Disney’s live-action remake project has been a case of diminishing returns. As soon as the head honchos in the Mouse House saw the box-office returns of “Alice in Wonderland,” they went stir-crazy. Hence, we got “Maleficent,” “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Christopher Robin,” “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Mulan,” “Cruella,” and “Pinocchio.” And let’s not kid ourselves; all of them have been pale imitations of their animated counterparts. The funny thing is that a Disney fairytale pointed out the stark contrast between live-action reality and animated fiction all the way back in 2007. If only those in charge of greenlighting the aforementioned films had taken the right lessons from “Enchanted,” we wouldn’t be in this situation. Thankfully, its sequel, “Disenchanted,” is here to make us introspect about our ideas of reality and fantasy while providing a meta-commentary on how live-action adaptations suck the life out of animated classics.
Directed by Adam Shankman, written by Brigitte Hales, and based on a story by David N. Weiss, J. David Stem, and Richard LaGravenese, “Disenchanted” follows the married couple Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey). Now, they have a little baby named Sofia. Robert’s daughter from his first marriage, Morgan (in the first movie, she was played by Rachel Covey, and in this one, she’s played by Gabriella Baldacchino), is a teenager now. And with the added problem of the small apartments in New York, it’s a little overwhelming for Giselle. So, she seeks out a house in the suburb of Monroeville so that their family can grow a little more freely. But that decision comes with problems of its own. Firstly, the house needs a lot of fixing. Secondly, Robert needs to commute to New York via train. Thirdly, Morgan has to adjust to a new school that’s full of the usual cliques. Finally, there’s Malvina Monroe (Maya Rudolph), the Queen Bee of Monroeville, who considers Giselle to be a threat to her popularity.
The narrative of “Disenchanted” functions on so many levels that it’s impressive. Giselle’s reliance on fantasy speaks to the very human trait of dissociation with reality as soon as it becomes too difficult to deal with it. But when the efforts to escape into said fantasy backfire on Giselle and she and the world around her start turning into the cliches “Enchanted” had deconstructed, she realizes that doing a paint job on one’s reality doesn’t solve anything. Giselle’s whole transformation is emblematic of the corruptive power of selfishness and how it can make the most positive person in the world act like a self-centered, destructive villain. Malvina and Monroeville personify classism and gated communities, with their issues becoming more apparent when they’re transformed into an actual fairytale land. Subservience, misogyny (a lot of which is internalized), and conservatism truly hit the fan, thereby proving that real-life, modern interpretations of customs that seem “normal” in fables can feel problematic. Well, if you are evil, then maybe all of it looks just like home.
That brings us to the visual representation of reality, fiction, and everything that exists between them. For starters, unlike a lot of Disney’s recent live-action ventures, “Disenchanted” looks and sounds fantastic. The cinematography by Simon Duggan, the editing by Emma E. Hickox and Chris Lebenzon, the production design by Dan Hennah, the art direction, the set design, the costume design by Joan Bergin, the hair and make-up, the VFX, the CGI, the SFX, and the stunt work are all impeccable. The conversation scenes can seem a little static. But the shot composition and coloring are dynamic enough to be forgiving. And when the song-and-dance sequences start, especially “Badder,” Shankman simply swings for the fences and invites you to dance alongside Amy Adams, Maya Rudolph, and the rest of the cast and supporting performers. In addition to that, there’s the 2D animation, which not only looks great but also serves as a metaphor for how vividly it can capture or interpret reality, emotions, and memories. In doing so, inadvertently or very intentionally, “Disenchanted” says that the magic of animation shouldn’t be extracted and put into live action.
Coming to the acting in “Disenchanted,” you can clearly tell that everyone in the film is having an absolute blast. Maya Rudolph is simply perfect as the Queen Bee version of Malvina as well as the Villainous Queen version of Malvina. Everything from her body language to her facial expressions is exemplary, and her chemistry with Amy Adams is sizzling. Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays are the comic relief. But they never overstay their welcome. The same can be said about Oscar Nunez (as a fan of “The Office,” I’ll never get tired of a cameo by its cast in anything). The extended cameos of James Marsden and Idina Menzel are a delight. Patrick Dempsey is excellent (and so gorgeous). Extra points to him for performing a lot of his daredevil stunts, if I am not mistaken. Griffin Newman as Pip is amazing as a cat and as a chipmunk. Gabriella Baldacchino delivers a star-making performance. And it’s quite an uphill task to do so when you are acting opposite Amy Adams. Not just “regular Amy Adams.” But the type of Amy Adams where she is having the time of her life! She’s here to make you sing, dance, cry, smile, and marvel at how she can switch from morbid darkness to sunkissed goodness in the blink of an eye. And we should all thank her for her contribution to the world of entertainment.
Seriously speaking, my expectations from “Disenchanted” were non-existent. You see, “Enchanted” was one of the most formative movies of my childhood. And after watching so many hollow Disney live-action remakes, adaptations, and sequels, I didn’t know what they were going to do with it. That’s why I didn’t even watch the trailer. I watched the first film and walked straight into the sequel, and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. In fact, I am of the opinion that it shouldn’t have been a Disney+ exclusive release. This should’ve been watched theatrically because those songs and Amy Adams’ soaring performance would’ve certainly brought the house down. However, just like the characters in the movie, we’ve got to deal with the reality of the situation instead of living in “what if” scenarios. So, gather your friends and/or family, or make some time for yourself and watch “Disenchanted” on Disney+ Hotstar. It’s one of the best movies of the year for me. Not just because I had a fun time watching it. But also because it has a very potent message about working through the flaws of the place where you found love instead of relying on escapist and seductive fantasies to solve all your problems.