“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 makes a nimble return as a spirited princess trying to adapt to the world of live-action, in an epilogue to “Enchanted” that has moments of magic without completely giving into the premise.
As told in storybook fashion, Adams’ Princess Giselle settled down with her unexpected prince, single father Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and had a baby with him. However, life in fantasy Andalusia left her ill-prepared for the monotony and drudgery of married life, leading her to seek a means to shake up her monotonous reality.
HBO or Hulu’s version of that crisis would surely have a darker, grittier edge, but this being Disney+, Giselle jumps at the idea of moving the whole family to the suburbs, a seemingly idyllic place known as Monroeville, which had a good look the advertising posters. The decision, however, leaves Robert with a bad commute and Giselle’s teenage stepdaughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) feeling displaced and sullen, forced 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 and use some magic that falls right into the “be careful what you wish for” basket. In its most inspired flourish, the main setback comes from Giselle’s technicality as a stepmother, a class of family member that traditionally hasn’t fared well in animated fairy tales.
The opening kick that animated “Enchanted” perhaps inevitably feels a little crowded in this context, and with all the singing to the urban flora and fauna. As for these songs, everyone’s in good voice, including Idina Menzel, who pops in long enough to belt out Broadway to what’s clearly meant to be the film’s theme song, and maybe move a few extra copies of the soundtrack.
While the songs are courtesy of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, an Oscar-nominated combo for the original, the music this time around is upbeat but less memorable. Similarly, the supporting cast feels alternately low and overused, with James Marsden getting his due as the clueless prince and Maya Rudolph playing the local queen bee of the ‘burbs, who manages to make a spirited duet with Adams.
Directed by Adam Shankman (who directed the musical “Hairspray,” as it happens, the same year “Enchanted” came out), the film again cleverly plays with fairy tale conventions, without reflecting too much growth , by Giselle or others, in the intervening years. If it seemed like there was room to creatively advance the mythology, “Disenchanted” just chooses to recycle it.
Of course, this formula has been good for Disney+, which has built much of its programming strategy around the cozy familiarity associated with reviving older properties in the form of series or movies, such as “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 ignites.
To say that would be too harsh an assessment of “Disenchanted,” but it’s fair to point out that compared to its deservedly admired predecessor, the sequel doesn’t hit as many high notes.
“Disenchanted” premieres Nov. 18 on Disney+.