Film & Television

‘Disenchanted’ and the Trouble With Sequels

Today, I’m going to write about a sequel. I have my own feelings about sequels, but I thought I would turn to a Hollywood professional, some luminary whose opinion might have more credibility than mine.

Like Colin Firth: “Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place too often.” Or Donnie Wahlberg: “Quite frankly, most sequels don’t execute well.” Or John Travolta: “I’m not big on sequels; I’ve done them, but I like doing little things that have their own timelessness to them.” Or Rick Moranis: “The audience doesn’t want more, they want better.” Or Kevin Costner: “I’m proud of all the movies I’ve made. They’re not sequels, they’re not franchises.” Or Francis Ford Coppola: “Sequels are not done for the audience or cinema or the filmmakers. It’s for the distributor. The film becomes a brand.”

Of course, this is Women’s Voices for Change, and after a search that took longer than expected, I found a quote from Jenny Agutter: “Clearly any film company that makes a film is always going to talk about sequels, particularly if they see something as being successful.”

So, there you have it. According to many Hollywood men (and a solitary woman), sequels, while tricky to pull off well, are one of Hollywood’s necessary evils.

And, there’s plenty of evil in Disenchanted, the disappointing sequel to 2007’s clever and effortlessly delightful Enchanted. There’s an evil queen, some evil PTA mothers, the evils of suburbia, and even Giselle herself, who through a misguided wish, has transformed into the  penultimate fairy tale evil: a wicked stepmother.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In case you never saw it (or need a refresher), Enchanted told the story of a beautiful young princess (Amy Adams), cast out of her idyllic cartoon kingdom of Andalasia by a jealous queen (Susan Sarandon). She lands not just in the human world, but in the middle of its ultimate crossroads, Times Square. The audience realizes immediately that Giselle is not your typical Disney princess and there will be myriad surprises on the road to her happy ever after.

Enchanted is … well … enchanting because it takes familiar fairy tale tropes and turns them on their head. Snow White had forest friends to help with the housework? Giselle, waking up in a Manhattan apartment, finds helpmates too, inindustrious rats, pigeons, and cockroaches. When she bursts into song in Central Park, her unlikely prince charming Robert, a widowed New York lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) keeps things real, shrugging “I don’t dance,” and “I really don’t sing.” Meanwhile, Prince Edward (James Marsden) follows Giselle to the Big Apple and promptly slays “a dragon,” much to the chagrin of the transit worker who was driving it and the passengers inside.

Every time you’re tempted to roll your eyes at some other silly sequence, one of the characters does it for you, whether that’s Robert, his girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel), or his daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). The fact that we are in on the joke is at least half the fun, and Adams supplies the rest with her sweet, earnest, and whole-hearted portrayal of Giselle. The stakes are appropriately high for a final showdown at a fundraising ball, and we can all applaud the over-the-top storybook happy ending, not just for Giselle and Robert, but for Nancy and Prince Edward, and even for the queen’s devious henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) and a talking chipmunk, Pip (Jeff Bennett/Kevin Lima).

Fast forward fifteen years, and we get Disenchanted. Giselle and Robert have a new baby in addition to a now teenaged Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino). Exhausted, they decide to move to the suburbs, arriving at their dilapidated (but turreted) “fixer-upper” in time to welcome Nancy and Edward who bring a powerful housewarming gift: an Andalasian wishing wand.

There are a few scenes of Giselle, Robert, and Morgan negotiating the mine fields that are, respectively, housewifery, commuting, and high school. And, the movie might have felt fresher if its creative team had stayed on course with them. But, Giselle, ever idealistic, uses the wand to wish that life was a fairy tale. And everything changes.

The town’s queen bees (think Mean Girls’ plastics all grown up or Christina Applegate’s clique in Bad Moms) are suddenly a real queen, Malvina (Maya Rudolph), and her ladies in waiting (Yvette Nicole Brown, Jayma Mays). Robert goes off to fight giants rather than lawsuits. Morgan is now a bedraggled drudge, à la Cinderella, who longs to go to the ball. Animated appliances dance around the kitchen, and the entire town bursts into song — not once, not twice, but over and over. Most importantly, Giselle is fast transforming from a fairytale heroine to a mean-spirited, if impossibly glamorous, stepmother. If Morgan and Nancy don’t find a way to break the spell by midnight, all the changes will be permanent, and the real Andalasia will die.

That’s about the gist of the plot, which is uninspired but otherwise serviceable. Meanwhile, there are quite a few issues with its execution.

First of all, despite Adams throwing herself back into the role of Giselle with abandon, the conceit of her good nature (the Giselle we met in Enchanted) fighting her bad nature (the classic fairytale villain) is predictable and, frankly, unfunny. The epic battle between Giselle and Queen Malvina is overengineered and uninteresting. Constant musical numbers are redundant and just plain dull. Leveraging the ubiquity of her smash Disney hit, “Let It Go,” Menzel (whom I otherwise adore) and her powerhouse voice are tapped way too many times.

BTW, what happened to Giselle’s thriving costume business? A witty — and contemporary — twist at the end of Enchanted is jaded career woman Nancy becoming a fairytale princess in Andalasia while fairytale princess Giselle becomes a successful entrepreneur in New York. Alas, that undertaking is never mentioned.

Unlike in the first film, there’s nary a nod, a wink, nor a tongue in cheek to keep all the silliness in check.

As sequels go, Disenchanted is a big-budget bore. And, that’s a shame on two counts. First of all, it’s clear that onscreen and behind the scenes, a lot of very talented people put in a lot of work to make it happen. And second, the original movie really was smart and funny and inventive. It would have been better to let it be.

Of course, that’s always going to be the conundrum with sequels. Is it better to risk tarnishing a beloved original in order to make more money? Hollywood certainly seems to think so. In fact, there’s buzz about an upcoming Princess Diaries 3. Let’s hope it fares better.

In the case of Disenchanted, I’m afraid the film’s title sums things up pretty well.

Enchanted and Disenchanted are both available to stream on Disney+.

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