Well, maybe it isn’t Shrek’s swamp, but Disney’s latest flick makes for “some ‘Enchanted’ evening!” (Unless, of course, you’re at the matinee with your kids…)
And, despite what McDonalds might imply by tucking a Shrek toy into every Happy Meal, “Enchanted” is much more a children’s movie than the Shrek series. This is not to say that there is something about the Shrek films that makes them inappropriate for children — there is a lot that kids can and will enjoy watching the antics of green ogres and swashbuckling kitties in boots. However, there is a lot in Shrek movies directed at teen and adult audiences — what I think of as fantasy geek audiences — that kids will not as readily ‘get.’
Not so for “Enchanted.” Older children, who are savvier than I ever was at their ages, will understand easily that the movie begins, in animation, gently poking fun at what seems to be the end of the plot of most Disney fairy-tale movies (Princess Giselle dreams of and meets her prince and rides off into the sunset, literally, to get married after ‘true love’s kiss’). The simple jokes come mostly as Giselle makes a model of her prince out of kitchen implements, and forgets to give him a mouth: for example, the caterpillar who is cast as pearly (green) teeth glowers at the camera and slithers off. Those children, even if they haven’t seen the trailer, will not be surprised as the movie takes a hard right turn toward Shrekville as the evil queen, wonderfully voiced and, later, portrayed by Susan Sarandon, prevents Giselle’s marriage to Prince Charming (her son) by sending her “where no one lives happily ever after:” aka, present-day New York City.
For good or ill, however, even in New York, “Enchanted” stays well this side of the satire of Shrek, and so even the youngest children will understand and enjoy most everything. Where feisty Fiona would have turned New York on its head and had some cutting things to say about modern America as well as fairy tales, poor Giselle is all princess and no ogre. Lost and bewildered in the big city, she is an easy candidate for mugging as a homeless man steals her wedding tiara and it is entirely thanks to Disney-esque good fortune that she happens on the lonely divorce lawyer and his daughter who can, and will, give her a place to ‘rest her head.’ Even the little person whom she happily calls by name as the dwarf “Grumpy” does nothing worse than glare (which is definitely not New York!)
Shrek-lovers need not despair, however! A good night’s sleep seems to be all Giselle needs to find her footing in New York and proceeds to entertain all ages with two sequences which are worthy of the movie’s premise and ticket price. Though her chipmunk friend has lost his voice in the transition from Far Far Away (in “Enchanted,” it’s Andalasia) to New York, Giselle has apparently lost none of what might be called her “princess powers.” Leaning out the window and warbling produces the same effect it would have back in Andalasia: an influx of housecleaning animals. The delight comes in that they are exactly the animals one would assume you could summon in Manhattan: flies, rats, mice, and cockroaches. Even more enthralling (possibly thanks to a dirth of creepy-crawlies) is Giselle’s visit to Central Park where, as in Mary Poppins, her magical song and dance call and conjure a chorus of park-goers of all kinds who instinctively know the song. Giselle takes Manhattan is the best part of the movie.
Sadly, in true Disney fashion, Manhattan must have its opportunity to impact Giselle, and the self-serious “self-discovery” scenes show how much this movie is not “Shrek.” The facile and predictable finale as the wicked queen arrives to kill Giselle also nearly kills all the joy of the earlier parts of the movie. Thankfully, though, the last plot twists both in live-action New York and in animated Andalasia (which I will not reveal) heroically save this movie from the trap of an overly conventional Disney story line. Like its puffed-sleeve sporting prince, “Enchanted” is quite Charming and worth seeing.
Claire Ramsey is the former Youth Services Director of the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library and currently a professional storyteller. Check out her Web site here.