Review: ‘Disenchanted’ Has Charm But Lacks Substance

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It’s been almost 15 years since Enchanted arrived in theaters, bringing a unique twist to a typical Disney princess story. Reminiscent of films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Pagemaster, and Mary Poppins, Enchanted brought a mixture of traditional animation with live-action motion pictures.

Although the two didn’t co-exist simultaneously but instead transitioned from one to another as Giselle is pushed through a magical portal, arriving in Time Square as the beautiful and talented Amy Adams. Giselle is a true fish out of water in the real world of New York City, as she learns that life in Andalasia may not be the enchanted life she wants.

Disenchanted, the highly anticipated sequel has finally arrived on Disney+ after initially announced back in early 2010 and experiencing many delays. The sequel sees Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsen, and Idina Menzel reprise their roles from the original, with some fresh faces joining, rounding out the cast. Taking over as director is Matt Shankman, who directed Hairspray, A Walk to Remember, and The Pacifier, with a story by Richard LaGravenese.

So was Disenchanted a worthy sequel to Enchanted, or was I “disenchanted” with my time watching it?

[Warning: Spoilers from Disnenchanted are below!]

Giselle discovers the real world sucks in Disenchanted

Ten years have passed since the ending of Enchanted and the beginning of this sequel, and it hasn’t been easy for Giselle (Adams) and her family. There have been plenty of events in her life that have been wonderful, such as her wedding and marriage to Robert (Dempsey) and the birth of their daughter Sofia. However, between the sleepless nights of child-rearing, Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) becoming a moody teenager, and the everyday life of Manhattan becoming too much, it’s rather apparent that this family is miserable. 

Giselle and Robert decide that perhaps a change from a bustling city to suburban life might help create their happily ever after. Except since when is becoming a suburbanite truly someone’s happily ever after? Moving doesn’t solve Giselle’s problems, but adds even more problems to the mix, and enhances the problems that already exist. 

Giselle struggles to create a better relationship with Morgan and stumbles frequently in the process. It doesn’t help that the Queen Bee of Monroeville, Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph) sees Giselle as a threat and goes out of her way to make life difficult.

But it’s not just Giselle, the entire family is having a difficult time adjusting to Monroeville. Robert now has to commute into the city, meaning his time with his family is cut even more than it already was. Morgan misses her life in New York and struggles to fit in with the other students at her new school. Even their house is a fixer-upper that is falling apart around them, which adds to the chaos of the family.

Disenchanted Giselle and Robert
Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey). Disenchanted (Disney).

With everything sucking royally, wanting an escape makes perfect sense. Although, when you’re a reformed cartoon princess perhaps that has a different meaning. When King Edward (Marsden) and Queen Nancy (Menzel) visit from the animated world of Andalasia and gives the family a wish-granting wand, Giselle seizes her chance and wishes for the perfect fairytale life, causing the town of Monroeville to turn storybook-esque. Though perhaps the fairytale life isn’t exactly what Giselle thought it was going to be.

From mother to step-mother

The spell brings fairy tale magic to the real world, which at first glance looks to be precisely the life that Giselle was craving. Morgan is kind and loving again and Robert is a knight off to save the world. But what she doesn’t account for is that fairy tales are full of tropes and life lessons, and she’s living possibly one of the biggest tropes of all. She’s not just a mom, but a step-mom, and there aren’t many kind step-moms in fairy tales.

The transition from lovable princess to evil stepmother is slow at first, so slow that Giselle isn’t aware of what is happening until it’s fully in swing. Although once the transition is fully realized, Evil Giselle will stop at nothing to achieve her happy ending, even if it means nixing everyone else’s happiness to achieve it.

A subsequent consequence of Giselle’s actions is the destruction of Andalasia in the process. So it’s up to Morgan and Queen Nancy to help set everything back before Andalasia disappears completely and Giselle’s spell becomes permanent.

The heart of the story boils down to the relationship between Giselle and Morgan, one that seems strained at the beginning. Giselle wants to be the best mother possible, but as anyone with teenage children can tell you, it’s a neverending battle once your child gets in the double digits. Morgan is just your typical annoyed teenager, which Giselle struggles to understand. However, over the course of the film, Morgan, and Giselle develop a closer bond based on their love for each other that cuts through the spell and the evilness spreading through Giselle.

The good of Disenchanted

The above-mentioned heart of the film is definitely one of the best parts of Disenchanted. I liked that Disney continues to change the way they are telling true love stories in their movies. Disenchanted didn’t fall back on the “prince saves the princess through true love” trope that runs rampant in these types of films. Instead, the film focuses on the love of a mother and a daughter, showing young children that other forms of love are just as important as the romantic kind.

Idina Menzel in Disenchanted
Idina Menzel sang “Love Power” in Disenchanted. (Disney).

The music in the film was enjoyable, if not a bit forgettable, with the exception of one song, “Love Power” sung by Idina Menzel. This song comes at the climax of the film, as Queen Nancy and Morgan are racing back through Andalasia into the real world, in hopes of saving Giselle from herself.

Menzel’s voice range is showcased by this song, which fit her like a glove. It gave me chills hearing it the first time, with a chorus that was stuck in my head long after the credits rolled. It’s crazy to think that Menzel is still hitting those high notes just as flawlessly as she did back in Wicked almost twenty years ago, but her vocals in this song are truly something remarkable to behold.

What caused me to be disenchanted with this film

While the message was nice and “Love Power” was a fantastic song, there isn’t much else going for this film. After such a long wait for this sequel, it felt like Disney missed the mark on what viewers wanted or expected. The sad part is that it had such a great cast and the general premise was fantastic, but something about Disenchanted just didn’t work.

Part of that could have been that the movie felt incredibly dry and lifeless compared to the Disney standard up to this point. The story had charm, be it very little, but the humor missed the mark and many of the new characters were difficult to connect with.

I desired more of the core cast of the last one, but many of them, such as Dempsey, felt sidelined for less important storylines. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you the point of Robert’s story in the film, having been relegated to such an uninteresting and unimportant part, which is a shame because Dempsey is a fantastic actor.

I found it difficult to like or sympathize with Morgan, who felt like a more well-rounded character in Enchanted than she did in this film. With the main dynamic of Disenchanted being the mother and daughter relationship, I thought more development was needed to truly appreciate it. Not that it’s anything against Adams or Baldacchino’s performances, but the problems with their dynamics are a deeper issue that goes back to the story and script.

Final thoughts on Disenchanted

Having watched the first film 15 years ago and loving it, I had some high expectations going into this film. I know that having too many expectations could ruin a movie and that is quite possibly what happened here, although I don’t think expectations are the only reason this film felt disappointing. Very rarely has Disney let me down, but Disenchanted was definitely a misfire.

For years and years of build-up for this sequel, the story was lacking, and while charming, there wasn’t much substance there. Families with younger children might enjoy the simple Disney romp, however, for those who enjoyed the first film, I think Disenchanted will let them down.

My rating for this film:

★★ / ♥♥

Disenchanted is now streaming on Disney+. Do you plan on checking it out? Have you already seen it? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or Discord. And if you haven’t already, read our review on The Santa Clauses premiere episodes, a new series streaming weekly on Disney+!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

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