Disenchanted, the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s Enchanted, opens with a heavy dose of reality: A new baby, a distant teenager and a cramped apartment have left Giselle (Amy Adams) feeling disgruntled with her Happily Ever After. The New York City she came to love in the first film — where she pirouetted through Central Park and sang tunes with strangers — has lost its charm. The boredom of domesticity has settled in its place, and Giselle is itching for change.
When Giselle spots an advertisement for a home in Monroeville, a cartoonish suburban haven in upstate New York, she leaps at the chance to restore some of the magic to her life. Along with her new baby, her husband Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and a now teenage Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino), Giselle moves to the idyllic land of fixer-uppers, commuter trains and competitive PTA parents.
Directed by Adam Shankman (2007’s Hairspray), Disenchanted lacks the charisma and curiosity of its predecessor. The advantage of nostalgia aside, Enchanted’s success came from an alchemic combination of strong performances (especially from Adams), a chaotic location and a commitment to basic moral lessons (the magic of true love) even while slyly upending fairy-tale tropes. Disenchanted, whose screenplay was written by Brigette Hales from a story by J. David Stem, David N. Weiss and Richard LaGravanese, aims for the deft mix of slapstick comedy and poignant messaging of the original, but struggles to find its footing, resulting in a film as vanilla as its setting.
Sequels rarely live up to the standards set by their first installments, but Disenchanted feels particularly disappointing because of its starry cast. Adams, Dempsey, Idina Menzel and James Marsden reprise their roles as, respectively, the once-naïve protagonist, her skeptical New York husband, his ex (now queen of Andalasia) and the original Prince Charming. Apart from Adams’ character — who learns valuable lessons about yearning for fantasy instead of living in reality and the importance of weathering life’s exciting and quiet moments with equal enthusiasm — the others don’t budge out of their prescriptive roles. Newcomers like Maya Rudolph, who plays the most powerful parent in Monroeville, and Yvette Nicole Brown, as her sidekick, aren’t given the chance to display their full comedic or dramatic ranges.
And that’s a shame, because Disenchanted, with its interest in overcoming periods of restlessness and disillusionment, offers prescient lessons for this moment, when the pressures of surviving despite multiple social catastrophes have made mustering enthusiasm for daily life challenging.
When Giselle, Robert and Morgan arrive in Monroeville, their house — a pink castle requiring substantial renovations — is incomplete. Contracted construction workers are everywhere: drilling into the living room walls, sawing wood in the garden, painting the exterior. The chaos forces them to spend their first night in the master bedroom, a situation that Morgan, acerbic and sarcastic, rightly compares to their apartment in New York.
Morgan is no longer the doe-eyed six-year-old from Enchanted who hung onto Giselle’s every word. She’s less enamored of her stepmother’s singing and saccharine advice, which leads to considerable tension and miscommunication. The sharp-tongued teen spends a majority of the film’s leisurely half-hour set-up begging to return to New York. Her unsteady relationship with Giselle — dramatic swerves between reluctant sympathy and total disdain — is one of the film’s threads that could have used more fine-tuning and development. It’s clear from early on that Morgan feels pushed aside after the birth of her baby sister, Sophia, and that some of her mercurial moods are due to a brewing resentment. But Disenchanted doesn’t spend enough time with her character to keep us invested in figuring out the teen’s issues.
Disenchanted is more successful and confident when it focuses on Giselle’s attempts to embrace the ebbs and flows of reality. Hyper-aware of her family’s unhappiness, she uses magic from Andalasia to make her life into a fairytale. The wish changes the makeup of Monroeville and typecasts the people in Giselle’s life — including herself. When Giselle realizes the full impact of her wish, she races against the clock to try and reverse it. It’s gratifying to watch Giselle draw her own conclusions, own up to her mistakes and try to fix them; such developments give her character, which was sweet but one-note in Enchanted, some edge and dimensionality.
When Disenchanted isn’t trying to create a portrait of suburbia or examining its protagonist, it becomes a predictably plotted and humdrum battle to restore order. As a setting, Monroeville doesn’t quite lend itself to the same kind of amusing comedy as New York’s most touristy locales, which means that certain elements of Disenchanted have to work harder to keep our attention. Production designer Dan Henneh and his team make a considerable and rewarding effort to turn the small Irish town where the film was shot into an upstate New York enclave (and advertisement for cottagecore). Stephen Schwartz’s reliable original songs and Alan Menken’s fantastical score yield a handful of strong moments — a zesty duet by Adams and Rudolph, a soaring solo by Menzel — that almost recreate the magic of Enchanted. In these scenes, Disenchanted loosens up just enough to actually be spellbinding.
Production companies: Walt Disney Pictures, Josephson Entertainment, Right Coast Productions, Andalasia Productions
Cast: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Maya Rudolph, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jayma Mays, Gabriella Baldacchino, with Idina Menzel, James Marsden
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenwriters: Brigitte Hales, J. David Stem (story by), David N. Weiss (story by), Richard LaGravenese (story by)
Producers: Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnenfeld, Amy Adams
Executive producers: Jo Burn, Sunil Perkash, Adam Shankman
Director of photography: Simon Duggan, ACS
Production designer: Dan Hennah
Costume designer: Joan Bergin
Editor: Emma E. Hickox, ACE
Composer: Alan Menken
Casting director: Louise Kiely, Cindy Tolan
1 hour 56 minutes