Enchanted (PG), Bee Movie, Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Enchanted? Oh yes, this is Disney at its fairytale best
Sunday 16 December 2007
The least headache-inducing of this week's three family films is Disney's Enchanted, which seems, for the first 10 minutes, to be the sort of hand-drawn cartoon which the studio was making when Walt was still in charge. Its heroine is Giselle, who lives in a storybook forest, where she trills ballads about spring-cleaning her cottage, with the assistance of her four-legged woodland chums. She's to marry the prince of her dreams, too, until his wicked stepmother banishes her to "a place where there are no happily ever afters" New York City.
From then on, the film is live-action, and Giselle is a flesh-and-blood woman, played by Amy Adams. Her tendency to dance and sing whenever the mood takes her disconcerts everyone she meets, including single dad (Patrick Dempsey) who lets her sleep on his sofa. And although her soprano yodel can still summon wild animals to help with the housework, they're now rats, roaches and one-legged pigeons.
Adams, who was Oscar-nominated for her part in Junebug, is perfect in the fish-out-of-water role, getting laughs, and the audience's sympathies, simply by playing Giselle's twinkling naivety absolutely straight. She can sing, too. There's also rousing support from Susan Sarandon, as the witch, and from James Marsden, as the handsome, yet none-too-brainy prince who follows Giselle into the real world.
The joy of Enchanted is that it's a mischievous pastiche of Disney conventions, but it's also wholesome and, yes, enchanting. And it could be a sign that Disney is finally playing to its strengths. When it comes to hip, ironic 3D computer animation, Disney is never going to beat Pixar and Dreamworks, and they shouldn't bother to try. What children want from a Disney film is fairy tales, a few songs, and lush animation. Enchanted may be mostly live-action, but it still qualifies as Disney's best cartoon in years.
Speaking of hip, ironic, 3D computer animation, Bee Movie is co-written and co-produced by Jerry Seinfeld, who also voices its stripy hero, Barry B Benson. At first, Seinfeld's comic outlook fits surprisingly neatly into a world of cartoon insects, just as Woody Allen's did in Antz. In Bee Movie, bees work for the Honex corporation, a division of Honesco, and their lives are so short that they spend only three days at college. Then things start to go awry. It's weird enough when Barry starts dating a human florist, voiced by Renee Zellweger, but when he decides to sue the human race for using honey without the bees' permission it's like a brainstorming session in which no one had the courage to criticise the boss's bad ideas. The Seinfeldish gags keep buzzing along, but as the film flits from coming-of-age movie to romantic comedy to courtroom drama to disaster movie to heist movie and then back to disaster movie, it's so undisciplined that Bee Movie is a "C" at best.
It could be worse, though. Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium is set in a magical toyshop owned by a 243-year-old wizard, played as a lisping simpleton by Dustin Hoffman. He's planning to hand over the store to his assistant, Natalie Portman. And that's all there is to it. There's forced whimsy by the bucketful, some shoplifting from Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl's own wonder emporia, and innumerable lectures about believing in yourself.
However, beneath all the quirkiness and the preachiness there's almost no story left on the shelves. Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium is the setting for a film. Now someone just has to come up with the film.
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