It's only been three years since Disney released Home On The Range, the studio's last hand-drawn animated feature, but the animated world has changed in the meantime. Aside from a few remarkable exceptions—almost all courtesy of Pixar—the default computer-animated cartoon now centers around pop-culture parodies, celebrities playing slight variations on their well-known personas, and tired you-can-do-it plots. They aren't all bad, but for those who would trade a hundred Open Seasons for one Pinocchio (or maybe even Brother Bear at this point), it's been a long dry spell.
Beginning with an animated sequence in which a tuneful young woman named Giselle (voiced by Amy Adams) sings a song about true love with considerable aid from a bevy of cartoon animals, Disney's mostly live-action fantasy Enchanted briefly returns to the 2D animation of old; the scene is cheeky and self-parodying while still capturing everything great about the old approach. (It helps that the song, "True Love's Kiss," comes from skilled veterans Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.) But after incurring the wrath of a wicked queen (Susan Sarandon), Giselle can't stay in that magical world, and neither can we. Dropped into 21st-century America (and played in live action by Adams), she winds up lost in the wilds of Manhattan, a place where old, kind-looking men steal from you, and nobody can tell you how to get to the castle. Taken in by a reluctant single-dad lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) with a princess-fixated daughter, Adams unintentionally rivals Dempsey's career-minded girlfriend (Idina Menzel) for his affections.
Where Shrek and its too many sequels brought modern irony into a fairy-tale world, Enchanted reverses the formula. Almost perversely innocent—her typical morning greeting goes, "Oh! I hope you had nice dreams!"—Adams unsettles everyone she meets. The gag wouldn't work with just anyone in the lead, but Adams' openhearted performance never winks. She really does want the best for everyone, and can't fathom why they don't all feel the same. She's unshakably sweet and heartbreakingly vulnerable, like a puppy in human form. She even makes it almost-possible to buy the film's attempts to hold her up as a role model.
But the romance doesn't work so well, if only because it's tough to generate chemistry between flesh-and-blood and a living cartoon. Bits with Adams' cartoon prince (James Marsden), his duplicitous sidekick (Timothy Spall), and an annoying CGI squirrel don't really work either, nor does the frenzied, special-effects-heavy climax. But Adams' winning performance and the light touch director Kevin Lima (a veteran of animation and live action) brings to scenes not tasked with advancing the plot all suggest that, silly as they may look once you take it apart, irony-free, romantic fantasy—animated and otherwise—still has a place on the big screen.