Disenchanted: As Lifeless as It Sounds, or Just “Different?”

Who else has been awaiting this Enchanted sequel for years? Disney is usually hit or miss with its sequels (mostly miss, let’s be honest), but it was impossible not to be excited about this one. Enchanted is such a unique Disney movie, yet grossly underrated. The average person doesn’t talk or think about it too much and Disney, for the most part, ignores the film entirely, so I was surprised to find that the movie actually did superbly well at the box office and still flaunts wonderful critic and audience reviews.

Does Disenchanted have the same magic? Let’s find out!

Why Critique Stories?

My purpose in critiquing stories is not to say that the story or its creator is either awful or flawless. I’m not trying to say that I know everything there is to know about writing a story, or that I’m even right in my assessments/opinions. My motives are twofold: 

  1. To break apart stories so we can learn what makes them successful or unsuccessful and apply those elements to our own stories or know what to avoid
  2. To dispel the myths that popular stories are “perfect” and that creating a story as “good” as a well-known writer is an unattainable goal

It’s comforting to know that a good story is a good story. No one has any secret special knowledge that makes their story better. As long as you take the time to learn and practise the art of writing, you have the same potential as a famous writer to craft something that people will remember for years to come.

Summaries

First, a glimpse of what the movie’s about:

Fifteen years after Enchanted, Giselle moves to the suburb of Monroeville with Robert and their teenage daughter Morgan, where she must juggle the challenges that come with a new home and discover what happily ever after truly means to her and her new family.

Film synopsis from Movie Web

And secondly, the short and sweet version of my verdict:

While Disenchanted certainly isn’t the same timeless classic as its predecessor, it packs a punch with a unique storyline that stays true to its characters and theme. I believe most, if not all, of my major issues with the film stem from a lack of budget.

Please read on to find out more – this is the most intensive review I’ve written yet and I think it presents some interesting thoughts about Disney and how movies work on streaming platforms.

The Good Stuff

Yes, “Different!”

Most people won’t agree with me here, but I actually quite enjoy it when a sequel is totally different from the first instalment. I think it’s fun to see how writers continue to develop a story that can’t just be a do-over. Enchanted had a premise that only works once, so of course the creators had to go in a different direction. Bringing in more fantasy and parodies of traditional Disney storytelling felt like a good move to me.

From what I’ve read in other reviews, though, this is what most people decidedly didn’t like about the movie. I can understand that completely; it’s always a risk when sequels end up in, essentially, a different genre than their predecessors. Some people will still be on board, some won’t. Personally, I liked that they took it in a slightly different direction while still maintaining the spirit of Enchanted.

Unpredictable Story

Going off the last point, the plot of this movie was decidedly unique – the last thing you’d expect Giselle to be is a villain! I couldn’t figure out what was going to happen at certain points, which is still pretty rare for a Disney movie (or most movies in general, actually).

The plot felt like a really fresh, fun idea all the way through and I was thoroughly entertained.

Two Main Characters

One of those things I didn’t expect was for the story to veer away from Giselle and focus on Morgan halfway through. Not only does this fit within the story itself, as it’s natural for the focus of a fairytale to be on its heroine, but it also develops the movie in a nuanced way. You get to see Giselle and Morgan grow individually and in their relationship with each other.

In this way, the story is pretty character-centric, something I’ve been talking about quite a bit recently. Some parts are developed a little hastily (this was a big plot to fit into a two-hour movie), but overall, I appreciate how the characters developed the plot and became central to the story rather than having the plot take over, which would have been an easy mistake for something as massive as this.

Idina Menzel and Patrick Dempsey Sing

Look, I had to mention it for Reasons.

Really, though, this point has to do with how Disenchanted faithfully honours Enchanted, something many sequels don’t do because the creators try so hard to make them stand on their own. Yes, the sequel is different, but through fun Easter eggs, references, and continuations, it really helps you feel like this movie isn’t trying to replace the other one but simply continue it.

One of those continuation things in Disenchanted is giving these two actors a chance to sing, since they didn’t last time. Love that!

Not-So-Good Stuff

Songs

To be honest, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why the music in Disenchanted is so lacklustre. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are usually without reproach, both individually and as a team, but they definitely missed the mark on this one. Are they getting old? Did Disney not pay them enough? (More on that in a minute.) Is a lack of creativity from lockdown to blame? Were their briefs for the songs too strict? Did they have to rewrite some things and were pressed for time?

We can really only guess at this point. All I know is that 1) the songs weren’t memorable, mainly because they didn’t have a steady rhyme or meter; 2) they wrote a bit too high for Amy Adams, way higher than in the first movie, so they had to autotune her a whole bunch (has Disney not learned from the Emma Watson fiasco?), and 3) you couldn’t emotionally connect to most of the songs. (Also, “love power?” That feels like something from a DCOM, come on, guys. Idina Menzel killed it but there’s only so much you can do with those lyrics.) The only song I thought was really strong was “Fairytale Life (After The Spell),” the song that, as the name suggests, the cast sings the morning after Giselle makes the wish.

“Badder,” the song with two competing villains, was insanely fun, but it felt a bit forced, like they were trying too hard to make it a really cool song. (I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m hating on it just to hate on it, but I’m serious that there’s something slightly off about it; usually, the best songs – take “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” or even “Let It Go” for instance – are the ones that don’t try to be earth-shattering. The creators just write the best they can and the songs blow up on their own. Maybe this doesn’t make sense, but I stand by this point.)

Finally, Giselle singing right before she almost died was definitely touching, another shining moment for the music. Other than that, I don’t think the music did much for the movie, which is a shame since the first movie had such good songs. (I will say the score sounded pretty good, though it’s odd that there’s only a single score track in the form of a suite on the soundtrack. That’s more than a little concerning.)

Why is this point so long? Surprise, I was a music major in college! Music is my secondary “thing” besides writing, so it means a lot to me. Moving on now…

Lost Characters

Robert is almost nonexistent in this movie; I would have liked to see him as a more active character, even though I understand the focus was on Giselle and Morgan. He had some great development in the first movie, but in this one, he’s basically just comic relief and his character deserved more than that.

I also never understood why Robert and Giselle had a baby. There was absolutely no point to having her there and I kept waiting throughout the whole movie to see the baby make some significant impact on the plot. But…nope. The wand could have easily been a gift to Giselle herself, thereby removing the kid’s importance from the plot entirely! Really, the baby just felt like a burden to the story.

2-D(ish?) Animation

Guys. What was that? The animation in Andalasia made me think I was suddenly watching some weird rip-off YouTube video. It was just plain bad, so much so that it felt oddly uncomfortable to watch. Why couldn’t they have used the same animation they did for Mary Poppins Returns, which was stellar?

To be clear, I don’t blame the animators for this – I’m sure they did the absolute best with what they were given! If Disney was going for some new style, it definitely backfired on them, but I think there’s a more likely explanation…

Lack of Budget Strikes Again

I really think that most of the issues for this movie stem from the fact that it didn’t have a big enough budget. I’m just speculating here, as the numbers for Disenchanted‘s budget aren’t available (at least that I could find), but I think there’s a strong case for this after all the points listed above.

All of this leads me to believe that as much as the cast, crew, director, and producer tried to recreate the magic of Enchanted, it just wasn’t fully possible with the budget they were given.

I honestly can’t understand why Disney would treat Disenchanted with such apathy after Enchanted was so wildly successful, but it honestly upsets me because if this had come out in theaters with the proper budget, it probably would have been just as good as the original movie. It was almost there. It just needed some more support from the big guys, which it sadly didn’t get.

This makes me think more and more that streaming is great for TV shows, but not so much for movies… But I’ll save that post for another time.

What were your thoughts on Disenchanted? Let me know in the comments! And tune in next time when I review a swashbuckling Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish.

Happy watching!
-E.J.

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Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.

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