fun fizz to them and the family’s fatigue with life outside of the city is broadly sketched but involving.
When magic enters the fray, things start to slowly sputter, the rules of the hows and whys feeling vaguer than they should, world-building done with just one hand. It remains watchable but is also lumped with far more musical numbers than its predecessor, thanks perhaps to director Adam Shankman who has a background in the genre, and while it retains the first film’s composer, Disney stalwart Alan Menken, the songs are all aggressively, at times embarrassingly, mediocre. There’s a brassy attempt to get a returning Idina Menzel to deliver a Frozen-esque number about the power of love but as with most of the songs, lyrics are so slapdash that one wonders if it was improvised.
The only song that draws our attention is a duelling duet between Adams and Rudolph, bringing a much-needed sharpness to some of the heavily ladeled sentiment and like many of the film’s best moments, relies heavily on Rudolph’s ability to turn a brief expression into a joke in itself. She’s the film’s ace, along with promising newcomer Gabriella Baldacchino as the stepdaughter, both impressing and helpfully distracting as Adams struggles with her character’s uneven descent into villainy, sadly drifting into pantomime. At a baggy, overstretched two hours, its welcome is close to being overstayed, but there’s just about enough charm to keep Disenchanted from living up to its title.