‘Disenchanted’ Review: Maybe Happily Ever After Should’ve Been the End
When Disney released Enchanted fifteen years ago, it almost felt like the studio testing the waters to see if the public still had interest in princess films. Disney hadn’t made a major princess film in almost a decade, and the princesses were mostly relegated to direct-to-video releases like Cinderella III: A Twist in Time or The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. While Disney was struggling with the animated side of things in the 2000s, the live-action side was thriving, with films like National Treasure, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Therefore, to see if people still cared about princesses, Disney took to live-action with Enchanted, a vibrant, playful, and charming update on the princess formula—a film that both criticized and played with the conventional side of princess stories that Disney had dealt in for seventy years, while revitalizing the future of Disney animated princess movies that would eventually lead to films like Frozen, Tangled, and The Princess and the Frog.
But the Disney of fifteen years ago is vastly different from the Disney of 2022. While 2007 Disney would take a chance and experiment with something like Enchanted, 2022 Disney is all about nostalgia, right down to remaking animated films into live-action versions, seemingly for the purpose of reminding audiences that they love these properties and characters. Already, this year has seen films based on existing properties Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Lightyear, Pinocchio, Hocus Pocus 2, and a new update on Cheaper by the Dozen. At this point, Disney films almost exist to remind the person watching a Disney film that they do, in fact, enjoy Disney films.
Disenchanted, unfortunately, comes from this same nostalgia factory. Sure, some of these projects have been better than one would’ve expected, but Disenchanted ends up feeling like those direct-to-video sequels of the 90s and 2000s, films that featured characters you enjoyed in better films going through the motions in a film that lacks any of the wonder of the original. Disney knows that audiences will gladly turn on Disney+ in the comfort of their own homes to watch these characters again, regardless of the quality of the project, and once again, the nostalgia merry-go-round keeps going with no signs of stopping.
Immediately, Disenchanted shows the sweatiness of this concept, as this sequel is set up as being told by Pip (voiced by Griffin Newman) the chipmunk to his chipmunk sons. It’s a framing device that isn’t used again until the very end, and yes, technically makes Disenchanted a “squeakquel.” It turns out that despite Enchanted ending on a “happily ever after” for Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey), that statement of finality wasn’t actually the end of their story.
In the fifteen years since Enchanted, Giselle and Robert’s New York City apartment has become less magical, as their daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) has grown into a teenager, while the arrival of their new baby Sofia means that they’ll soon need more space. Giselle and Robert decide to move to the suburbs of Monroeville, which Giselle states is more like her animated, fairy tale home of Andalasia than anywhere she’s ever been.
But this picturesque neighborhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Despite the Disney-referencing stores (“Smee’s Cheese,” “Mary Popover’s Bakery,” Lumiere’s Candle Works,” etc.) and promises of a new beginning, their house isn’t completed, Morgan isn’t happy with the new location and how she’s seen by her new classmates, and the “queen” of Monroeville, Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph), flocked by her two agreeable cronies (Yvette Nicole Brown and Jamya Mays), make life harder for the always-optimistic Giselle. When Sofia’s godparents King Edward (James Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel) stop by to drop off the present of an Andalasian Wishing Wand, Giselle uses this new magic to attempt to make her new happily ever after in Monroeville.
The strength of Disenchanted understandably is this excellent cast having a lot of fun with these exaggerated characters. Adams gets to play a darker side to Giselle, embracing wickedness that we never imagined she could have in Enchanted, but even in her usual cheery disposition, we can feel that she’s become a bit more restrained in her cheeriness. Dempsey gets an opportunity to go big, as he basically is asked to do an impression of Marsden’s King Edward, and Dempsey goes all-in with this absurdity. Menzel naturally gets more screen time and some of the best songs, as this is post-Frozen Disney after all, and while Marsden only has a few scenes, he provides the biggest laughs in the film.
Also strong are the new additions to this world. Baldacchino does a good job balancing being both the bratty teenager, but also letting the audience understand that her viewpoint on this massive shift in her life is completely valid. Newman is also a lot of fun as Pip, who becomes a sidekick to Giselle throughout the film, and a great comedic foil alongside Adams. But maybe having the best time here is Rudolph as Malvina Monroe, who is deliciously evil in her command over Monroeville and can force her way onto anyone in her path. Rudolph isn’t chewing the scenery—she’s devouring it, which is exactly what you want from a big ol fairy tale villain like this.
But even though the cast is great from top to bottom, Disenchanted is an exhausting collection of magical tropes and trinkets, Disney winking at their audience, subpar songs, and a cheapness that permeates the entire film. Directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Rock of Ages), Disenchanted feels like it was made on the cheap, packed with poor CGI, small sets, and animation that looks more like early Don Bluth features than what we expect from Disney. Enchanted managed to make the mundane seem magical, but Disenchanted has the opposite effect, turning a magical world into something mundane. Even though the film reunites the Enchanted team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, the songs feel like a combination of overused platitudes and obvious statements, even though the pair do have fun throwing in some Disney references—and a few Disney Broadway stars in for good fun.
Yet it’s the screenplay by Brigitte Hales that is the key to Disenchanted’s biggest problems. Hales, who wrote several episodes of Once Upon a Time, makes this sequel feel more like a feature-length episode, as opposed to an Enchanted sequel. Disenchanted crams references to all matter of previous Disney stories, while also setting up plenty of ideas that never go anywhere (Pip’s story time, the unfinished house, etc.), and a convoluted set of rules that attempt to wrangle other well-known fairytales into the narrative. Disenchanted becomes a jumble of ideas that don’t interconnect effectively, especially in the third act, where trope after trope are thrown at the audience, in case they don’t get the many homages to other stories. Part of Enchanted’s beauty was the simplicity of placing Giselle’s animated world over the busy, confusing NYC landscape, and Disenchanted, again, does the opposite, throwing too much into this tale in a way that isn’t charming or all that much fun.
Instead, Disenchanted too often reminds of those direct-to-video sequels that continue a story that was already clearly completed, a way to keep these characters going, regardless of the need for it. Disenchanted is enjoyable in watching this game cast embrace this world once more, and go bigger than they were allowed to in the first film. There are also some lovely ideas thrown in that occasionally elevate this story into something intriguing, like when Giselle laments that she “used to be good at things,” and the worry that she’s becoming the villain to her own stepdaughter. But these charming ideas get lost amongst all the chaos and mediocrity that zap most of the fun out of this highly-anticipated sequel. Disenchanted posits that happily ever after isn’t always the ending of the story, but Disenchanted also proves that sometimes, maybe it should be.
Disenchanted is now available to stream on Disney+.