Running Time: 107 mins
Rated: Rated G
This classy Disney feature film blends live action with animation both inventively and elegantly. All credit for the animation goes to 'James Baxter Animations' from Pasadena. The song, 'True Love's Kiss' sets a romantic mood but, all too soon, the action spirals dramatically from an animated fairyland to a real and gritty Manhattan. Romance, however, will win in the end and bring all lovers together. True love's kiss turns out to be powerful indeed.
The film opens in classic picture book fashion. The pages of the storybook animate and turn, moving from two dimensions into three and swirling us all into the magical kingdom of Andalasia. The fairytale elements are all there: woodland cottage, towering castle; dashing if dopey Prince Edward (James Marsden); beautiful, beguilingly innocent Princess Giselle (Amy Adams), waiting for her Prince to come; and of course, the black hearted step-mother, Narissa (Susan Sarandon), dressed in bruised black and purple. Her will is to keep the lovers apart.
The enchanted forest soon brings the Prince to Giselle's rescue but, just as they are about to kiss, the evil Narissa casts Giselle out of fairyland and into the grimy streets of real world Manhattan. There she drifts pathetically, her princess wedding dress all dripping and dirty, her crown stolen by an old tramp, until she is rescued again, this time by a somewhat frazzled divorce lawyer, Rob, (Patrick Demsey) who provides her with a temporary home and a quick A to Z on Romance Manhattan-style.
We are now in a mirror universe where Rob's hip and ambitious fiancée reminds us of Nerissa and Rob himself, a corporate hunter, seems rather like Prince Edward in his inability to communicate. Morgan (Rachel Covey), Rob's daughter, is the only one instantly in tune with Giselle, sharing her innocence, her belief in magic, and even her loss of a mother.
With the collision of the two worlds strange magic spreads not only into Rob's household but into Manhattan and Central Park itself. Giselle enchants everyone, skaters, rappers, old ladies and most amazingly, all that crawls in the gutters and flies in the sky. No slug-a-bed, the Princess is up cleaning Rob's apartment very early on her first morning. Her special singing calls out rats, cockroaches and all the pigeons of Manhattan. In no time they are all scrubbing dishes and shining floors. Morgan and Rob, a bit like the Seven Dwarves, wake up to a stunningly clean house and even breakfast on the table. The visual effect of the CG rodents and bugs done by the Tippett Studio in Berkley is deliciously gruesome and brilliantly creative.
Giselle is truly a Princess and always with special princess fingers. Though she is shaped by goodness and innocence beyond time and place, she takes in her stride more than a few jolts to her sunny belief in true love, for instance, the idea of dating and waiting as a way to get to know your beloved better. The film places Romance in a more adult context. In preparation for the grand Ball, Giselle also undertakes a mother-daughter bonding session when she goes on a shopping spree with Morgan and Rob's credit card. If the ideological critics aren't rolling their eyes after the early morning housekeeping session and the sewing of her own dress from curtains, then the shopping spree experience will certainly have them groaning.
The evil step-mother, Narissa, is a fabulous counter-weight. Disguised as an old crone, she produces not one but three poisonous apples and haunts her hapless courtier, sent also to New York to keep an eye on the couple, by appearing on all manner of mirror like surfaces. Her final manifestation as the dragon is magnificently gothic as she writhes atop the New York sky-line. That final scene, reminiscent of 'King Kong', shows Giselle is one feisty princess as she becomes the rescuer rather than the rescued.
In fact the script plays wittily on other Disney stories. There are touches sometimes of Snow White, other times of Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty. Giselle is only the second Disney red-haired Princess. The wonderful ballroom scene, where Robert and Giselle dance under the giant chandelier is pure Beauty and the Beast. Robert's outfit even looks like the Beast's.
The film is prepared to jostle Giselle's innocence and purity of heart a little through her collision with the realities of abandonment, divorce and the complexities of choice. In the end she understands that any Prince won't do. But she is still an enchanted being who manages to bring sunshine and happiness to the gritty and somewhat dour Manhattan world. The moment of truth comes at the end when the ashes of the love of the divorcing couple are blown into life and they find their old love is still true.
Disney Out 26th December
Mrs Jenny MacMillan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting