“Disenchanted” asks the existential question, “What comes after ‘Happily Ever After?,'” which is, naturally, a sequel … only (because it’s 15 years later) for streaming. Amy Adams nimbly steps back into the role of an animated princess trying to adapt to the live-action world, in an epilogue to “Enchanted” that has moments of magic without completely delivering on the premise.
As recounted in storybook fashion, Adams’ Princess Giselle settled down with her unexpected prince, single dad Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and had a baby with him. Yet life in fantastical Andalasia left her ill prepared for the monotony and drudgery of married life, causing her to seek a means of shaking up her humdrum reality.
The HBO or Hulu version of that crisis would surely have a darker and harder edge, but this being Disney+, Giselle seizes upon the idea of moving the whole family to the suburbs, a seemingly idyllic place known as Monroeville, which looked good on the billboards . The decision, however, leaves Robert with a lousy commute and Giselle’s teenage stepdaughter, Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino), feeling displaced and surly, forced as she is to leave “the kingdom of New York” behind.
The acrimony and tension at home doesn’t sit well with Giselle, who becomes desperate enough to try using a little magic that falls squarely into the “Be careful what you wish for” basket. In its most inspired flourish, the major backfire comes from the technicality of Giselle being a stepmother, a class of family member that has not traditionally fared well in animated fairy tales.
The initial kick that enlivened “Enchanted” perhaps inevitably feels somewhat numbered in this context, what with all the singing to urban flora and fauna. As for those songs, everyone is in fine voice – including Idina Menzel, who pops in just long enough to lend her Broadway belt to what’s clearly intended to be the movie’s showstopping tune, and perhaps move a few extra copies of the soundtrack.
Although the songs come courtesy of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz – an Oscar-nominated combo for the original – the music this time is sprightly but less memorable. Similarly, the supporting cast feels alternately under and overused, with James Marsden reprising his role as the clueless prince and Maya Rudolph portraying the local queen bee of the ‘burbs, who does get to perform one energetic duet with Adams.
Directed by Adam Shankman (who directed the musical “Hairspray,” as it happens, the same year “Enchanted” came out), the film again plays cleverly with fairy-tale conventions, without reflecting much growth, by Giselle or others, in the intervening years. If there appeared to be room to creatively advance the mythology, “Disenchanted” merely chooses to recycle it.
Granted, that formula has been good to Disney+, which has built much of its programming strategy around the cozy familiarity associated with reviving older properties in either series or movie form, including “The Santa Clause,” “Hocus Pocus” and, soon, ” Willow.”
“I never sing the right song anymore,” Giselle mutters sadly at one point, before the story fully kicks into gear.
To say that would certainly be too harsh an appraisal of “Disenchanted,” but it is fair to note that compared to its deservedly admired predecessor, the sequel doesn’t hit nearly as many high notes.
“Disenchanted” premieres November 18 on Disney+.