Sunday, March 23, 2008

Somewhere, Walt is smiling...

This is going to be a bit awkward -- I’m about to gush. About a Disney movie. A Disney Princess movie. The movie is Enchanted, and I’m, well, enchanted. 

   Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Walt Disney -- the man. He is one of my heroes. Walt Disney was a man with a dream, and he made it come true, then he proceeded to try and make other people’s dreams come true, as well. He was a man concerned about the details. It was the quality of the product that set Disney -- the man and his company -- apart from the crowd. And that reputation meant everything to Walt Disney. So, when I see what has happened to Walt Disney -- the conglomerate -- I think Walt must be rolling over in his grave. Until late in his life, Walt Disney was not comfortably wealthy, despite the success of so many of his ventures. Why? Because, he nearly bankrupted his company several times in the pursuit of excellence. Maybe that’s not the best business sense, but he did it for you and me -- those who would buy his product. Ultimately, he set the standard for excellence. 

   So, what happened? Disney has always come in waves of success. The last wave started in 1990 with the Little Mermaid and crested in 1994, with the release of the Lion King. There were a few decent movies after that, but the decline was obvious. Now, let me digress for just a moment to say that I only consider Pixar movies to be a Disney product in the broadest sense -- they were, in the beginning, essentially a separate company. Everything Pixar has done has been a home run. 

   It’s okay that Disney doesn’t knock them out of the park every time, but, in the pursuit of nothing more than cheap money, the company -- under Michael Eisner -- finally broke Walt’s cardinal rule -- NO SEQUELS! Walt Disney’s first major success was The Three Pigs. It was a runaway hit. The world clamored for more pigs, but Walt refused. He said, “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” Instead he moved on to bigger and better things -- Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio etc. So, when the company bearing his name began to  produce sequels -- it began with the Rescuers Down Under, and descended rapidly into straight to video garbage like Cinderella 2, Peter Pan 2 etc etc -- I wanted to gag. Nearly every Disney classic -- with the exception of, as far as I can tell, Snow White, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty -- now has at least one sequel, made for one reason -- to get gullible people to shell out good money for a cheap product that masquerades as a Walt Disney movie. 

   So, on to my real reason for writing here: Enchanted is the best thing Disney has done in a VERY LONG time. I was so affected by this movie, that it’s a little startling to me. It is the story of Giselle, a cartoon Disney Princess, in the tradition of Ariel from the Little Mermaid, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, as well as classic Disney heroines, Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora. She spends her days singing to her furry woodland friends and waiting to swept off her feet by the obligatory Prince, at which point they will be married, share love’s first kiss and live happily ever after. She runs afoul of the wicked step mother -- of course -- and before she can live happily ever after, finds herself banished to reality -- modern day New York City, no longer a cartoon princess, but a flesh and blood human being. I don’t want to give the movie away, so, suffice it to say, through the course of the story, Giselle experiences the ups and downs of life and love as a human being.

   There are constant references and homages -- both subtle and obvious -- to many of the preceding Disney films, as well as other cinematic treasures, like The Sound of Music. In fact, each time you watch it, you’ll see more. And that was the danger that Enchanted faced. This movie could have been SO bad. It could have descended into wink and nod parody. It could have been a joke, something along the lines of the cotton candy dreck that they run on the Disney Channel (I’m sorry, but even High School Musical wouldn’t have cut it as a theatrical release). But, Enchanted works, and here’s why: Amy Adams.

   The rest of the cast -- Patrick Dempsey as Robert, the love interest, James Marsden as Prince Edward/comic relief and Susan Sarandon as the evil Queen -- are superb, but Amy Adams, as Giselle, sparkles. From beginning to end you believe that Giselle is a cartoon princess, brought to life. More than portraying a cartoon princess in the flesh (you can see that at Disney on Ice) Amy Adams task is to give life to a character who begins as two-dimensional in every way -- not just the way she is drawn, but in her understanding of life and love -- and show the transformation to a fully three dimensional person. She does it, and does it with a refreshing, wide eyed, innocence. She really is the embodiment of the character. 

   I’m a romantic at heart. I’m not afraid of happily ever after, but my reaction to this movie has been a little shocking, even to myself. Here’s what happened: There’s a feeling that we get, only a couple of times in our lives. It’s that wonderful feeling, that starts somewhere near the heart and spreads out to your whole being. It’s the way we feel when we begin to fall in love with someone. I got that feeling when I watched this movie -- not through the whole thing, but at one particular point. There is a scene near the end, where all of the characters are at a ball, and Giselle and Robert are dancing (it’s a beautiful homage to the waltzing scene in Beauty and the Beast), and they look into each others eyes and realize, for the first time, that this is really where they belong. They are falling in love. And I bought it. I got that feeling. I was feeling what the characters were supposed to be feeling. That does not happen to me -- not to that degree -- when I watch movies. It was so startling to me, that I said out loud -- to an empty room --  “What is happening to me?” That moment is the highlight of the movie for me -- it makes the story (this story about a cartoon princess) personal to me. 

   The only thing that could ruin this experience for me would be if they decided to make a sequel. I loved the characters. I love watching the movie. This movie. This story. I don’t need to know what else happens to them. Happily ever after is a good ending.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

I agree completely. Deep down I am also a hopeless romantic and want the Happily Ever After at the end of every story; this was no exception and the movie delivered well.

I have a few friends who bagged the movie under the blanket of "cheezy" or "stupid" but I think that review is near sided.

Others have thrown their hands in the air and complained about the breasts, the "shower scene" and point their finger at the oversexualiztion of children's movies and here is another chance for Hollywood (Disney for that matter) to cram adulthood down the throats of our children.

I could not disagree more. Here is a story full of innocence and the surprise of learning something new, finding new friends and being rather "uninformed" and yet really knowing more about what truly matters most.

Amy Adams was (is) outstanding. Acting to me is taking the place of a character so flawlessly that one forgets they are watching a movie. They bring the story to life. They make you believe that that character really lives and breathes and carries on after the credits roll. The Motion Picture Association supposedly hands out the Oscar award to those who do this every year….they handed it to the wrong leading lady. I don’t even know who won Best Actress for last year but I know it was not Miss Adams and I can’t imagine anyone performing as flawlessly as she did.

This movie has my vote.

- Captain Plaid.