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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Pardon me if I sound like a raving fanboy here, but I just have to say this: Amy Adams rocks! After seeing her Oscar-nominated turn in the comedy Junebug, I was blown away by her ability to disappear so deeply into character that you forget you’re watching an actor – or even a movie – and just start being “in the moment.” This is a skill she has also displayed in Catch Me If You Can and a hilarious cameo in The Ex, among other things. Adams deserves another Oscar nomination for her work in Enchanted. She does something here akin to what Johnny Depp did in the first Pirates of the Caribbean picture: take a potentially generic Disney movie and invest it with a sublimely inventive performance that takes the overall product to a whole other level. In fact, this review by necessity will be more about her than about the film itself. She is Enchanted.

The first ten minutes of the story are animated. Princess Giselle is your typical Disney heroine. She likes to sing and communicate with her animal friends, and she dreams of finding her Prince Charming. And find him she does in the form of Prince Edward, who also likes to sing, as animated princes often do. The two plan to get married after only a day of knowing one another. (That “happily ever after” thing bodes well for fairy tale weddings.) However, Edward’s ruthless stepmother, Queen Narissa, fears that Giselle will hijack her throne and her power should the marriage take place. She therefore kicks Giselle down a well, where the princess crosses over to the real world and emerges from a Times Square sewer drain.

Here the movie switches over to live action. Giselle, in her frilly white princess dress, is a fish out of water in the big city. A divorce lawyer/single dad named Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey) sees her stumbling around and tries to help. He is unsure what to make of his new houseguest when she enlists birds, roaches, and mice to help clean his apartment. Although Robert initially thinks Giselle is just crazy, he eventually starts to fall for her, despite being engaged to girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel). Meanwhile, Prince Edward (James Marsden) hops through the portal too, looking to find his true love, aided by a chipmunk named Pip. The queen’s minion, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), comes over too, looking to feed Giselle a poison apple. When his efforts prove unsuccessful, Narissa (Susan Sarandon) shows up to do her own dirty work.

Given the premise and that fact that it’s a Disney movie, it would have been easy for the film to take the easy route and cast someone like Hilary Duff as Princess Giselle – someone who would wear the costume and recite the dialogue, but nothing else. Thankfully, someone had the foresight to cast a first-rate actress in the lead role. Amy Adams doesn’t just play a Disney Princess, she embodies one. The costume alone isn’t enough for her. Adams also nails the lilting, sing-songy voice patterns of her animated forebears, as well as the posture and body language. There is a particular stance that many of the classic animated heroines had. It involves holding their arms out with their index fingers pointed straight up. Adams even replicates that uniquely cartoonish stance. The movie itself is pleasant enough, but her thoroughly dedicated performance elevates it beyond measure.

Without someone as committed, Enchanted would probably fall apart. The key to its humor and winning charm lies in its ability to make us believe that this is a Disney animated princess come to life. It can’t be just a girl in a costume. And because Adams makes us believe, it’s easy to get swept along for the ride. The movie has lots of fun skewering the clichés and conventions of classic stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, earning big laughs because Adams makes the satire authentic. There’s also a tiny subversive streak; I particularly liked how that cheery housecleaning number is capped by a sick joke involving a bird and a cockroach.

The rest of the cast is good, too. James Marsden hilariously captures that weird combination of girlishness and machismo that comprises many Disney princes. I’m not sure why the lovely Susan Sarandon seems like a perfect choice to play a wicked witch, yet she does, and she’s fantastic in the role.

But the movie belongs to the wonderful Amy Adams. She is what holds the story together during a few predictable stretches and an effects-heavy ending that is somewhat at odds with the lighter tone of everything else. Probably the best compliment I can extend her – or the film – is that Princess Giselle is destined to join the ranks of beloved Disney heroines. Adams’ performance alone is worth the ticket price.

( out of four)

Enchanted is rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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