Saturday, November 26, 2022

Fairy Tale Watch: Disenchanted (2022)

Watched:  11/24/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Adam Shankman

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. - Orson Welles

There's a lot of good in Disenchanted (2022), but it's a weird film.  Perhaps it's an unnecessary film?  

As much as I, too, wondered how Giselle - she of the cartoon kingdom - was going to adjust as a fish-out-of-water in New York, a fairy tale princess who now has to live in the Big Apple in a place with varying races, religions, opinions, illness, war, injustice...   I'm kind of wondering now - Maybe we didn't need to check in?  Maybe "happily ever after" is the ending this story needed.  After all, this movie starts to push on the edges of what it means to live happily ever after as it continues the tale of Giselle and Robert as it asks "what next?  What about ennui?  What about missing one's homeland and the way in which they were raised?  Isn't life deeply imperfect?"

I don't think it's wrong to limit the challenges of the movie to teen-angst, mean moms, commutes sucking and other suburban and relatable concerns within the control and world of your average schmo.  We have enough to deal with when it comes to the magical challenges of the film that will fill the runtime and primary concerns of the movie's A-plot.  

Once again we assemble the cast of the first film with Amy Adams as Giselle, Patrick Dempsey as Robert, Idina Menzel as Nancy and James Marsden as the singing prince, Edward.  

Someone clearly noticed that the last film included Idina Menzel and didn't give her any songs - a move so bizarre, for comparison I can only point to the 1940's film Tension that features Cyd Charisse and doesn't have her dance.  I think Menzel is in 3 numbers and has her own credits song.  And, in fact, this movie is much more of a musical than the first film, which featured songs more as a "wtf is happening?" flourish and played for a laugh.  This movie plays far more by traditional musical rules which makes some sense as the world's merge.

With a new baby part of their life, Giselle and Robert have decided to move to the suburb of Monroeville into a massive house with a huge yard which the couple is renovating.  Somehow this absolute palace - which looks to be 3000 square feet in the greater NYC area - is referred to repeatedly as an embarrassing dump.  Y'all, sometimes this happens in a movie and I just don't know.  Is everyone involved this out of touch?

Morgan has grown into a teen - and not a particularly surly one, just one who is maybe realizing having a cartoon princess for a mom is weird, and is resentful of being moved from Manhattan so her step-mom can pretend to live in a fantasy-land again.  I'm not sure Giselle is being selfish here, but how long is Morgan really going to be around?

In honor of the new baby, Edward and Nancy give Giselle a wishing wand - which seems to have an unlimited number of wishes?  But only works for someone from Cartoon Kingdom.  

She wishes for a "fairytale life" and Monroeville is transformed into a sort of mix of modern and increasingly fantastic elements, from singing coffee-makers to dragons.  And the citizens are placed into roles fitting a cartoon - with queen bee Maya Rudolph becoming the witch-queen of the town (who may seem malevolent, but is running the place like a champ.  Everyone seems happy and healthy.).  Rudolph is flanked by the always great Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays as bickering sycophants. 

But, look - where the first film had a great hook in "what happens when a Disney Princess comes into our world?" this film's hook is more the movie being about itself.  It doesn't ask "what happens to Robert or Nancy when they become cartoons?"  It's positing that life is complicated which... okay?  But we also don't really see Giselle deal with that.  In fact, they barely acknowledge there's a baby for shockingly long periods of the film and it kind of feels like Chekhov's baby.  Like - shouldn't the third act have brought the baby back in as part of the resolution to the crisis?  Aside from using the baby as a convenient excuse for how they moved to the 'burbs (one I'm not sure holds up), given the attention babies need - it's just *weird*.  

It also feels like only Amy Adams and a few others are given an opportunity to deal with the magical transformation - and it's weird.  How much different would the movie have felt if we'd seen more in the way of others sorta-remembering their prior lives?  Do they also still have household appliances?  Are they enchanted?  

At the end of the day, it's an opportunity for Amy Adams to act her pants off, switching moment by moment from Giselle's natural personality to "evil stepmother".  And its great!  She's great!  But Gisella also has no concerns about basically WandaVisioning her village - including her own husband and daughter - and no one ever seems to say "wtf is this?"  

I just don't think the story is there, and I don't think director Adam Shankman was up to the task.  The movie looks like a TV show for long stretches, the story isn't particularly strong, and when he has an opportunity with set pieces like musical numbers, they're markedly smaller in scope from the first film.  There's a battle with a dragon that we never get to see.  I can't begin to guess what was cut for budget, but also can't figure out why this wasn't given a ton of money to be a Christmas release for Disney.

But there's no argument for how the events of the movie actually solve the problems established at the start of the film.  Everyone just sorta adjusts and deals in our final sequence, and that's stuff that would have happened eventually.  We don't even see Adams holding the baby - she's just playing on the ground in a cutaway shot.  "There is no happily ever after here" is definitely a choice for the movie to end on, and maybe it's bitingly real, but... why?  Seems like such a weird stance for the movie to take.  "Giselle learns happiness is fleeting" was not where I thought this was headed.

What I liked, I liked a lot.  The main cast is great, Adams is super fun, Menzel gets to sing, and Dempsey had some really good bits this time.  I liked the easter eggs and how they played with familiar elements like "evil cats".  Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays are genuinely very funny in their parts.  Maya Rudolph was perfect casting.  The 2D animation is fun, and the CGI is mostly very good.  And as I'd not seen the young woman who plays Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) I should give her a shout out as a talent.  She's good!

The movie is not bad, but after being happily surprised with the first one, it's a couple of steps down.  

Look, there's a trickle-down effect when you run a creative company by cutting costs and pumping out content, and there's a reason Chapek was shown the door.  This could have been a big deal of a movie, but instead feels like product for Q4.  It just wasn't ready yet.  It gets by on the raw talent on hand, but then is entrusted to a mediocre director and won't drop coin to give us anything bigger than the Central Park scene in the first movie - and you HAVE to.  This is a sequel.  I'm not even sure the lighting or make-up was right in a few scenes.

Once you're messing with magic for a story, you absolutely need clear rules, character motivations and storylines, because in some ways, magic can mean nothing matters - it's all just colors and hand waving.  "Wizard battles" as Stuart would say.  You can't let magic mean nothing matters or makes sense, and I think that got away from them here, and it undermines what could have been character beats at every opportunity.

Unbelievable.  I got through a whole post without mentioning how Amy Adams is a stone cold fox, and bonus points for Idina Menzel.

Was that out loud?

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