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‘Disenchanted’ review: Amy Adams returns, but the magic is gone

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I’ve had the chipper earworm “That’s How You Know” bopping about my brain for the past few days, ever since I rewatched Enchanted. That zippy fairy-tale rom-com from 2007 brilliantly cast Amy Adams as an animated Disney princess who haplessly plummets into the real world — specifically Times Square — where her idealized visions of love are challenged by a cynical but dashing divorce attorney (Patrick Dempsey). It still holds up 15 years later, proving a winsome yet slyly subversive spin on fairy-tale expectations and rom-com tropes. This is good news, as the long-awaited sequel Disenchanted can’t recapture the magic of the original.

Picking up roughly 15 years after the first film’s finale, Disenchanted begins with Giselle (Adams) and Robert (Dempsey) trading their sky-high Manhattan apartment for a “fixer-upper” house in suburbia. While the move means more room for their growing family, it also pitches teen daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) into an angsty spiral firmly aimed at her stepmother. Meanwhile, Giselle’s arts-and-crafts gumption riles local queen bee Malvina, an intense PTA mom played by Maya Rudolph. This super-mom rivalry and the brewing tensions between mother and daughter come to a head thanks to a hasty wish that turns this New York suburb into a new Andalasia. 

Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph shine in Disenchanted. 

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Longing for the simpler times of happily ever after, Giselle wishes this town could be a place where fairy tales come true. Overnight, her live-action surroundings are transformed. Animals can talk. Hovering neighbors become fairy godmothers. Malvina becomes a literal queen. Morgan goes from sulking teen to lilting Cinderella, and you know what that makes Giselle? Yup, slowly and steadily, the former almost-princess is turning into an evil stepmother. 

Adams, who has played ditzy cheerleaders and slick con artists with aplomb, clearly relishes the opportunity to play naughty and nice, often in the same breath. Her goody Giselle is a familiar friend, warm and blithely oblivious to the absurdity of breaking into song and dance while workmen are in the throes of renovations nearby. But there’s a fresh thrill in watching the doe-eyed light leave her eyes and that broad smile turn to a sultry smirk as Giselle switches to a selfish, sensual diva who dreams of power at any cost! 

Rudolph is a sensational scene partner as the pair face off, first with passive aggression, then with thinly veiled threats, and finally with an all-out musical throwdown. Rudolph’s SNL chops give her the base for leaning into the arch of it all, and she’s got singing skills too. Their snarling song has the energy of a great Disney villain bop, but unfortunately the writing lets them down across the board. 

Disenchanted lacks the wit of the Enchanted. 

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Screenwriter Bill Kelly’s clever concept for the first film had a thrilling spikiness because of the culture clash of ardent Andalasia and gruff New York City. On paper, the concept of turning Giselle from heroine to villain is an intriguing one. But Disenchanted‘s scribe Brigitte Hales loses tension by plunking the plot in a vague suburban setting. The specificity of the city — from its surly construction workers to the rapturous range of visitors to Central Park who might be inclined to join a charming tourist’s sing-along — is lost, as is the visual splendor of iconic location shoots. This suburb is established hastily through archetypes of a queen bee and her yipping yes woman and nosy neighbors. Then, the whole place gets a glow-up that includes radioactive overlighting, which director Adam Shankman may have intended to make the colors pop but actually makes everything appear flat and cheap. 

When the residents of this place burst into song and dance, they wear Andalusian costumes that look like costumes. They sing and dance with showmanship but no depth. Even though Alan Menken is back with new songs, none grab hold the way Enchanted‘s best did. Actually, I can’t recall a single line of Disenchanted’s songs, though I will confess gratitude that this sequel makes up for the overwhelming oversight of never letting Broadway legend Idina Menzel sing in the original. Post-“Let It Go,” Disney knows better. Regrettably, the song they’ve given her here is underwhelming and forces her to belt the phrase “love power” over and over, which makes less sense the more you hear it.

Senselessness also erodes the story’s logic, thin as it is. New mythos for magic is wedged in, along with a wacky talking scroll, slippery rules about the world-changing spell, and even how powerful the movie’s battling sorceresses are. The rom-com origins are utterly abandoned, as Robert is cast off on a side quest with no importance. Meanwhile, James Marsden, who is once again a devastatingly entertaining himbo prince, is criminally underused, cast aside like so many of Enchanted‘s riches. 

Disenchanted is playing to kids — and talking down to them. 

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Though Enchanted was a PG movie, grown-ups could enjoy the romp too. Not only was it a sparklingly charming adventure with colorful characters but also a dulcet rom-com with just enough edge to keep it from being sickeningly sweet. Disenchanted does away with the rom-com and the edge, shoving its core characters into a cookie-cutter mold that its predecessor’s playfully shattered. 

Within this, there’s some fun to be had, like Adam’s lighting-quick turns of character, Rudolph’s comically wicked queen, and every single frame of Marsden in heroic doof mode. But the songs are so-so. The story is wobbly in logic and garishly festooned with life lessons. And the production value is less awe-inspiring and more, “Ah, right. This is a straight-to-TV sequel.” 

Will it be satisfying for a family night at home? Probably. But will it be treasured likes the original? Probably not.  

Disenchanted is now streaming on Disney+. 

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