The Spool / Movies
Disenchanted fails to conjure up an entertaining spell
Whether or not you’ve seen Enchanted, Disenchanted will feel like a formulaic retread of other fairy tale comedies.
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Whether or not you’ve seen Enchanted, Disenchanted will feel like a formulaic retread of other fairy tale comedies.

“Not great, not terrible.”

Those four words from the incredible HBO miniseries Chernobyl perfectly sum up the quality of Disenchanted, the brand-new sequel to the 2007 Disney musical Enchanted. Die-hard fans of the original worried this new installment will taint the very existence of the movie they love can rest easy. Unfortunately, moviegoers hoping for something more than an excuse to take in pretty costumes and the superb vocal chops of Amy Adams will be disappointed. Not much notable, let alone downright magical, is going on in Disenchanted.

This sequel picks up several years after Enchanted, with former animated princess Giselle (Amy Adams) and down-to-Earth lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) now married. Precocious youngster Morgan has grown up into a sullen teenager (played by Gabriella Baldacchino) while the couple has a new baby, Sophia. With their family expanding, Giselle and Robert pack up their family from their New York City apartment and move everyone to a sizeable, though dilapidated, house in the suburban town of Monroeville. Naturally, Morgan isn’t pleased with leaving her friends behind, and Robert is also feeling the blues of working a humdrum job.

This is where the conflict as Disenchanted comes into play, as Giselle opts to solve everybody’s problems by using a magic wishing wand to turn Monroeville into a fairy tale world. Now, every person on the street has a song in their heart and a personality adhering to a classic fairy tale archetype. For instance, powerful townsperson Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph) has become a conniving evil queen. Naturally, some profoundly personal adverse side effects to this spell for Giselle are about to turn this fairy tale into a nightmare.

If there’s a feeling one can never shake from Disenchanted, it’s that we can’t go home again. Even by the time Enchanted was released in 2007, doing parodies of Disney fairy tales was becoming old hat rather than clever (thank heavens the original film had hysterical gags and performances to make up the difference). Fifteen years later, Disenchanted enters a pop culture marketplace that’s become even more saturated in savvy kids’ entertainment that provides meta-commentary on classic Disney princess movies. This is no longer the subversive exception in family films. It’s the norm.

Disenchanted (Disney+)

Gags about everyday kitchen appliances acting like the singing cookware from Beauty and the Beast, for instance, don’t pack the same punch as they once did. Sight gags referencing vintage Disney cartoons like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White are retreads of similar easter eggs in every other Disney+ original movie. Even with the whole Enchanted cast back again, Disenchanted can never make its comedic take on Disney fairy tale norms as funny as it once was. We can’t go home again, and Disenchanted can’t make what felt novel in 2007 equally zesty in 2022.

It isn’t just the ubiquity of similarly self-referential works that dilutes Disenchanted’s power, though. The big conceit by screenwriter Brigitte Hales to give the entire real world a fairy tale makeover isn’t as much fun as watching, say, a cocky Prince Edward (James Marsden) stab a bus like it’s a dragon. Part of the issue is that we barely know any real-world characters, except for Robert, before they all get turned into oversized fairy tale stereotypes. Without that pre-transformation familiarity, it’s hard to get invested in or even just amused by how Giselle’s world changes overnight.

Hales and director Adam Shankman also need help figuring out whose story this is supposed to be anyway. While Giselle is our focal point for the film’s first two acts, Morgan steps up as the protagonist for the final half-hour of the story. Disenchanted puts the pedal to the medal on big treacly emotional moments to try and make Morgan function as a believable lead character. Unfortunately, all these grand instances of half-hearted poignancy make it clear we’re not interested in her. Not even Morgan’s adventure involving Menzel hitting those high notes that turned Wicked and Frozen into pop culture sensations can paper over how this teenage character hasn’t been fleshed out enough to shoulder so much of Disenchanted’s story.

Unfortunately, moviegoers hoping for something more than an excuse to take in pretty costumes and the superb vocal chops of Amy Adams will be disappointed.

Narratively, Disenchanted is often forgettable, but at least Joan Bergin’s costumes fare much better. From the get-go, Giselle is adorned in a collection of lovely and colorful dresses that nicely suggest how she’s maintaining her bubbly princess persona while adjusting to the world of suburban motherhood. Bergin’s stylish outfits only get better once everybody’s decked out in fairy tale garbs, with Monroe’s devilish attire being amusing and a guaranteed staple of future drag shows. If the storytelling and jokes of Disenchanted often feel like a step down from the first film, at least the costumes are more consistent quality-wise with what was seen in Enchanted.

Similarly, Amy Adams remains as ever delightful and, more importantly, believable inhabiting the human incarnation of fairy tale sweetness. It’s been 15 years since she last played this role, but she’s still got a knack for using the smallest body language to convey the aura of a classical princess. The rest of the cast often struggles with the shortcomings of the screenplay, but they at least perform the roles assigned to them dutifully. Props to Gabriella Baldacchino for initially seeming like too much of a pastiche of traditional withdrawn teenagers before she explodes with an exuberant personality in her fairy tale persona. It’s a striking turn that recontextualizes her preceding on-screen work, an awe-inspiring feat.

Even if some of the performances and costumes are charming, it’s impossible to ever shake the feeling that Disenchanted is coming up way short. Maybe the biggest problem is how mechanical this film feels, especially compared to its predecessor. The original Enchanted emerged just six years after Shrek skewered Disney fairy tales with a story that poked fun at this subgenre of animated movies while reminding people why they loved stuff like Beauty and the Beast in the first place. It wasn’t the pop culture norm in 2007 to say there was value to fairy tales, hope, or goofball women protagonists. Enchanted confidently bucked those and other trends to create something that evaded feeling like just an advertisement for Disney products.

By contrast, Disenchanted arrives, like so many sequels to sleeper hit movies, ready to recreate the high points of a film that worked because of its unexpectedness. Now it wants to give the people what they want, like more songs sung by Frozen leading lady Idina Menzel (here reprising her Enchanted role of Nancy) or name-drops of other Disney villains you can watch on Disney+. The sincerity and infectious love for vintage animation in the original have been replaced by something generic and derivative enough that it could only hail from the director of Rock of Ages. Disenchanted is indeed “not great, not terrible,” but above all else, it’s a disappointment that will have you just itching for a rewatch of the original Enchanted instead.

Disenchanted premieres on Disney+ November 24th.

Disenchanted Trailer: