Wrapping itself around the 2007 Enchanted premise of a fairy tale person from another land giving sage advice to a real world person, this Disney + made-for-streaming movie is a sorta-Holiday film not only for the kiddies, but fun enough for the adults, too.
In the Fairy Tale world of Motherland (where all the fairy godmothers dwell), we meet a newbie over-zealous godmother named Eleanor (Jillian Bell) who, by gosh, just wants to be the best! BUT! The Motherland is ready to shut down, due to no more human wishes being fulfilled, as taught by the headmistress, Moira (Jane Curtain). However, Eleanor finds a letter by 10-year-old Mackenzie Walsh asking for a happily ever after. Bingo! A chance to prove herself!
Going through a magic portal Eleanor, completely dumbfounded and innocent of our world, tracks down Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) but discovers (uh-oh!) that she’s now a grown woman and working at last-placed Channel 8 in Boston. She’s also a widow, has a precocious 10-year-old daughter (Willa Syke), a 16-year-old daughter (Jillian Shae Spaeder) that has a deadly case of stage fright when singing, and a caring older sister (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). Undaunted, Eleanor tells Mackenzie she’s her fairy godmother and is there to make her life happy, which results in Mackenzie thinking Eleanor is seriously wacko. That is, until she sees Eleanor whip her wand out and start doing magic!
Problems arise when Mackenzie’s insane boss at work demands only sensational and utterly crazy news stories, which makes her life unbearable. Hmmm. . .sounds like Fox News, huh? Anyway, thanks to Eleanor and her untimely hijinks, not only do their ratings soar, but Mac’s daughters are happier, their house is like a castle inside, and Gary the sentient raccoon is helping with the housework! Now, if only Eleanor can get that handsome news reporter, Hugh Prince (Santiago Cabrera) and Mackenzie to hook up, her work is done! But arriving right on time is both the inevitable plot complication AND the requisite “second act break-up with a third-act reconciliation” trope. Oh well.
Melissa K. Stack (The Other Woman) and Kari Granlund (2019’s Lady and the Tramp) are both novice screenwriters with only one other movie script to their names, and most of it translates on the small screen with your typical film clichés, tropes, and plot holes you’d expect from fledglings in the craft. But that doesn’t mean Stack and Granlund haven’t come up with a pretty good tale, despite all usual pitfalls in storytelling. Copycatting Giselle from Enchanted is obvious, as Eleanor is all wide-eyed and full of naïveté as she maneuvers through our scary world of cellphones and TV’s. But whereas Giselle was more honest in her character, Eleanor is more cartoonish.
Sharon McGuire (Bridget Jone’s Diary & Baby movies) has a nice handle on the whimsical portion of the movie, after all, this IS supposed to be for kids. And while the concert ending seems rather forced, contrived, and altogether ridiculous, I couldn’t help but feel a little moved. . .dammit! Jillian Bell ain’t no Princess Giselle, but as a goofy, silly, fish-out-of-water fairy godmother, she’s funny, engaging, and very likable. Fisher is a real gem here, riding an arc that dares NOT to find her “one true love” in the conventional sense, and watch out for Jillian Spaeder who has some real fine moments; she could be a star one day.
**Streaming exclusively on Disney +
You don’t often see Disney making fun of their own films, but they did with exceptional delight and wonderful abandon in this 2007 Disney classic homage/skewering of their own Snow White property. And it even has cameos from past Disney movies, too boot!
The 2D animated land of Andalasia is home to a quasi-Snow White beauty named Giselle (voiced by Amy Adams) who is being wooed by her one-true love, Prince Edward (James Marsden). But unbeknownst to them, Edward’s evil, wicked witch of a mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) wants her dead because of her good looks. On the day of their marriage, the queen (in old-hag disguise) pushes Giselle into a magical wishing well portal and BOOM! Giselle winds up in modern day NYC Times Square and very much human!
In a panic, wearing a giant wedding dress, and not knowing what to do, she meets accidentally meets Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey), a widowed divorce lawyer and his precious little daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey). Thinking this women is slightly batty, Robert lets her stay overnight, but that angers his potential fiancée, Nancy Tremaine (Idina Menzel, not singing this time!). It’s soon apparent that Giselle is quite unusual as she can summon birds, rats, and bugs to do her bidding (in song, no less) to do housework and dress-making.
But as she’s slowly learning the ways of being a fleshed-out 4D person, Prince Edward has just exited the same NYC manhole, along with his trusty manservant, Nathanial (Timothy Spall), who is the Queen’s secret spy, and Giselle’s chipmunk friend, Pip. While Edward is gallivanting around the Big Apple looking for Giselle, Robert is trying to humor Giselle by Central Park outings (where a big song and dance suddenly break out), and helping her cope. Meanwhile, the Queen (via Nathaniel) keeps unsuccessfully trying to kill Giselle who, naturally, is falling in love with Robert with each day.
Finally, Edward miraculously finds Giselle and all is good again. . .sorta. Giselle wants to go to the big Kings and Queens Ball dance with Edward as a final goodbye, but the Queen arrives in the flesh to mess things up and destroy Giselle herself. This screenplay, written by Bill Kelly (Blast from the Past, Premonition) is supposed to be writing a sequel called Disenchanted, but it’s been in development hell since 2010. Good luck there, pal! This movie was a gold mine for Disney, as it was a near-perfect script, combining Disney-like characters with a truly funny and non-condescending movie that didn’t pander or dumb-down to kids.
It walked that fine edge of silly, ridiculous humor (like The Princess Bride), but not overstepping its boundaries into cartoonish childishness. It also comes with a modern heart-breaking romance while throwing in a fairy-tale backdrop, something difficult to do, but Kelly nails it on all counts. It’s funny, warm, LOL in places, and made even better by the dazzling and inventive direction of Kevin Lima, known for his imaginative work on Disney’s Tarzan, 102 Dalmatians, and A Goofy Movie.
And enough cannot be said about Amy Adams who is so lovable, so captivating, it’s frightening. Her Giselle is beautiful, wide-eyed, innocent, and filled with so much love for everything and everyone, you can’t help but fall for her yourself. Adams owns this movie from start to finish, but lets the others shine as well. Dempsey is excellent as the confused, but accepting love interest, while Marsden is hilarious as the dim-bulb and overly-heroic Edward. Spall, in-between his Harry Potter gigs, is both funny and sinister, but Sarandon really has fun with her nasty witch!
For extra points, look for many famous Disney cameos peppered throughout the movie: there’s Paige O’Hara (Beauty & the Beast) on a TV soap opera, Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas) as a pregnant woman with kids, Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid) as Robert’s secretary, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) as the Narrator, and many more.
Fun Fact: that wedding dress that Giselle wears in act one? It weighed 45 lbs!