Enchanted starts as a cartoon fairy tale like many others: A young maiden named Giselle (Amy Adams) lives in a forest and longs to find true love, and does so in the chivalrous Prince Edward (James Marsden), heir to the throne of Andalasia. However, on their wedding day, Edward's wicked stepmother, Narissa (Susan Sarandon), fearing that the princess-to-be will usurp her throne, banishes Giselle from her kingdom.
If it seems like Disney and director Kevin Lima (102 Dalmatians) have looked to animated classics for inspiration, they have. With a twist. Narissa has sent Giselle to "a place where there are no happily ever afters"—Times Square in New York City. Upon her arrival, the film goes from animation to live action, and with the transition comes a fresh take on the classic fairy tale.
Because Giselle still sings and acts as if she's in a cartoon, New Yorkers think she's crazy. But nothing can rid her of her cheery disposition, including a night of slumming it on city streets. She's ultimately found by a real-world hero, a single dad named Robert (Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy), whose daughter (Rachel Covey) doesn't necessarily like his current girlfriend (Idina Menzel, a Broadway star who curiously doesn't sing here). They take Giselle in and warm to her while Narissa sends a stooge (Timothy Spall) to NYC to make sure Edward doesn't reunite with his beloved Giselle.
There are a number of subtle references to other Disney classics, including a rooftop climax a la Beauty and the Beast, a missing slipper in an ode to Cinderella, and a cute take on the song "Whistle While You Work" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that's both charming and revolting. What's more, almost all the musical numbers are a resounding success, with principal cast members singing well and some inspired choreography, particularly during a wonderful Central Park song-and-dance that's delightfully fun.
The real pleasures of Enchanted, however, come from watching Adams, Marsden, Spall and (to a smaller extent) Sarandon overact. You may not have realized how silly the simplistic emotions, grandiose mannerisms and high-spirited voices are in animated fare before seeing the characters in the real world here. As Giselle, Adams is a successful amalgamation of just about every Disney heroine we know and love, complete with the beauty, innocence and naivete of a helpless girl who needs her brave prince to rescue her. Her chemistry with Marsden is spot-on as well, as they convey a believable affection between Giselle and Edward while keeping the tacky sentiment of the story firmly in mind. The over-the-top acting gets a tad annoying, sure, but try to imagine Snow White or Cinderella in the real world—would it be any different? It's doubtful.
And therein lies the true appeal of Enchanted: It was made by Disney with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, openly willing to poke fun at the onscreen fairy-tale conventions it helped create. Kudos to the venerable Mouse House for putting a new spin on a classic tale, and doing it so well.