Hard to believe that it's been 20 years since the release of The Princess Bride, if only because it hasn't aged a day — the mark of something truly, blessedly timeless. Bereft of the pop-culture gags that curdle the Shrek movies and absent the cynicism of most other kids' films used solely to peddle fast food and impulse items, it remains a spellbinding experience — a fractured fairy tale spastic with ironic twitches that melt away beneath the joy and warmth with which Rob Reiner and William Goldman tell their tale. And it's even more special because The Princess Bride is one of the few truly great movies that a parent can watch with a young child; never once does the grown-up satire strangle the swashbuckling romance. Better still, there's nothing formulaic or silly about it — charges that Pauline Kael leveled at children's cinema in a mid-'60s essay about how Walt Disney had ruined movies for kids by peddling "pacifiers" to them so their parents could zone out for 90 minutes.
The trailer for Disney's new Enchanted at least suggested that it aspired to Princess Bride greatness. If nothing else, it didn't look like something concocted in a test lab. The premise had promise: Characters from a "vintage" Disney movie suddenly find themselves thrust into our world — Times Square, to be precise, long a retrofitted, sterilized amusement park anyway. Disney, referencing everything from Fantasia to Toy Story in the advertisements, has sold the film as something both smartly postmodern and decidedly old-fashioned: Merry maidens serenade white-collar princes, who joust with MTA buses as wicked witches unleash fire-breathing dragons on midtown high-rises.
But somewhere between conception and execution, what could have been so much smart, sharp fun turned decidedly pedestrian — more Kate & Leopold than Princess Bride, and I'm being kind. Director Kevin Lima has made lousy Disney movies before — 2000's 102 Dalmatians, most recently, one in a long line of unnecessary and loathsome Disney sequels that squeezed every last penny out of those puppies. (Writer Bill Kelly was responsible for the latest Sandra Bullock bomb, Premonition.) Enchanted, though, isn't even something to get worked up over — not only because it's so boring but because it can't even be bothered to adhere to its own internal logic. And while that may not sound like a big deal — even a little nit-picky — when your movie's got but a single gag, you have to tell the joke right.
Enchanted fails from its very first moments, as Julie Andrews (aw...) narrates the opening animated sequence about a girl named Giselle (voiced by Amy Adams) who, as she's being dressed by a mélange of woodland critters, pines for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her tired feet. The animation's meant to look old — Disney, circa 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But instead, it looks shabby and shoddy — Disney circa 2002's direct-to-video Cinderella II: Dreams Come True.
The sequence drags on way too long, as Giselle meets and sings with hunky Prince Edward (James Marsden, still on a high note after Hairspray), whose evil mommy, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), is none too pleased about a commoner taking her throne. So the queen, who's also a witch, dispatches Giselle to the Real World, the entranceway to which is a sewer that runs through Times Square. Before long, Giselle, now played by Adams in the flesh, rescues a divorce attorney named Robert (Dr. McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey), who has little time for the whimsical or romantic. Which doesn't stop him from taking in Giselle and allowing her to sleep on his couch, in the same apartment he shares with his 6-year-old daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey). Because there aren't crazy people running around New York claiming to be princesses. Not at all.
But that's not where the movie falls apart — sure, the audience knows Giselle isn't going to kidnap the kid and stab her paw in the middle of the night, and no one expects people to behave realistically in movies that feature cartoon characters springing to life. Instead, it crumbles to teeny bits the next morning, when Giselle summons New York's indigenous wildlife — chiefly rats and pigeons — to clean Robert's nasty apartment, just as she'd done in the animated sequence. So the real world is apparently no different from the cartoon one — which obliterates the gag entirely, since if a cartoon character can make magic in this world, what's the rush in getting home?
From there, the movie unravels further. Giselle, whose behavior most resembles that of a 'tweener on a sugar high, is oblivious to her situation in one sequence, then, seconds later, is instructing Robert on how to act as a cartoon (he can solve all his problems just by breaking into song, she tells him, completely self-aware of who she is and how she behaves). Then, a short time later, she breaks into song again in Central Park — music by Alan Menken, likely some Little Mermaid II leftovers — and it turns into an epic song-and-dance sequence, with Robert joining Giselle and a cast of thousands (more or less) for a frolic through the park. Then, five seconds later, he still doesn't believe she's a fairy-tale princess, like the whole thing never happened (if only). By the time Sarandon shows up and turns into a dragon, you'll wish they had all caught on fire in Neverland. If the movie can't bother, why should you?