Disenchanted review: someone took the magic away

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It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally got the mooted sequel to Enchanted: guttingly, it’s something of a disappointment.

Say what you like about the rise of streaming services, but they’ve unlocked a pair of belated sequels this year that otherwise had no obvious path to the screen. Just last month we had the tremendously enjoyable Hocus Pocus 2, a really charming surprise that worked no matter how invested you were in the first film.

And now we get, 12 years since the delightful original, a sequel to Enchanted. The Disney movie that skilfully blended 2D animation, cracking songs, and a movie star and a half performance from Amy Adams. Still, if you didn’t see the first one, panic not, as you get an extensive information dump at the start of Disenchanted to set you on the right path. This follow-up picks up a decade later with Amy Adams’ Giselle – once a hand-drawn animated character, now live and kicking in New York – and happily married to her true love Robert, playing by Patrick Dempsey.

But! Along with their step-daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) and their baby daughter too, they’re done with the big city! Enough of this place!

Now, they’re looking for a new life in a small town called Monroeville, which looks a cheaper place to film than New York, and after a lot of narration, they find their new home. A smaller town with a mix of people, some of whom are more welcoming than others. This is done with less animation and music.

To call it a less interesting setup than the original, where we saw Giselle taken out of her animated fairytale world into New York and left to inject the place with positivity and a sing-song, would not be unfair. It’s as if the pitch deck for the first half hour read ‘let’s make a film about arguing with a teenager, laced with Disney references’. That’s primarily what you get.

Still, after a first act of bickering, where I was sending a search party out for the charm of the original, Giselle makes a wish for let’s get a move on reasons, and dreams of a fairytale life. It would be fair to say she gets what she wishes for. Maya Rudolph’s previously testy local mum Malvina now becomes a powerful villain, up pops a magic mirror, and Giselle’s family starts to tear apart. Depending which cultural reference you prefer, you either get a drop of Jekyll & Hyde, or a snifter of the vintage Doctor Who episode Inferno. You choose.

What you don’t get though is anything that can really hold a torch to the original film.

It doesn’t help that it’s a far more convoluted, and ultimately less interesting story. It also doesn’t help that lots of the charming side details of the first feel like they’re missing. Even the songbook, from the usually wonderful duo of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, doesn’t soar in the way the original did.

Incoming director Adam Shankman – who replaces animation specialist Kevin Lima – certainly knows how to choreograph a good musical number, but these still feel like staged musical numbers. The sequence in the original Enchanted where Giselle leads a growing ensemble through Central Park in New York felt organic, delightful, and the kind of scene you look forward to rewatching even while it’s playing for the first time.

In Disenchanted though, I found myself seeing an open space with extras hanging around, and figured there was a song coming. Then the song happens, it’s decent and well done, and the film continues. The zip’s not quite there, and the sparkle certainly has dampened.

Amy Adams remains a delight of course, but the path her character takes her robs Giselle of the relentless positivity of the original. I get that nobody wanted to just repeat what happened first time around, but the story decisions here wrap the burning star at the heart of the film and smother her in darkness. Why? How many sequels go down this path, and why did Disenchanted go the same way?

I’ve no idea, but I do feel that in the decade this has been in on/off development, there must have been a more compelling idea here. There’s still things to like in what we get: genial performances, some very welcome 2D animation, and a quality score. Yet Disenchanted feels like a magical tail robbed of its magic.

The original? It remains superb. The thought of Enchanted 3? Well, it doesn’t feel as enticing as it once was.

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