Thursday, December 13, 2007

Amy Adams truly is enchanting

For the legions of people who grew up watching classic Disney animated films — specifically “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” — “Enchanted,” with its blend of homage and self-parody, is an absolute delight.

“Enchanted” starts out in a magical kingdom where Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) awaits her prince. It has been a long wait since Prince Edward (James Marsden, Cyclops in the “X-Men” movies) is easily distracted by battles with trolls. Once they meet it is love at first sight, but naturally there is an evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) who banishes the sweet but naïve Giselle to a place where there are no happily ever afters: New York.

This prologue is pleasant, but familiar. The animation is brightly drawn, Giselle’s animal helpers — led by the chipmunk Pip — are amusing and the songs are fun, but things truly come alive when Giselle enters the very real New York. No longer animated, Giselle struggles to apply fairy tale rules to the real world. Prince Edward, his servant (Timothy Spall), Pip and eventually the stepmother all follow after her.

Giselle meets a father (Patrick Dempsey, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and daughter (Rachel Covey) who take her in for one night that extends to several. There is fiancé in the mix, but even the most novice filmgoer knows that the stiff Dempsey will fall in love with Giselle.

“Enchanted” is pure formula filmmaking. It offers no surprises on the story level, and that's OK. Formulaic filmmaking is only bad when done poorly, and here the execution is excellent. Screenwriter Bill Kelly, who wrote “Blast from the Past” — another cheeky fish-out-of-water story — creates a knowing tone that doesn’t push its satire too far.

If the story doesn’t surprise, the presentation does. Sequences that would feel derivative in an animated film are fresh and funny here where the logic of the animated world is suddenly imposed on reality. Remember when Snow White was able to command all the woodland creatures to help her clean house? Giselle has the same ability, only this time it is pigeons, rats and cockroaches doing the cleaning. It is not nearly as gross as it sounds — after all this is a PG Disney film — and is one of the comedic highlights of the film.

Similarly, in a scene in which Giselle leads a lavish song and dance number in Central Park, the screen is full of infectious energy that yields big laughs. But while these are all good reasons to see “Enchanted,” it is Amy Adams’ effervescent performance that is the film’s true raison d’être.

Adams was nominated for best supporting actress in 2005 for her role in the little seen “Junebug.” It was a sour film with unpleasant characters, the one exception being the bright and charming Adams. She brings that same sunny charisma to

“Enchanted” and makes Giselle a character that is completely lovable. Adams' charms need to be seen to believe, and they alone are well worth the price of admission.

This is not to slight the rest of the cast. Dempsey, who basically has the straight-man role, plays it well and is charming in his own way. Marsden gets laughs as the overly earnest, well intentioned, but slightly dense Prince Edwards.

Sarandon is clearly having fun hamming it up as the evil stepmother, and even though her non-animated screen time is limited, she makes every second count. The computer animated Pip, although not an actual actor, per se, also steals scenes and is going to be a hard act to follow for the new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie.

“Enchanted” is a movie that kids will drag parents to and girlfriends will force boyfriends to see, but the film is a rare breed that should appeal to almost everyone. The film is light and fluffy and proud of it. It is just good, clean, escapist fun.

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