It is finally time for the colorful, magical, musical return of Giselle, post happily ever after! Revisiting the kingdom of New York City a long time since we last caught up with these characters is a rush that unfortunately wears off too quickly. In spite of a nearly fifteen-year-long wait, Disenchanted fails to live up to the extremely high standards set by its instant-classic predecessor, 2007’s Enchanted. Unsurprisingly, the first film’s creative teaming of writer Bill Kelly and director Kevin Lima did not return for round two. This too-late sequel does however feature another lovely turn from Amy Adams (Sharp Objects, Nocturnal Animals), relishing every second of her Disney princess tenure, and a dual personality role as a budding wicked stepmother.
We open with an awesome 2D-animated sequence evoking the Disney of yesteryear, and of course that fabled line, “once upon a time.” A breezy recap of the first for the uninitiated plays out, and the squirrels recalling the story are sure to point out that Robert, Morgan, and Giselle’s happy ending was only the beginning. Years later, Robert (Patrick Dempsey, Grey’s Anatomy, Scream 3) and Giselle (Adams) are raising their newborn baby together, Sophia. Morgan (now played by Gabriella Baldacchino, who takes over from Rachel Covey in the 2007 film) is wallowing in teen angst, and growing apart from her parents. Continuing a story from the “happily ever after” point is never an easy task, so the fact that Disenchanted even functions on any sort of level is a testament to the pedigree of the excellent cast they have assembled.
Giselle and Robert have mostly grown tired of the big Apple, and decide to completely relocate to the quaint, swanky town known as Monroeville. Giselle bids farewell to her rat and pigeon best friends in the hopes that what lies ahead in Monroeville will lead to their “new happily ever after,” and a fresh start for the growing family. Most affected by their relocation is teenage Morgan, who views Giselle as a “stepmother” and nothing more. Morgan takes out her frustrations on Giselle, who is similarly trying to adjust to her new normal. Both are figuring out where they fit in—of course, leave it up to Giselle to sing about her every move. She misses her fairy tale life. New neighbors, real estate agent, and “town queen” Malvina (Maya Rudolph, Away We Go, Bridesmaids) only serve to further intimidate Giselle. Who knew real life was this hard?
When Giselle’s former fling, Edward (James Marsden, The Box, Disturbing Behavior), and his wife, Nancy (Idina Menzel, Rent, Glee), show up from Andalasia with a gift for goddaughter Sophie, the perfect opportunity is presented. Taking a page from Cinderella III: A Twist in Time and other alternate-reality television and movies, Giselle’s wish for everyone to have a fairytale life comes true—with potentially dire consequences. For one, although at first it appears that Morgan and Robert are singing and dancing, and everyone in town knows her name, Giselle is actually slowly transforming into an evil stepmother. Malvina is now the queen of Monrolasia, presenting an interesting concept of the film having two true villains. Not only that, but Andalasia hangs in the balance; the town runs on magic, which is being siphoned into the real world for this wishing wand spell. With every chime of the clock, Giselle is one step closer to being fully evil, and the curse permanent.
Director Adam Shankman really knows how to direct the hell out of musicals, as evidenced by his tenure on several episodes of Glee, as well as crafting Hairspray and Rock of Ages for the big screen. Here, it feels like something was lost in translation. While the musical numbers are bombastic and nicely choreographed, something is missing. Nary a stand-out musical sequence exists in the entire runtime. More music should mean at least one is a true standout, but not a single tune can hold a candle to “Happy Working Song” or “That’s How You Know.” The cast has a relatively good vibe together, but only Adams manages to deliver standout material.
In trying to explore a potential romance for Morgan, a message about love being power, and imploring that every moment in life isn’t necessarily a happy one, Disenchanted side-steps so many of the things I loved about the first. Gone are the fish-out-of-water elements that found Giselle exploring NYC. How does one have a musical without a single memorable song? Disenchanted becomes the very movie that Enchanted was satirizing in the first place, a washed-out Disney CGI-fest containing generic messaging one can find in any given family movie. What I missed was the singularity of Enchanted, the silliness, and the darkness. I love me a good alternate-reality story, but Disenchanted did not leave me feeling any sense of magic or excitement. Giselle and friends deserved better.
Prepare to be Disenchanted when the fairy tale fantasy sequel drops Friday, November 18th, exclusively on Disney+.