A week after release, long-awaited sequel “Disenchanted” has an overall negative critics score on Rotten Tomatoes and audiences seem neutral on it. Are these detractors missing the better elements of this new Amy Adams musical?
To talk all things “Disenchanted,” join Florida-based theater director Erika Hicks and historian/storyteller Gabriel Greaves (graduate, Kennesaw State University) as guest host/journalist Josh Shepherd and Roger Palmer guide a wide-ranging discussion. (Note that this podcast and article below include mild spoilers for the film.)
Don’t miss their insights about the standout songs in “Disenchanted,” the film’s messages about blended families, and why it (mostly) avoids the ‘cheap reboot’ trap as a different type of comedy.
The Songs Make or Break Any Musical
For 2007’s “Enchanted,” songwriting legends Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid”) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (“The Prince of Egypt”) wrote six original songs — and two are among the most memorable musical numbers of the past 30 years. “That’s How You Know,” staged in New York City’s Central Park, is a joyful explosion of Adams’ performance and pitch-perfect production.
Historian Greaves speaks of “cracking up” watching “Happy Working Song” in the first film. “It was such a blatant attempt to talk about whether dreams come true in urban America, in an America that’s disillusioned. When the rats and roaches showed up, I died laughing!”
So how does the sequel stack up? All of the panel agrees that “Badder” — a comedic duel of Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph — is the show-stopping number.
“They were both villains in that song, and that doesn’t really happen in musicals,” said theater director Hicks, who has performed in recent years in 14 productions with The Island Theater in Fleming Island, Florida. “So just the concept of it was amazing . . . The ending shot, where you see both of them sit down in their thrones, is absolutely incredible.”
Others point out that a few of the ten new songs in “Disenchanted” are not at all memorable, such as “Even More Enchanted.” But at least three bring some of the wonder that fans recall.
“The Magic of Andalasia” reunites the hilarious duo of James Marsden and Idina Menzel, who milk every second for laughs. “Fairytale Life (The Wish)” gives Adams’ Giselle an emotional depth rarely seen as she sings about the confusion of life.
And her daughter Morgan, played by actress Gabriella Baldacchino, carries much of the film including in the song “Perfect” with countless Disney in-jokes throughout.
What Does ‘Disenchanted’ Say About Blended Families?
“Film is not just taking in special effects and lighting,” says Gabriel Greaves. “The messages that are said can hit people differently.”
From his perspective of growing up in a blended family, he discusses how “Disenchanted” handles these central themes.
“As someone who was and is a step child, I felt what was going on with Giselle and her daughter,” he said. “She even had to apologize to Morgan, because she was treating her biological child as more significant than her daughter without telling Morgan, ‘You are my daughter.’”
Similarly, Erika Hicks said that central mother-child relationship rings true to her. “Having been a stepmother, I thought (the whole) crux of the thing was so beautiful — of Giselle telling her, ‘No, you are a true daughter of Andalasia.’ I had tears streaming down my face.”
However, Greaves points out that some aspects of the film seem to reinforce unhelpful stereotypes which he “didn’t appreciate.”
“According to Disney movie tropes, being in a step relationship means by nature you’re going to be negative,” he explains. “(But) I’ve known women who have said, ‘My stepmother was my fairy godmother.’”
He offers a word of caution, especially to parents: “In all vulnerability, if you came from a negative family experience regarding a blended family, this movie could both speak to you — and bring up some very real pain from past trauma.”
It’s Not A Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy, But It Still Works
To varying degrees, panel members affirm that the first film — with its fish-out-of-water plot and hilarious satire — will never be replicated. And yet this sequel does have a reason to exist.
Hicks compares and contrasts “Disenchanted” with recent Disney releases.
“I like that Disney has done way more movies that are not just about true love between a man and a woman,” says Hicks. “Frozen was about love between sisters. This one, in the context of the blended family, is about how a love between a mother and daughter can heal.”
On that front, the panel briefly looks forward to the next Disney musical, “The Little Mermaid” from director Rob Marshal (“Mary Poppins Returns,” “Annie”) – starring Halle Bailey as Ariel – coming in summer 2023 and the regrettable pushback about casting choices. It looks to be another one that will buck the negative trend.
As to “Disenchanted,” overall there’s a lot to appreciate in a sequel that seeks to cover new ground rather than too much rehashing of the timeless original.
“Really, I was pleasantly surprised,” said Hicks. “I mean, how can you go wrong with Amy Adams and Idina Menzel? You have the Queen of Broadway right there!”
You can also listen to the podcast below:
“Disenchanted” is streaming now on Disney Plus worldwide.