I’ve had a strange experience re-watching Disney’s Enchanted with people since its release in 2007. Everyone I’ve watched it with, from my mother to my cousins to my friends, loves the first act, but loses interest after “That’s How You Know,” the big musical number in which Amy Adams’ Giselle gets the whole of Central Park to joyfully sing and dance as Patrick Dempsey’s Robert looks on skeptically.
My theory about why this is has less to do with the quality of the film overall (I think it’s charming) and more with the shift in tone that follows this scene. Everything up to that point is a knowing satire of fairy tale tropes challenged by or reinterpreted for a real-world setting. Everything after “That’s How you Know” increasingly plays into those tropes. For all its self-awareness, Enchanted is still fully a Disney film.
If you also feel the urge to switch to something else after Enchanted’s big Central Park serenade, its new sequel Disenchanted may be a disappointment. It’s light on the satire, and heavy on the fairy tale rules and aesthetics. There’s still plenty of charm to go around, and it’s ultimately a fun experience, but it undeniably avoids the original movie’s strongest aspects in favor of sincerity.
Fifteen years after the events of Enchanted, in which Giselle left behind the magical land of Andalasia for a life in New York with Robert, their family has a new baby, Sofia, in addition to Robert’s now-teenage daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino). The family’s New York condo suddenly feels too small to contain their growing needs. Giselle convinces Robert to move to the quaint suburb of Monroeville, where everyone struggles to adjust to their new lives. Giselle clashes with the town’s queen bee Malvina (Maya Rudolph), while Morgan increasingly feels like she has no place in her family.
Giselle’s Andalasian ex-beau Edward (James Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel), Edward’s queen and Robert’s ex, come to visit Giselle and Robert’s new home bearing a gift for Sofia: A magic wand that will grant her every wish. After an argument with Morgan, Giselle and her chipmunk pal Pip (voiced by Griffin Newman) use the wand to try and bring some fairy tale magic to Monroeville, unwittingly causing catastrophic consequences for their world and Andalasia that must be undone before the clock strikes midnight.
All three of Disenchanted’s central characters have arcs this time around. Giselle is dealing with the harsh realities of parenting a teenager; Robert is disheartened by his new commute; Morgan feels like her needs are becoming secondary to everyone else’s. When Giselle makes her wish, the family finds themselves placed in similar fairy tale roles: Giselle and Morgan have a wicked stepmother/Cinderella dynamic and Robert has an urge to hunt dragons. As the characters head off on their own adventures, the plot starts to feel overstuffed. Robert in particular gets shunted to the side, and his journey—while thematically potent—feels like little more than a distraction.
Disenchanted’s real draw is the growing animosity between Giselle and Malvina, both magically transmogrified into full-on fairy tale villains and both eager to permanently dethrone the other. Rudolph can do this kind of over-the-top performance in her sleep, and seems to be having a great time, with Adams and her increasingly high hair and outrageous outfits stepping up to meet her at every turn. Newman also does excellent voice work as Pip, with the conflicted chipmunk and Giselle alternately horrified at what they’re becoming and gleefully indulging their worst impulses.
Unlike Enchanted, no one questions their new reality, which feels like a missed opportunity. When Monroeville transforms overnight from pleasant modern suburb to the village from Beauty and the Beast, no one bats an eye, least of all Morgan and Robert. What could have been a fun turning of the tables from the original film is instead a straightforward musical tale with “real-world” characters singing their own “I Want” songs complete with choreography—and never once wondering why they’re doing it.
The songs, again by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, also feel a little lazy this time around, lacking the sharp lyrical oddity of numbers like the original’s “Happy Working Song,” another choice that dulls much of the edge that made Enchanted so fun to begin with. Instead, we get a heartfelt ballad from Menzel that allows for her requisite belting, but doesn’t carry much actual meaning apart from a pat assurance of the power of love and memories of loved ones.
Disenchanted still gets mileage from its candy-colored visuals and Adams’ sugar-sweet performance. There are also occasional reminders of how bizarre the first film was willing to get—a song involving nightmarishly cheery singing appliances is a particular standout. However, like many films to get the Disney+ sequel treatment (I’m looking at you, Hocus Pocus 2), there’s not much substance. There’s a telltale corporate scent here, as if Disenchanted was created by studio executives who didn’t understand what made the original movie a winning formula. If you’re willing to overlook that and enjoy a goofy bit of treacle, you’ll still have a nice time. Just don’t expect brilliance.
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer: Brigitte Hales
Starring: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Gabriella Baldacchino, Maya Rudolph, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jayma Mays, Oscar Nunez, Griffin Newman
Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Disney+)
Abby Olcese is an entertainment writer based in Kansas City. Her work has appeared at /Film, rogerebert.com, Crooked Marquee, Sojourners Magazine, and Think Christian. You can follow her adventures and pop culture obsessions at @abbyolcese.