Only Disney could send up it’s own animated films and their tropes without making it seem malicious, and Amy Adams is one of the few actresses who could pull off the role of the displaced would-be-princess of the animated land of Andalasia. She’s sweet without being saccharine, she’s a romantic without seeming foolish, and she’s so effortlessly charming that you can’t help but feeling, well, enchanted.
The key to Adams’ performance is her commitment to the limits of the character. If she played the role while seeming to wink at the audience as if to say, “Can you believe this?” it simply wouldn’t work. Instead she plays the character as someone who only knows life inside the fairytale universe (the whole of the fairytale universe, it seems, given that she’s familiar with the seven dwarves and the story of Little Red Riding Hood, albeit not the version that the rest of us are familiar with) and finds the real world as unbelievable as a real person would find a fairytale land were they transported to it. Her character doesn’t stay this way, she grows and changes as the film progresses, and Adams’ signals these changes in subtle and believable ways. She is very good in this role and is being justly praised, but attention should also be paid to James Marsden, who plays her fairytale Prince and brings many of the same qualities to his role as Adams’ does to hers.
The film references many of the classic Disney films, most notably Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Susan Sarandon is cast as the evil Queen who sends her would-be successor into the real world, and she seems to have a lot of fun playing the Queen in both her regal form and in disguise as an old crone to tempt the princess with an apple. She also appears later as a dragon, in reference to Sleeping Beauty. Idina Menzel, who has a basically thankless role as the girlfriend of Patrick Dempsey’s character, at least gets to have the Cinderella/glass slipper moment at the end. The songs in the film also serve as references to the older films: “Happy Working Song” is a riff on “Whistle While You Work,” and “That’s How You Know” reminded me at least of “Kiss The Girl” from The Little Mermaid.
All in all, this is a good, entertaining film with a nice twist on tradition in that at the end it’s the girl who saves the boy from the monster instead of the other way around. It isn’t a movie that’s going to change your life, but it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours.