The name Disney has always been associated with characters so cute that they teeter on the brink of being nauseating.
However, with the release of the live-action/animated "Enchanted," it becomes pleasantly apparent that the studio knows how to lampoon its own lineage.
When Prince Edward (James Marsden) meets and instantly falls in love with the beautiful Giselle (Amy Adams), it seems that the two of them will live happily ever after as the rulers of the magical cartoon kingdom of Andalasia.
However, Edward's evil stepmother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) is not about to relinquish her throne to anyone.
The accomplished witch concocts a plot to get rid of her stepson's fiancee through use of a vortex, and the next thing Giselle knows, she finds herself emerging from a manhole in the middle of Times Square.
The New York environment proves to be most unfriendly, but Giselle is taken in by a single dad (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter (Rachel Covey), all the while certain that her prince will find her.
Unfortunately, while Edward makes his way to the Big Apple, Narissa has further plans to get rid of the princess-to-be permanently.
Adams is an utter delight as the effervescent Giselle, who takes after classic Disney heroines Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, among others.
As her knight in shining armor, Marsden does well as the admirably chivalrous but lunkheaded prince, while Dempsey is the antithesis of Edward as overtly realistic Robert, whose career as a divorce lawyer is in stark contrast with the fairy tale concept of everlasting love at first sight. Sarandon is in fine form as the nefarious queen, although it is a little disappointing that we see her primarily in her animated form.
As Narissa's lovesick sycophant Nathaniel, Timothy Spall is very memorable in multiple guises, particularly when he serves as a foil to Giselle's best friend Pip the chipmunk (loudmouthed in Andalasia but struck speechless in New York), who accompanies Edward on his quest.
The references to the Disney library are almost endless; besides the recurring entourage of animals that often accompanies the female character (in this case, an apartment-cleaning army of sewer rats, pigeons, roaches and flies), there are numerous subtle allusions in the movie's staging and design.
Even Paige O'Hara (Belle of "Beauty and the Beast"), Jodi Benson (Ariel of "The Little Mermaid") and Judy Kuhn (the singing voice of Pocahontas) make appearances.
Having seasoned fairy tale actress Julie Andrews narrate is a nice touch as well. All these throwbacks to the 70-odd years of Disney features may just seem like an attempt to recapture the feel of the past, but in addition to that, there is a progressive modern touch that functions as an homage to these wonderful films as well as a reworking of the traditional princess storyline. Everything comes together nicely, due in no small part to the lavish musical numbers by frequent Disney collaborators Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.
"Enchanted" is a rare gem; it manages to revamp the magic of vintage Disney cartoons and simultaneously improve upon the anachronistic themes that detractors of fairy tales deplore.
Thanks to a crackerjack cast and show-stopping songs, the movie will most certainly become as beloved as any of the animated masterpieces that preceded it.
Now playing at the West Theater.