Enchantment only goes so far in Disney's Enchanted, a sometimes clever, other times grating mix of live action and animation that plays tricks with levels of movie reality as the world of fairy-tale animation invades contemporary New York.
The film from director Kevin Lima, who has worked in both formats (the animated Tarzan and live-action 102 Dalmatians), has moments of hilarious inspiration. But the overwhelming default mode is youthful slapstick, so the movie might strain adults' patience even as it tests the attention span of children with its 107-minute running time.
Warner Bros. animators of old could mix genres and play with reality in the space of a three-minute Looney Tunes short: One of the great existential moments in cinema occurs when Daffy Duck experiences a mental breakdown as his landscape and genre keep changing thanks to a sadistic animator named Bugs Bunny. But here things are more belabored. Perhaps a Disney film can't quite satirize the fantasy world on which so much of the Disney empire rests.
The film starts out in an animated world of 1930s Disney, the world of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, where a pretty young girl named Giselle (a buoyant Amy Adams) lives in a forest, chats with chirpy animals and sings songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz while awaiting "true love's kiss." Prince Edward (James Marsden) delivers this kiss, just after rescuing Giselle from an ogre, and the two agree to wed the next day.
But the prince's wicked stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon, going full throttle), anxious not to lose her throne to this upstart, casts Giselle into a deep, deep well, thus banishing her to "a place where there is no happy ever after." This turns out to be live-action Manhattan.
Popping through a manhole in Times Square, Giselle is utterly lost. She eventually comes under the protection of Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney -- no happy ever after indeed! -- and his young daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey), who is delighted to have a princess in the household. Following Giselle down the well into the world of live action is Prince Edward, his duplicitous servant, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and Giselle's chipmunk pal Pip, who loses his powers of speech in this new world.
The animation invasion produces two amusing sequences. When Giselle summons her animal friends to clean up Robert's high-rise apartment, what responds are New York wild life -- flies, pigeons, rats and cockroaches, who cheerfully freshen up the place. Giselle embarrasses Robert by bursting into song in Central Park, but soon park workers, street musicians and the like join in until it looks like the reunion tour of the Village People.
Alas, slapstick takes over, and lame bits about poison apples and the stepmother turning into a cheesy dragon dominate the second half. Then the logic of the two unbridgeable worlds gets murky. Giselle starts to adapt to real life: She learns about "dates," the glories of shopping and stops singing. Her growing attraction to Robert at the expense of her prince works to a degree, but the prince pairing off with Robert's fiancee, Nancy (the supertalented but thoroughly wasted Idina Menzel), moments after meeting her makes no sense. The CG-animated chipmunk plays terrifically in the "real world," but the prince with his sword and frilly get-up works only for a mild gay joke.
You get the sense that Lima and writer Bill Kelly barely scratched the surface of possibilities of their clever but largely unexplored gimmick. Instead, the film settles for the obvious and heavy-handed. Meanwhile, it fails to fully exploit its cast, with the exception of Adams, who believably transitions from a cartoon to flesh-and-blood character without losing her fairy-tale outlook.
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures presents a Barry Sonnenfeld/Josephson production
Director: Kevin Lima
Screenwriter: Bill Kelly
Producers: Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnenfeld
Executive producers: Chris Chase, Sunil Perkash, Ezra Swerdlow
Director of photography: Don Burgess
Production designer: Stuart Wurtzel
Music: Alan Menken
Costume designer: Mona May
Editors: Stephen A. Rotter, Gregory Perler
Giselle: Amy Adams
Robert Philips: Patrick Dempsey
Prince Edward: James Marsden
Nathaniel: Timothy Spall
Nancy: Idina Menzel
Morgan Philips: Rachel Covey
Narrator: Julie Andrews
Queen Narissa: Susan Sarandon
MPAA rating PG, running time 107 minutes.