There’s certainly a strategy in the inner workings of Disney that determines what movies go to streaming, and which ones head to theaters. For two of the more recent films that have been deemed Disney+ originals, a heady current of nostalgia has carried sequels from fond wishes into actual reality. In the case of Hocus Pocus 2, the result was a cute legacyquel that pleases crowds and honors its legacy well.
With the studio’s latest roll of the dice, director Adam Shankman’s Disenchanted, Disney has delivered a sequel that goes above and beyond, expanding the Amy Adams-led story into something even richer and more beautiful.
Catching us up with the life and times of Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey), the follow-up shows us the happy couple uprooting their lives from New York City and heading to suburbia. Growing concerned about her life outside of happily ever after and an ever complicated relationship with her stepdaughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino), Giselle makes a desperate and magical wish she thinks will change her life for the better.
At this point, the stage in the film is set for what seems like a standard Disney fairy tale, right down to the title of the sequel being Disenchanted. That’s not what audiences are about to experience, though, as what winds up unfurling isn’t just a revisiting the jokes of the first film with a villainous twist.
The sequel to Enchanted is an improvement on the original, and one of the best Disney films of the year.
When it debuted, Enchanted was a sly satire of the traditional fairy tale that also knew when to stick to the formula. It was what made the movie so popular in the first place, as Disney was poking fun at itself with the wide-eyed Giselle while never belittling that innocence. Disenchanted sees our princess still very optimistic and pulling for the best, but also brought a bit more down to earth.
If anything, the magical element introduced by Amy Adams’ protagonist allows Disenchanted to skew in the other direction. Amping things back up into pure storybook beauty, the rest of Giselle’s family starts to act as if they were in a classic Disney movie.
Just as brilliantly as Enchanted toed the line between worlds, Disenchanted sends its universe into fully realized, and brilliantly colored life. Musical numbers are plentiful, allowing Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz to yet again weave their magic in the Disney catalog. The villainous twist to this film’s story isn’t merely used as the easy narrative path, as Amy Adams gets to have a lot of fun slowly turning into an evil stepmother.
Amy Adams’ villain era adds another layer to this well-crafted continuation.
You could practically call Disenchanted a Jekyll and Hyde spinoff with the way that Adams shifts between her bright and chirpy side and the darkness that slowly takes her over in the film. It isn’t a mere scenery chewing transformation either, with a real struggle being depicted between the two halves of Giselle. And if you thought Amy Adams’ songs were fun when she’s goodying things up, her number as an evil opponent to Maya Rudolph’s similarly vicious Malvina is one of the best in this impressive new slate.
By embracing the magic that she came from, Disenchanted puts Giselle in a novel position. The very way of life that instilled her with her natural sunshine is now working against her, and it’s just as compelling as seeing her trying to become a more normal, well-rounded person through her previous New York adventure. Humor is still very much present, but the development of the characters in Brigitte Hales’ screenplay (from a story by writers David N. Weiss, J. David Stem, and Richard LaGravenese) doesn’t happen merely to drive a sequel story.
Most exciting is the facet of Disenchanted’s story that continues to keep the focus on its female characters. Going as far as to send the male figures in the family off on the standard heroic quests, the spotlight is firmly on Giselle and Morgan for the most part. Working from an organic strategy, the results allow for a movie that wins you over with – what else– a pure, beating heart.
Disenchanted finds fresh magic that recalls the best of Disney adventures past.
The traditionally labeled “princess movies” of Disney’s storied history tend to focus on a heroine who wants some sort of “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” In Disenchanted, the whole universe gets to feel that yearning, and many lessons are learned as a result. The same could be said for this Disney+ original, as through tribute, Easter eggs, and musical references from past tales, the endgame is something that will truly delight fans of such things.
Classical stories are alive and well, but it never feels like Disenchanted is leaning on any one scenario in particular to make an overt message. There’s love for the characters, and the Disney legacy felt from start to finish. Just as before, Giselle and the world around her are treated with the utmost care, and all we have to do is let ourselves get caught up in that world all over again.
As the evolution of Disney’s princess-centric stories has made great strides on the animated front, the live-action remakes seem to have been lagging behind in recent years. Disenchanted is the sign that while the studio should definitely keep pursuing better in the realm of flesh and blood acting, it’s more than high time to put the same energies into those films that have catapulted the animated canon to beautiful heights.