2007-11-21 (General release)

Giselle (Amy Adams) has the ideal animated life. Friends with woodland creatures, in love with a handsome prince she’s just met, she lets loose with exactly the right tune, all about “true love’s kiss,” shared only by true lovers. The fact that she lives in a fairy tale and so, not exactly poised to be a true anything, doesn’t occur to Giselle. Surrounded by bluebirds and bunnies, she’s so charming and cheerful, even the local troll loves her.

Her primary admirer, as the start of Enchanted, is Prince Edward (James Marsden, expanding his born-to-play range from X-Man to Corny Collins to straight-up cartoon, or maybe the second coming of Cary Elwes). On hearing Giselle’s warbling with her animal friends, he comes charging on his majestic steed, harmonizing away: “You were made…” he sings, pausing for her to fill in, “To finish your duet!” Yes yes yes, she’s made for him and she’s perfect. Indeed, she’s a bit too perfect, according to Edward’s mom, the acutely named Queen Narcissa (Susan Sarandon), who determines that she’s not ready to give up her throne to this peasant. Instead, she sends her off to another world, “a place where there are no happily ever afters.”

That would be a world inhabited by flesh-and-blood cartoon characters, in a time approximating your own. When Giselle pops up (after a long fall down) through a manhole cover in Times Square, she makes the transition easily, never believing for a second that this new location is any less magical than the kingdom of Andalasia. The hard-hat guys who see her emerge — all fancy white gown and glittery tiara — are moved to help her, but can’t fathom how. “Lady,” asks one, “Are you for real?”

In another movie, this might be a central question. But in Enchanted, no one much cares. Giselle is both perky and resolute, banging on the faux door of a billboard for the “Palace Casino,” unable to see differences between real and not. In this, she’s like six-year-old Morgan (Rachel Covey), who believes in dragons and princes and especially princesses. This frustrates Morgan’s dad, a divorce attorney named Robert (Patrick Dempsey), who hasn’t forgotten that Morgan’s mother abandoned them, or that every day in the office he sees couples no longer (if ever) in love and seeking vengeance. Because of all this tragedy, it appears, he’s reluctant to propose to his girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel), his equal professionally and cynically. (Or so he thinks: in Enchanted, all the girls want flowers and fancy-dress balls and men who will indulge their culturally-constructed femme aspirations.)

Dad’s determined to keep Morgan on a practical track, and so to save her from heartache and disappointment. To that end, he’s given her a Great Women in History book instead of the fairy tales she wants. And to that end, he doesn’t speak with her about her missing mom or his own desires. When he suggests he might be marrying Nancy, Morgan is polite, but unhappy. There’s something uncozy and unfanciful about Nancy, which is, of course, exactly why dad likes her: she’s a business proposition for him, a deal he can count on. Morgan is more inclined toward Giselle, whom her father rescues as she falls off the Palace billboard. Though Robert worries about her seeming disorientation, Morgan delights in it: she’s a real princess, Morgan enthuses. Right, Robert sighs.

As you have access to the realness, you can share in Morgan’s sense of enchantment. Giselle is indeed adorable, and Adams — as she was in Junebug — is a fearless and fetching performer, embracing generic restrictions with infectious abandon. Robert’s job is decidedly dull: he will watch her dance and sing and cavort with urban creatures, misinterpreting her gifts and eventually warming to her charms.

The steps in his emancipation are banal, but buoyed by Giselle’s irrepressible bliss. Following a night sleeping on Robert’s couch (he brought her in from the rain, following his gallant catch), Giselle wakes full of energy and gratitude, as well as habit. Prone to clean with the help of her critter friends, she calls out as she would usually and initiates the film’s most amiable set-piece, as she and the available creatures — rats, cockroaches, and pigeons — dust and scrub and tidy up the apartment. On waking, Morgan is thrilled that her dreams have seemingly come true. Dad immediately sets to herding the rats and bugs out the front door.

Such colliding fantasies comprise the substance of Enchanted, which develops the theme by bringing along several other cartoon figures into the Big City. Each has a problem adjusting — Edward can’t stop hauling out his word and presuming his ownership of Giselle (who slowly but surely discovers her disconcertingly nurturing affection for the needy boy Robert), Narcissa and her loyal henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and a chatty chipmunk, now digitized. While the latter, losing his ability to speak English in the flesh-world, offers up some entertaining pantomimes in efforts to reveal the Queen’s scheme, for the most part, Giselle is the film’s fundamental source of energy and light.

While it’s not surprising that Morgan has this right from the first moment she spots the princess, it’s a little disappointing that the movie loses sight of this completely engaging girly friendship in order to follow the more conventional romance. Giselle’s force-of-animated-nature audacity permits her to transcend one ending and rescue by her true lover, in order to achieve another, more explicitly girl-powery end, and even set the stage for happy endings all around. But all that fairy-taley wrap-up is decidedly less wonderful than Morgan’s insight and gumption. Surrounded by calculated Disnifications, she’s both imperfect and convincing, Enchanted‘s most irresistible fantasy.

RATING 6 / 10