Disenchanted, the long-wished-for sequel to Enchanted, begins with a “wink wink” moment. The 2007 original had fun playing with fairy tales – a princess gets lost in modern New York – and the follow-up seems set to conjure that same spirit. “But there is no after ‘happily ever after’. You just get married and then nothing ever happens to you again,” a pair of chipmunks cheerfully proclaim in the film’s animated opening scene. Very droll. Very knowing. Except… this time round, the wink quota seems severely depleted. It’s devastating to say it, but maybe we’d all have been better off without an “after” to Giselle’s “happily ever after”.
The first film, released in 2007, was a risk for Disney that massively paid off. It managed to walk a fine line between being a love letter to Disney princess films, and a pastiche of them, note perfect in its humour and full of clever references. Amy Adams was charming as Giselle, a doe-eyed damsel-in-distress who swept floors, sang to woodland creatures and span dresses out of curtains. “You want me to call someone for you?” asked Robert, finding her lost in the city. “I don’t think they would hear you from here,” she replied sweetly.
Despite a different director (Adam Shankman) and writer (Brigitte Hales) to the first film, the sequel’s premise suggests it has retained its brand of self-aware humour. It’s 15 years since princess Giselle found herself banished to a bustling metropolis, navigating noisy streets and hot-headed city workers to find her Prince Edward. Instead, she discovered swoony divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan; Giselle and Robert are now married with a baby, and the once cute Morgan (played by Gabriella Baldacchino) is a stroppy, sardonic teenager. The couple, having outgrown their city apartment, are moving to a suburban town called Monroeville. Even princesses can’t escape the tyranny of the race for space, a joke that seems particularly smart, given that many Enchanted fans will now be acquiring the black humour needed to navigate the modern housing market.
Idina Menzel and James Marden return as Nancy and Edward, now happily ruling fairy-tale kingdom Andalasia as husband and wife. They ask, “Are you poor now?” “No, it’s called a ‘fixer upper’,” replies Giselle. She soon becomes acquainted with the town’s queen bee Malvina Monroe, played by Maya Rudolph, who gives penetrating looks that say “villain”. But something is off. Not just with the new neighbourhood, but the film itself. It all feels weirdly tense, Giselle’s singing now a tinny squeak, the songs forgettable and the atmosphere depressing. And why does Pip the chipmunk now sound like Bobby Baccalieri?
But the main problem is that Disenchanted abandons the idea that made the first film work so well: mixing modern American life with a magical world. The action hinges on Giselle’s naive wish that life could be “like a fairy tale”, a request that turns her into an evil stepmother. Wait… Giselle breaks bad? And goes to war with Malvina, the town’s evil queen? What’s not to love?
But the script isn’t smart enough for this; it feels like a fairy tale by rote, lazily recycling old tropes rather than cleverly satirising them. Adams doesn’t give good enough evil to sufficiently banish the idea of Giselle as a sweet innocent. And, frankly, to make her and Rudolph villains without making them as camp as Prince Edward’s leg stockings warrants a terrible curse. Dempsey, Menzel and Marsden (who mysteriously has not aged) are massively underused, perhaps because Morgan is the true heart of this story. She is played pleasantly by Baldacchino, but the plotline around a stepmother and daughter showing their love for one another feels saccharine rather than progressive. Where’s the satire? Where’s the subversion? Sometimes “happily ever after” isn’t a cop out, or an outdated, romantic notion that marriage solves everything. Sometimes it’s just the best time to stop the story.
Dir: Adam Shankman. Starring: Amy Adams, Maya Rudolph, Gabriella Baldacchino, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Idina Menzel. 121 minutes.
‘Disenchanted’ is streaming on Disney+ now