Does 'Disenchanted' find the fairy tale magic? : Pop Culture Happy Hour The Disney Plus movie Disenchanted brings back Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden in the continuing story of a cartoon princess making a life in the real world. A follow-up to 2007's Enchanted, it has more songs, gags and conflicts between fairytale life and reality that animated, so to speak, the original.

Does 'Disenchanted' find the fairy tale magic?

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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

The movie "Disenchanted" brings back Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in the continuing story of a cartoon princess making a life in the real world. A follow-up to 2007's "Enchanted," it has more songs, more gags and more of the conflicts between fairy tale life and reality that animated, so to speak, the original. I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "Disenchanted" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: Joining us today is NPR contributor Cyrena Touros. Hi, Cyrena.

CYRENA TOUROS, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: "Enchanted," which came out in 2007, was the story of Giselle, who lived in a cartoon world as a cartoon princess. But owing to some various shenanigans, she found herself abruptly in the very real New York City. Played by Amy Adams, she sang and danced with her animal friends just like any Disney princess. And she even found a prince. His name was Robert. He was played by Patrick Dempsey. And he was a regular New Yorker and single dad, who took a while to get used to this very unusual woman but could ultimately not help falling in love with her, obviously.

Now we find Giselle and Robert moving to the suburbs - gasp - with their daughter, Morgan, played by Gabriella Baldacchino, who's now a moody teenager. Giselle encounters a new kind of evil queen, Malvina, the neighborhood mom played by Maya Rudolph, who looks down on this newcomer and her, shall we say, strange ways. There are more songs once again by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. And James Marsden and Idina Menzel return as Prince Edward and his now beloved Nancy, who still live in the fairy tale land of Andalasia. "Disenchanted" is streaming now on Disney+.

Cyrena Touros, what did you think of "Disenchanted"?

TOUROS: Man, what can I say? Gowns, beautiful gowns.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Reasonable and true.

TOUROS: I mean, I come to you, Linda, as I often do on this show, with a great capacity for love, but with a sacred duty as a hater. My first reaction when seeing this trailer come out, having been a big fan of the original movie - I went and saw it in theaters when I was a kid, I think, for my birthday, actually. Loved that film, but I kind of was like, I don't know that we need a sequel...

HOLMES: Yeah.

TOUROS: ...Which is often my gut instinct to what Disney does these days. We don't need a sequel. We don't need a remake. But I was willing to give it a chance because it seemed like maybe they were going to take it in this kind of adult, midlife crisis direction of, they got their happily ever after in New York. And it turns out that it's not so ever after.

HOLMES: Right. "Into The Woods," Act 2.

TOUROS: Precisely. But I wonder if they wanted this movie to be very camp and very silly and very fun. It's certainly very colorful. But what they kind of missed the mark on, I think, were the emotional beats. I feel like if you go super camp, you really don't have to pay attention to what the plot is doing.

HOLMES: Right.

TOUROS: As long as the characters are having fun and you're getting silly lines. But I feel like they really were trying to give it an emotional core. And I just don't think the stakes were set up in a way in which I really was invested, I cared, I understood what was happening. I mean, I think Amy Adams here is great. Like, to think about her doing this role, this very, like, wide-eyed, innocent person, in contrast to something like "Sharp Objects," which is one of the best things I've ever seen her do...

HOLMES: Right, right.

TOUROS: Like, she definitely has a lot of range. And she's having fun with this, I think. But it just doesn't feel like she was in the same movie as a lot of the other characters. I think the only person meeting her where she was at was James Marsden.

HOLMES: For sure.

TOUROS: Criminally underused. I was like, give me 2 hours of James Marsden reading lines for this character...

HOLMES: Yes.

TOUROS: ...And nothing else.

HOLMES: Yes.

TOUROS: This movie would have been more interesting as just, like, a blooper reel. And I don't think it really had enough of an emotional plot for me to really care about what was happening into it at all.

HOLMES: Yeah. I think we had many of the same reactions because, look; there are some people here who I admire very much doing some of the things that they're good at. I agree with you about Amy Adams. You know, I will watch Maya Rudolph in just about anything.

TOUROS: Oh, for sure.

HOLMES: You know, she always really puts a spin on basically anything you ask her to say. She's a delight in that way. And as you said, with James Marsden, I have always felt like he is the best part of the first movie for me, also just the funniest part of it because he's so weird.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DISENCHANTED")

JAMES MARSDEN: (As Prince Edward, singing) Robert.

PATRICK DEMPSEY: (As Robert Philip, laughing).

MARSDEN: (As Prince Edward) Congratulations on the increasing size of your progeny.

DEMPSEY: (As Robert Philip) Thank you. Thank you.

MARSDEN: (As Prince Edward) Your dwelling - are you poor now?

IDINA MENZEL: (As Nancy Tremaine) Edward.

DEMPSEY: (As Robert Philip) No, we're not poor.

TOUROS: (Laughter).

HOLMES: And it is really difficult to come into a movie and be appealingly, sincerely weird in a way that doesn't feel completely distracting. I think the problem, as you said, is the entire setup of this story because, essentially, "Enchanted" is a fish-out-of-water story. It's almost like "Splash." You know, you have this woman who's in this unfamiliar environment and nobody understands her and she doesn't understand them. And so the problem is, when you suggest that that fish has been out of the water and has not changed at all, it's not the same story. Like, when I started watching this movie and I realized that this poor teenage kid is still having to explain to her mother what sarcasm is, I just thought, this has to have been a long upbringing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DISENCHANTED")

AMY ADAMS: (As Giselle) She sometimes says one thing and means the opposite. I can never tell.

HOLMES: In no way has Giselle adjusted to the world that she lives in. And I think it would be more interesting to see her, as you said, sort of midlife crisis-y (ph). And, like, look. I'm not talking about doing, like, a "Fleishman Is In Trouble" Disney movie, like, midlife crisiswise. But I think if you showed that she, like, sort of was adjusted but had, like, maybe a yearning for her old life or something like that - I found it almost, like, disturbing to think of her still running around exactly the same. How does she not get scammed out of everything she owns every other day? - because she still has no idea how the world around her works. In that sense, it is a challenging setup. And then they sort of shift the emotional focus to the daughter. I feel like Patrick Dempsey plays kind of no role in the emotional story here at all.

TOUROS: Yes.

HOLMES: He's the husband and he's the father and he does stuff. But, like, does he have a role in this emotional story at all? And yet, as you say, here comes James Marsden just sort of with the (vocalizing) whole thing that he does. And I could have - you know, just like you, I could have watched two hours of it. What did you think of the music?

TOUROS: I mean, at a lot of points in this film - I like to do this thing. I think music is way over-utilized these days. I think we talked - you know, last time we spoke was about "Do Revenge" and the way that that film successfully used music, even though there was a lot of it.

HOLMES: Yeah.

TOUROS: And so I often think, what would this scene be doing if there was no music whatsoever? And I just was cringing out of secondhand embarrassment, imagining these actors having to deliver these lines with no music underneath whatsoever.

HOLMES: Yeah.

TOUROS: And I was surprised how unmoved I was by the music because I really revere Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz as some of our greatest living composers and lyricists.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

TOUROS: And, I mean, you think Schwartz, you think "Wicked." You think...

HOLMES: "Pippin."

TOUROS: Yes. You think Alan Menken. He did the music for "Little Mermaid," a lot of these Disney Renaissance movies of the '90s. And I felt this was just very serviceable. Maybe that was the point of it. It was supposed to sound like everything else and maybe not have a lot of personality to it. I think the only song that really stood out for me at all was "Badder."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADDER")

AMY ADAMS AND MAYA RUDOLPH: (As Giselle and Malvina Monroe, singing) You can claim you're bad, but I'm a better, badder...

MAYA RUDOLPH: (As Malvina Monroe, singing) Nothing you've got up your sleeve'll ever equal me as a mistress of evil.

TOUROS: That was the high point of the whole movie for me. I was like, give me 90 minutes of this and nothing else.

HOLMES: Yeah.

TOUROS: I wasn't quite sure how you could shoot that scene and edit that scene and look at the rest of the film and not immediately want to go back to reshoots and say, we missed the mark. This is what it should have been.

HOLMES: Right. This song has everything going for it - right? - Amy Adams, Maya Rudolph, you know, very swirly, lots of words, lots of quick back and forth. And yet I still felt like this song is, like, a B. And I felt like, how is this song a B when it has so much going for it? And I don't know the answer, but I think it's the only one that really left any impression on me at all. You know, it's as you say. It's almost like they're intentionally generic because they're sort of supposed to feel like Disney musical songs - the going about her day, the stuff when she's doing the big performance in the town and all of those kinds of things. And it does feel sort of obligatory.

TOUROS: Yeah.

HOLMES: I was surprised how weak it felt.

TOUROS: The problem with the music is the problem with the movie at large, where it's a flawed premise to start with because the original one was so much of, like, a wink and a nudge to these tropes of Disney princesses and fairy tales - very much kind of in reaction, I think, to the success of "Shrek" at the beginning of the decade of the 2000s and the rise of DreamWorks and that kind of, like, sarcastic, smarmy, you know, smartass sort of tonality. And so the first one did that. And so I don't know how you wink and a nudge a layer on top of that unless you are being very, very smart and crafty.

HOLMES: Right.

TOUROS: And this does just kind of feel more like a cash grab.

HOLMES: Yeah. You mentioned "Do Revenge." And I think in some ways it falls into this category as well. It's hard to be both the thing and a send-up of the thing. That's sort of what "Do Revenge" is. It is a teen high school thriller, but it's also kind of a riff on high school thrillers. And "Enchanted" was both. You know, it is a Disney princess musical, and it's also kind of sending up Disney princess musicals. I enormously admire people who manage to pull that off. It's also a little bit what a mystery movie like "Knives Out" is. It's sending up those tropes but also being a satisfactory version of the thing. And I don't think this really works either as a sincere version of the story they're trying to tell or a take on the story they're trying to tell. And I think "Enchanted," they got kind of both of those things right. They managed to tell the love story and also kind of make fun of the cartoon squirrels and birds and all of that kind of business and how funny it would be to see that with a live person and transplanted to New York City. I'm not sure what this is sending up anymore is part of the problem.

TOUROS: It's also a classic New York movie, "Enchanted," of - like, James Marsden is not really a fish out of water in New York because the joke was that a lot of people are just weird like that in certain places.

HOLMES: Yeah.

TOUROS: And I don't know that it tapped into the same sort of, like, oeuvre when it came to movies about suburbia and, like, what are the themes and tropes are when it comes to movies like that. Yeah, you have kind of like the PTA mom crew of Maya Rudolph and Jayma Mays and Yvette Nicole Brown. They also didn't really get much to do, though. I think you're right, too, that they don't really know what relationship they want to put as the A plot and then exploring the others kind of like in their correct functions. I think this movie would have been really interesting if it was mainly about Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph going head-to-head. It would have been mostly interesting if it was about, you know, the daughter and the stepmom. I think the stepmom turn was clever.

HOLMES: Right.

TOUROS: But I think it was also jarring, too, to think that that first movie was so much about finding love and that relationship between Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey. And then here, they had like one kiss on screen that seemed very forced. And...

HOLMES: They really walk away from it. Yeah.

TOUROS: Yeah. They don't have much interaction at all that makes me think that these are two people who are very in love and continuing to grow and appreciate and like each other.

HOLMES: Right. Well, the other thing about the daughter, about the character of Morgan is that, you know, I think that performance from Gabriella Baldacchino is fine, but everybody else in the movie is so heightened in a certain way. She - you know, Giselle is, obviously Maya Rudolph is, James Marsden is - everybody is heightened and kind of odd. And they chose to make this teenager really a kind of a super ordinary, like, high school student, not very well-defined, not very well-delineated from other high school students you have seen in other movies. And despite the fact that she's defined by kind of her, you know, her desire to not live in the suburbs, she's defined by her, you know, somewhat troubled relationship with her mom. But I think in this world of really super colorful, heightened characters, she becomes too flat to interact with all of those people. I feel like she would have picked up more oddity from her mom by the time she was this old.

TOUROS: It felt very, like, Disney Channel writing where the teenagers, you know, put on an attitude just to be sassy, not for any sort of like real deep emotional reason.

HOLMES: Right. And one of the tricks to a sequel, I think, particularly a sequel that has such a long lag between the chapters where everybody has gotten much older, is that you have to figure out, what story can you tell where people will understand what has happened in the interim? Because this is a family where, you know, as I mentioned at the top, Giselle has really not adjusted to the world she lives in at all. And that's OK. She can still be the way she is. But it's not clear to me how, as you mentioned, how has that relationship between her and Morgan developed over time?

You know, I mean, one of the things I like about the film is its full embrace of the idea that, yes, that's her daughter, and yes, that's her mom. But like the idea that they've kind of never talked about that before surprised me at the age that this kid is. The gap in time doesn't seem to me like I fully understand what went in that gap. I think my final verdict is the same as yours, which is certain things I was happy to see again, because they're fun. But I don't think we needed this.

Well, we want to know what you think about "Disenchanted," which is on Disney+ now. Find us at facebook.com/pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Cyrena Touros, thank you for being here with me, as always.

TOUROS: Oh, it was delightful, Linda. Thank you.

HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second and you're so inclined, sign up for our newsletter. That's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. This episode was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. Audio engineering was performed by Josephine Nyounai. I'm Linda Holmes. And we will see you all tomorrow.

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