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Enchanted

Walt Disney Pictures (November 21 2007), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (March 18 2008), single disc, 107 mins plus supplements, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround, Rated PG, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

Once upon a time, storybook princess-wannabe Giselle dreams and wishes in song-filled animated Andalasia for her one true love, a dashing prince she imagines will swoop in and sweep her off her feet. But when Prince Edward’s mother, the Wicked Queen, gets wind that he has his heart set on Giselle, she transforms herself into an old hag, luring the innocent Giselle to a magic waterfall: actually a portal to another dimension…ours! Flinging the now damsel in distress through space to present-day New York City, Giselle discovers more about herself than she possibly knew, also enchanting an in-denial lawyer, who slowly starts to see the magic within her. But when the Queen finds out Edward has followed Giselle to the real world, she makes plans to stop the budding romance by way of another transformation: into the shape of a terrifying dragon. With all the players coming together at the fancy Kings & Queens Ball, Giselle only has until midnight to find love’s true kiss, but which one is it? The Prince, or the lawyer? And who’ll live happily ever after…?

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The Sweatbox Review:

First impressions can be tricky things. And when, where and how you see a movie the first time, not to mention the circumstances surrounding the excitement and anticipation, can really have an added effect in terms of how much hype one lets themselves buy in to and how, ultimately, the brain receives all that information and processes the experience. Well, I must have been having a bad day because I really do have to be honest and come right out and say that, on its theatrical release, Enchanted didn’t quite cast the spell that it so obviously did for a lot of other people. But that’s the magic thing about DVD: it allows you to replay a film and discover, just as lawyer Robert does with Giselle in the movie, the magic within. In case these next few words sound overly negative, let me make it clear that I’m an Enchanted convert: it’s a movie for people with a little magic in their heart, and I ended up watching it twice in one sitting. Yep, Giselle and her friends surely have put me under their spell.

However, the first time I saw it, back in November, I just didn’t think it was the solid gold, critic proof wonder that it might have been. But even then I conceded that it came close, even if I felt it fell short in a few areas. There was good buzz in the theater, with a very varied audience…young to old and even middle-aged couples on their own, for which I wondered if Enchanted was working its magic as some kind of “nostalgic date movie”. As the film opened, I loved the zoom into the castle window, I loved the feel of the book opening (very much like a pop-up storybook idea I pitched to Disney ten years ago, it was great to see that come to life as I had imagined), and I even loved all the musical notes by Alan Menken and the charming tonal quality. It was as if Disney’s fairytale animation had never been away. But then I was surprised to find the actual animation was lacking – not something I was consciously looking out for, and certainly not expecting, which is perhaps why it hit me harder than it might. From the initial previews, many pointed out that it didn’t look like Disney animation, and I found that to be the case on the big screen. For whatever reasons, really hard core, purist Disney fans will come away slightly disappointed, and I did question whether what I was seeing was as good as what the DisneyToon people were turning out on their better efforts.

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This comes as more of a surprise because, even those these segments were outsourced, they were handled by very competent animators, including animation director James Baxter and Disney artists themselves, Andreas Deja and Mark Henn, among others. Although we have a ways to go before classical animation, in the shape of The Princess And The Frog, is back for good, this was anticipated by fans as Disney’s much-heralded semi-return to the artform. I was reminded by a remark that Michael Eisner made when the Studio was making a move into television animation, that he was concerned that the output, though reduced in budget, still maintained the Disney quality level. Here, and unfortunately so, Enchanted’s animated Andalasia scenes are left wanting, needing to look like major studio animation but for some reason without the money behind it.

Nevertheless the opening still raises big, big smiles, mostly down to Menken’s extremely clever music, cleverly setting up the conventions of “I want” and “Happy Ever After” within a short time frame. Here we meet Giselle, carefree and innocent in her ivory tower, surrounded by the friendly forest critters we’ve come to know most notably from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty – only, they’re not quite how we remember them. There’s a definite attempt from the filmmakers to create their own kingdom, and the animals here are certainly drawn in that slightly naïve, old school fashion, but it would have been so much more fun to use some stock characters – not recognisably Bambi or Thumper themselves per se, but many of the additional faces we see in those era’s films, like the cute squirrels and chipmunks. I found the intention to steer clear of this concept slightly confusing in Andalasia’s Disneyfied world: the film is otherwise intent on filling itself with Disney nuggets, most obviously as the Wicked Queen transforms herself into an old woman brandishing infected red apples, but also in cheeky sound cues and in almost all the character names and locations. Indeed, Walt himself was always approving such “cameos”: witness Lady And The Tramp’s cast popping up in One Hundred And One Dalmatians, for one. With the animals here, they all seem a bit too common, a bit boring, more like David Hand’s Disney copies in his Animaland cartoons. For a Disney movie set in a classically referenced Disney universe, these guys just didn’t feel like Disney creatures. The closest we get are the bluebirds (hard to get wrong) and an Owl, but otherwise they’re all a bit too generic to make any impact.

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I also don’t see the point of the aspect ratio change as Giselle is flung from her animated world into ours. Yes, we’re possibly “used” to seeing animation in a narrower 1.66 ratio, but there’s also been an awful lot put out in 2.40:1 recently, and not filling the frame – at least on the big theatrical screen – didn’t help the grand return of traditional animation feel any stronger…in fact it’s what might have contributed to making it feel weaker than it was. Oddly, the movie starts out in full 2.40:1 anyway, pulling a clever slight of hand to mask off the edges, and when we return to Andalasia later in the movie, there’s no doubt the remaining animated scenes (now at 2.40) look better than the opening. Dramatically, the switch itself doesn’t seem to aid the change to live-action – the transformation itself happens in darkness, not the most eye-catching way of opening up your frame. Peculiarly, for a story so concerned with magic outside and within, there just doesn’t seem to be any enchantment to the transformation…I’ve still yet to see anyone convincingly change from animation to live-action in any movie. There’s a neat moment where Giselle – now a flesh and blood Amy Adams – catches her hand in a beam of light coming from the new world she inhabits, but perhaps she could have remained animated, with the lit area revealing – and tempting her to try out – the reality above? This realisation that something about her had changed would have been more effecting to her, and perhaps more poignant for the audience.

Once in the real world, the movie becomes your standard fish out of water rom-com, albeit with a unique twist. Several good lines, ideas and pastiches come along, but not all of them quite reach their full potential. In the big city, one New Yorker asks Giselle “Are you for real?”, which might have been a wonderful point to really just stop and have her “check herself out” and remark, more pointedly, “why, yes, I guess I am!” rather than just the “I think so” we actually just about hear over the busy bustle. I think what I am missing at these moments is any kind of realisation that she was no longer a cartoon and that great change had taken place. Again surprisingly, some of the animation and visual effects seem to look on the cheap side too: an animated waterfall and (much later) Sarandon’s switch to dragon beastie (distinctly non-fire breathing or able to fly, to its detriment) looked distinctly two-dimensional even amongst the forgiving fireworks surrounding the effects.

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You’re right, I’m getting extremely picky here, but these were simply thoughts that ran through my mind independent of my trying to switch off and enjoy the movie for what it was, which is why I was really interested to see if Enchanted would enchant me a little more on a second DVD viewing, and I’m extremely happy to say it very much did.

Even watching the theatrical screening, it was very clear that there are some very fine things about Enchanted, and most of them can be summed up in two words: Amy Adams. In what can only be described as a breakthrough role, Adams totally invests herself in her character Giselle, even if that means being never afraid to look (charmingly) ridiculous at some moments. She’s the film’s major champion, almost single-handedly carrying the entire effort, infusing her performance with a disarming innocence and wide-eyed wonder that can’t fail to win over even the most hardened critic. For anyone who saw her reprise the Whistle While You Work pastiche, Menken’s Happy Working Song, at this year’s Academy Awards, you’ll know that she is the total embodiment of Disney cutesy goodness, all wrapped up in one wholesome package. As Giselle, she’s a case of simply perfect casting – I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Possibly Jessica Alba, but I don’t think she could handle the remarkable complexity anywhere near as close as Adams perfects.

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Adams’ scene-stealing co-star, the chipmunk Pip (brilliantly and comically voiced hilariously by director Kevin Lima), walks away with the show flat out and really works as a translation from hand-drawn traditional sidekick to caricatured photorealistic 3D character. In fact, there are many other neat 2D/3D effects: the villainess outlining her plan to henchman Timothy Spall (on his way to finding Sweeney Todd’s Beadle Bamford), pulling the “real” apples in a stew pot back into the cartoon world and having them turn from live to animation and back – exquisitely done. Susan Sarandon herself, although she ultimately has little to do (being either an animated witch or fearsome CG dragon) does have great fun with her outrageous make-up, and makes enough of an impact, especially as make-up wizard Rick Baker’s Old Hag. Patrick Dempsey, turning up in all manner of recent films after growing up from multiple teen appearances in older Disney fare, has retained his boyish good looks and puts them to good comic use here. I wasn’t sure his heart was in it all on my first viewing, but he actually puts in a very subtle performance in a difficult role and absolutely nails the doubting dad part, with some very amusing readings on lines that might other be lost or thrown away. Best of all is probably James Marsden, an actor I’ve become more and more impressed with in each successive film I’ve seen him in, and who, with his big goofy, shining white toothy grin, matches Adams’ personification of the characteristics in his bland Prince personality with aplomb.

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Which brings us to Lima’s direction, which I have to say I found surprisingly rather uninspired the first time out. Once again, however, really being able to appreciate the film a second time reveals that of course he knows what he’s doing! Lima certainly has a way with animation – his many feature offerings include the superlative Tarzan – but rather than going any kind of cartoon route and overplaying with the live-action, there’s a real cinematic feel to his camerawork, in collaboration with Robert Zemeckis’ director of photography Don Burgess. He’s got writer Bill Kelly’s great concept behind the movie to start with, but Lima’s stroke of genius is in how he handles the performances, particularly Adams: there’s an obvious element of total trust between them that translates to the screen and wins us over. Even the King Kong climax, which I felt was a rather tired, top of a tall tower final showdown sequence with a somewhat uninspired dragon when I saw it theatrically, turns out to be exactly what the movie needs as an ending, even if I was hoping Edward would turn out to be quite the hero in real life too and lend a bit more of a hand.

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Of Lima’s collaborators, a major returning element to Disney animated musicals is Menken’s score (co-writing songs with Stephen Schwartz), but the achievement comes over as only being on the good end of so-so, especially matched up against the kinds of music the film is out to reference. Although I found some minor similarities with a tune Menken wrote for his sci-fi lampoon Weird Science, True Love’s Kiss is the theme that he otherwise expertly weaves and sprinkles throughout the movie, and as such it becomes the hummable melody that sticks in the mind for days on end, but it was That’s How You Know that became the odds-on favorite at this year’s Oscars. Sadly, Enchanted’s three song nominations went the way of DreamGirls, splitting the vote to allow another movie’s track to take the award. That’s How You Know is catchy enough, but it smacks too much of Menken’s hit Under The Sea to really feel original, and the break in the middle of the song (in an elaborate Producers-like song and dance in Central Park) comes as a minor irritation, but I’ll admit I feel Enchanted was robbed of some much deserved kudos.

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The Happy Working Song is another moment that took its time to grow on me, though I think the turning point came with Adams’ delightful performance at the Oscars. I originally wasn’t sure that the sequence actually “worked”: if Giselle is in the “real world” with a lack of fairytale magic, why would the wild, non-tamed animals of Central Park flock to her call, and how would they have the slightest inclination of how to clean up? It’s not like they’ve lived in an enchanted forest tending to the needs of a fairytale princess all their lives, and perhaps funnier might have been an utter refusal to pitch in, leaving Giselle lost for words. Maybe a part of the evolution of that sequence is about her nudging her new friends along, showing them what she needs help with to get done, while also facing another realisation that’s she’s not in Andalasia anymore, Pip. As it is, of course I understand what the intent and need of the scene is, but having seen a recent commercial playing the same trick (to the original track’s inspiration, Whistle While You Work), I wasn’t sure that the Happy Working Song was actually knowing, new or even “silly” enough. Having been charmed by Adams at the Oscars and now watched the movie sequence a number of times since, I’ve come to appreciate it for the almost insanely cuckoo cue that it is, and for Schwartz’ slightly bonkers but clever lyrics – “vacu-um”? – brilliant!

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The other songs unfortunately still don’t quite work as well. So Close, especially, is a bit of a washout. It has a tricky part to play, coming where so often other songs have been cut to move the action along, so it works at what it has to do, but it does struggle to match Menken’s untouchable 1990s ballads, which only plays up what doesn’t quite work in Enchanted – frustratingly for a movie so besotted with permeating itself with Disney magic, it can’t seem to decide what it wants to be: homage, regurgitation, pastiche or straight forward – but new – traditional take. Well, at least it never attempts to sneak a Shrek-like shot of cynicism into the mix, much to its credit. At times, it feels like a more family-fied retread of the Studio’s own Pretty Woman; both films are fairy stories about young women from different worlds who grow within themselves as a result of meeting, and finally ensnaring, their own Prince Charming. Enchanted even comes close to flirting with such realities of life and is, at times, remarkably risqué, perhaps the remnants of an older-skewered version of the script: an early scene sees Giselle very briefly passing a couple of “ladies of the night”, but they’re there, and one of the biggest laughs comes when Edward knocks on the wrong door in his search for his intended princess to be, emphasizing the real world and modern lifestyles in which we live.

In the end, as much as the movie itself is one of duality when it comes to the themes it explores, the technological mediums it employs and the traditions it traverses, among other things, I really can’t deliver the deadly apple I had up my sleeve and poison Enchanted in this review. It’s an earnest, so eager to entertain, intently engaging crowd pleaser, albeit playing to the strengths of a real find of a leading lady who keeps things continually bubbly. This sunny, happy movie deserves every bit of audience adoration and critical success that comes its way. I did enjoy Kevin Lima’s film, but I suspect I should – and wanted to – love it so much more. Enchanted may well be nothing more than as 2D as its heroine, but it’s a solid step back in the right direction for a long beleaguered Walt Disney Studio, melding all the classic elements into a classy, if derivative, slice of family fun that should raise wide smiles from any audience.

Is This Thing Loaded?

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While not a huge Christmas blockbuster that the classic animated features of old all but guaranteed, Enchanted nevertheless made an impressive dent in the holiday box-office takings, putting any eventual DVD in that murky middle-ground status where a bare-bones release wouldn’t fly, but a packed two-disc edition might have been too impulsive, leaving that release to come trickling down the line, as we’ve seen with National Treasure, when an inevitable sequel comes to theaters. As such, the Enchanted DVD and Blu-Ray Disc editions, are as packed, or not, as you’d expect. Think along the same lines as Disney’s recent live-actioners Herbie: Fully Loaded, Sky High or the recent Underdog, and you’ll get the idea.

With the magical, oddly Warner Bros.-music sourced “Disney promo” out of the way, Enchanted launches itself into its FastPlay sequence, leading to a selection of previews, all available, with some added, in their own Sneak Peeks menu, as usual. The titles being promoted this time around include The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, The Jungle Book 2, Minute Men, Hannah Montana: One In A Million, Tinker Bell, Sleeping Beauty, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, promos for Disney Parks, Movie Rewards and Blu-Ray Disc, plus a first look at The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian – what, no Princess And The Frog teaser!?

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The main menu itself – presented as with most of the supplements in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen – is fairly bland, placing its various options against the animated waterfall portal to our world, accompanied by sections of the instrumental score. Selecting Bonus Features slides us down the waterfall to New York City, where a more bustling page offers up the majority of extras, the most interesting of which are 18 minutes’ worth of three Fantasy Comes To Life featurettes, detailing what went into three of the film’s signature moments. Happy Working Song (6:20) joins composers Menken and Schwartz as they come up with their song, following the cast and crew on to the set, where we see the various tricks of the trade (wires, real and CGI animals and other visual effects) that went into making the sequence come alive. As with many behind the scenes clips nowadays, there’s a healthy and welcome reliance on using “video dairy” type footage, as opposed to the overly slick EPK packages of old, which always allows for more insight into productions than the editors of these pieces might be intending.

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That’s How You Know (5:55) whisks us to Central Park for a complete run down of how the extravagant musical number was captured on camera, from the rehearsal choreography to on-set shooting. A nice bit of Disney trivia is that one of the older dancers is introduced on camera as a member of Mary Poppins’ original chimney sweeps, warmly verified by a quick glimpse of the Step In Time sequence – now that’s magic! Jumping to the film’s ballroom-set climax, A Blast At The Ball (5:30) reveals how Sarandon transforms from Narissa to dragon, by way of in-camera shooting and visual effects touches, following the actors to the green-screen for the battle atop the skyscraper. All three featurettes splice in soundbites from the principal talking heads (director Lima, actress Adams, etc) alongside their set footage, pre-viz and storyboard glimpses, making them feel more nourishing than they perhaps are. While these are good, if brief, looks at three sequences in the film, the animation segments go unmentioned; more good reasons for the title to be revisited again in the future.

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Selecting the menu’s musical note introduces us to a Carrie Underwood music video: Ever Ever After, heard not on the credits but in the film itself, but here presented in a good-looking version that presents an animated Underwood journeying from Andalasia and finding a beau in what is supposedly New York. I’m a sucker for the kinds of videos that actively involve their performers with the movie they’re promoting, rather than simple sound booth and clips packages, so this one, coupled with the decent track, is good value, running 3:30 in letterboxed 4:3 video. The only thing marring it is that the animated shots have been framed at the 2.40:1 aspect of the movie, meaning that everything looks tall and thin in Andalasia, while live-action New York takes the right shape – isn’t something as simple as this easy to spot in a quality control environment?

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A series of six Deleted Scenes with introductions by director Kevin Lima are available in a handy Play All option that runs almost eight minutes in total. An alternate opening shows the strong influence imposed on the film by Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, while the others are understandable cuts that didn’t make the movie. Out of the trims, Nathaniel’s soul searching with a literally captive audience in Pip is perhaps one that I’d have liked to have seen stay put in the picture – as usual in these things, the henchman’s switching sides comes somewhat suddenly, and at least this scene sets that up a little more, as well as offering Spall and Lima a couple of extra funny lines. A two-minute montage reel of Bloopers shows what fun the movie must have been to shoot and that Adams is clearly slightly nuts to work with!

Selecting “More” might sound tempting, but it only leads us to Pip’s Predicament: A Pop-Up Adventure, an odd little bonus that can’t quite be called a new animated short, and isn’t, even on the packaging. While this clip does indeed bridge a narrative hole in the main feature (namely, how Edward gets from Andalasia to New York) and the low-budget is glossed over by some imaginative camera moves, this feels more like a Disney DVD game than anything else, but one you can’t get to play. Moreover, despite the hyperactive voices, there just isn’t a lot of life to Pip’s Predicament and it feels tremendously overlong at a not-so brief five and a half minutes. No pun intended, but this was awfully flat, and yet another Lion King reference feels extremely tired.

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Finally, flip back to the first bonus page to locate a small Mickey head on the bottom of the right post. Selecting this option takes us to the world of Blu-Ray for nothing more than a dig at those stuck with old-fangled DVD (you know, you chumps should really have bought that version to get all the features. Well, until a double dip). Producer Barry Jacobson is on hand to tell us, and none too coherently at that, about the many hidden “D-Files” on the Blu disc – pointers to the many in-jokes and references peppered throughout Enchanted. After telling us these files are only available on the Blu-Ray release, a short montage presents a good helping of the more obvious ones. As if to make a point, the clip is presented in 4:3 video. Of course, all those in-jokes and references are on this DVD too – they just haven’t bothered to create a perfectly suitable, pop-up trivia subtitle track to point them out!

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Needless to say, there are no other trailers or publicity materials for Enchanted included, although annoyingly additional material is readily available and you should check for frustrating “store exclusives” for such things as a half-hour documentary bundled with the disc. Once again, if there’s anything as sure as a sure thing, it’s that Enchanted will benefit from a second disc of exhaustive extras at some point, which in all fairness, given that this seems to be the most warmly embraced family feature from the Studio since Lilo And Stitch, it should have gotten this time around.

Case Study:

Nice to see that Enchanted warrants what so many of Disney’s more bona fide animated films have not recently, a nice old glossy slipcover, even if it doesn’t flip holographically, Night At The Museum style, between animated and live-action renderings. Replicating a variant of the theatrical poster art, the embossing doesn’t go to town as much as usual, settling for the stamping out of whole characters as opposed to picking out highlights, so it doesn’t come across as three-dimensional as it might. But Giselle’s dress sparkles and evil old Narissa’s apple looks good enough to eat! Underneath, a black keepcase surprises where Giselle surely deserves the traditional fairytale white? Inside, a chapter index also doubles to promote the wearing of seatbelts for those little prince and princesses, and the now routine Disney Movie Rewards code can be found in a booklet also plugging the Enchanted sweepstakes, Disneyland wedding dresses, enchanting flower bouquets and a saving of $10 when you upgrade to Blu-Ray before April 30. As with other recent Movie Rewards images, the old guy in the picture is still bizarrely holding a copy of Sony’s The Triplets Of Belleville in his hands…go figure!

Ink And Paint:

If anything, this DVD of Enchanted looks “fresher” than the theatrical print I caught. One of the things I thought worked against Amy Adams’ enthusiastic performance was Don Burgess’ usually wonderful cinematography, which felt a little on the drab side. Giselle is supposed, even in real life, to be this untouched fairytale princess – even through her character’s arc – and yet Adams’ whole approach to Giselle could have been upped almost twice as much by a subtle bit of helpful lighting to make her glow and give her an extra aura to the others in a scene. Maybe it’s the video mastering that helps, because here those concerns vanish, and Giselle/Adams looks as sweet and bright as she should do. There’s a vibrancy to this image in the many scenes swathed in sunshine that one can almost breathe in and smell. The full 2.40:1 aspect ratio has correctly been retained, with the 1.66:1 animated opening being preserved within those screen dimensions. Considering the added value and soundtrack options that the movie has to contend with on the same dual-layered, single-sided disc, Enchanted looks great!

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Scratch Tracks:

Perhaps making up for the lack of extensive features, bringing a little audio gloss to the disc is a lovely DTS surround mix. As usual, it’s really just a case of a little more wallop in the bass, and some more clarity in the top end, especially with the dialogue, over the also-included Dolby Digital track. The Dolby track is fun, too…a good mix of Foley, music and dialogue that brings everything together and creates a very buoyant mood. If anything, the DTS edges it out by feeling a little more spacious, and seemingly more active in the rear speakers, but either track is as proficient as you’d expect from a quality, top of the line Disney picture. Subs and dubs are provided in authentic sounding French and Spanish.

Final Cut:

Watching Enchanted again a second – and third! – time in preparation for this review, I sure was tempted to scratch my first reaction to the film from the record and paint a fully rosy picture. But first impressions are what they are and must be accounted for…I’d also wonder if I was doing the reader justice by not discussing how the film did affect me between both viewings. Far from wanting to dissuade anyone from seeing it, I am now totally entranced by Enchanted and it was an absolute pleasure to catch again, even if it’s not quite the home run, Disney geek fest that it looks intended to be. I also, for some reason, may not be able to plug into the soundtrack as much as many others do, which barring the melodic Love’s True Kiss and the zippy, quirky Happy Working Song leaves me with too strong a feeling of déjà vu, homage or not. But, with the high expectations out of the way, and taken on its own terms, Kevin Lima’s movie is, while not totally satisfying, enormously pleasing entertainment. Amy Adams really does invest everything into this character: she is Enchanted through and through.

On DVD, it’s a tricky one to recommend. The movie is great, and its many fans should rush out and pick it up on release day. But for those newcomers or who, like my first time out, were left wanting, it might be best to skip a purchase and rent Enchanted instead. The disc presents the movie itself well, but as a mid-range box office performer, there’s an inevitable Disney double dip on the way – it’s unquestionable that Lima hasn’t perhaps already recorded a commentary track for one thing, meaning a future release is as certain as the re-issue given recently to National Treasure. This makes the constant push to upgrade to Blu-Ray even more hard to swallow: Enchanted is big fun, but you won’t eventually need three or four copies of it on the shelf. Unfortunately, that means there’s a good deal of extra stuff that should have simply been included here – not least a Lima commentary, and a second one with the principal cast and composers would be a hoot too. Given its box-office status and audience popularity, the lack of supplements, or even a second disc, is a major disappointment. The draw of DTS may attract some – and I’d say that’s exactly why that track is here – but with a return to the title an absolute sure bet, Enchanted can only really be recommended as a solid rental option at this point, until a more magical edition is pulled out of the hat.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

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