I vaguely remember Charles and Diana getting married about what seems like a century ago, and something about a dress that was three kilometers long or something but, honestly, after that all of my memories of princesses seemed to come from Cinderella, Shrek movies, The Princess Diaries and these two contenders, Enchanted and Ever After. Now along comes Prince William and Kate Middleton and all the old feelings are stirred up again.
By “old feelings” I mean the ones where I lament fighting a revolution to toss off the monarchy only to watch Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access literally explode with giddiness in their coverage of this celebration. And yet there is something real here, something about the princess mystique that goes back so far and so powerfully that it is almost a part of our DNA. That’s because all of them, to one degree or another, are literally “fairy tales” with remarkable staying power.
Enchanted brings a Disney cartoon princess from the Cinderella-period to today’s Big Apple and lets her become a bit more human. While Ever After stays put in the time of classic fairy tales, it still manages to make its Cinderella story feel a bit more human. Let’s say that, for the sake of argument, you have been inflamed with the desire to participate in the nuptials between William and Kate but there is only so much breathless description of the security measures and the china plates that you can tolerate before or after the main event. And you want to watch a princess film. Which one of these two does the best job of keeping the glow going?
After Enchanted blew everybody away over Thanksgiving weekend a few years ago, my wife and I thought we’d check out what made this story of a fairy tale princess in New York City so successful. It starts with an air-headed wanna-be princess named Giselle (Amy Adams) who actually first appears as an old-style Disney animated cartoon character. In animation, everybody gets introduced: the vain Prince Edward; his queen-bitch mom, Queen Narissa, the fat comic relief, Nathaniel and, for good measure, a high-spirited chipmunk. Then we get introduced to the magic well and one-by-one these characters end up popping up from a manhole cover into modern New York where they become flesh-and-blood (except for the chipmunk who goes CGI). The show belongs to Adams and a great loopy performance. Less successful is her love interest, shark divorce lawyer Robert, played by Patrick Dempsey. The animation is a compressed Disney film in a few minutes, and the first appearances in New York give up a lot of fun.
The Defending Champion
Ever After is the story of Cinderella told from a highly imaginative point-of-view; namely, Cinderella was a real girl. In this world, then, the fairy tale grew out of the real event, magnified through each telling, kind of like Paul Bunyan. This means, however, that if you watch expecting pumpkin-coaches you will be sadly disappointed. Drew Barrymore plays Danielle, a young woman who’s not likely to get the chance to make much out of her life through all kinds of repressions, not the least of which is a truly frightening stepmother played by Anjelica Huston. The reason she’s truly scary is not that she is written in that over-the-top way that you might expect but because she is not trying to be cruel, but her actions turn out that way. You’ve probably had a few bosses like this insecure tormentor. There’s a romance, to be sure, between Danielle and Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) who gets to play him smart and cool. What’s fascinating about this version is that Danielle and her prince get to meet and talk. And the tension comes from the fact that they may not be able to get together when they clearly should.
Let’s start with a question: how old are you? Then another: are you watching with a kid or a date?
Many viewing experiences are relative. When my kids were younger, we saw all manner of films aimed straight at their demographic, not mine. The attraction for me was never what was on the screen but watching my children enjoy themselves. I sat through the Power Rangers movies, what can I say? So, had a four-year-old been seated next to me, I think I could probably have looked at Enchanted as a pretty fair time of it. As a movie that has to stand on its own, though, it is one rocky experience. There are portions of it that almost make you smile, but never quite get there. There are other parts that are so convenient and so predictable, the whole affair seems forced and by the numbers. I wanted more. Still, the box office tells me that your mileage may vary.
Ever After, on the other hand, was a movie I knew very little about but my daughter wanted to see it. Its level of sophistication and re-invention was a wonder. Charming, thoughtful… even, yes, surprising! It’s the best Cinderella movie ever.
We started the Smack, though, talking about princesses. In Enchanted, the princess starts out as the stereotypical princess and has to grow into a human being. In Ever After, the woman who would be queen starts out as a very flesh-and-blood human and grows to be a princess. Basically, how do you like your royalty served up to you?
Every once in a while you come across a film that makes you say either they’re crazy or you are. That’s the way I feel about Enchanted, which seems to have worked a successful spell over the film critics of America. This movie, for me, consistently and frustratingly fell short of its ambition and is unlikely to grow better and more watchable with the years.
On the other hand, Ever After seems to win the hearts and true affection of almost all the people who see it. And it’s on its way to becoming a wonderful, charming, classic. Based on what I’m seeing on TV these days, there may be more truth in it than what’s currently going on over in the UK. So, this Smackdown goes to Ever After.
I’d say more but I have to set my alarm clock so I can see the Big Kiss on CNN…