Once you get past the abhorrent first ten minutes, Enchanted settles into a fairly nice, live-action rhythm, and coasts on the considerable charms of much-praised Amy Adams and the here-underappreciated Patrick Dempsey. Yet what a chore those first ten minutes are: so low-grade, unimaginative, and badly drawn is the animated sequence that sets up this sub-Roger Rabbit mixed-media romantic comedy that I truly suspect Disney designed it as the death knell for two-dimensional animation. Almost as a way to prove the dominance of computer-generated imagery in animated features, this oppressively streamlined product offers a wretched opening sequence of talking animals, giant-lassoing heroes, and damsels in distress that purports to deconstruct fairy-tale cliches but actually simply mocks and bashes Disney tradition. (Not a bad thing per se, but from a company renowned for mistreating and shitting all over its own legacy it seems transparent and disingenuous.) Enchanted should have felt like a veritable, engaging animated film rudely interrupted by a live-action one; instead the beginning is simply a tired prologue, so hideously, rudely designed that it has the entire audience uncomfortably waiting for the “real movie” to begin. The visual glories, infinite textures, and storytelling audacity of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Bambi are traded in for flat, direct-to-video shapelessness—add a miserable Alan Menken ditty that wipes out all memories of the terrific show tunes that helped rebuild the Disney animation empire in the 1990s, and you basically have a subliminal ten-minute commercial for CGI.
So, what of the rest of the film? Overlong, relatively uninspired, and not altogether unenjoyable. If male critics can tear their eyes away from Amy Adams “becoming a star before their eyes,” maybe they’d notice that the film’s central conceit (that a workaday single dad, who, in a refreshing character twist, tries to impress upon his daughter the importance of strong, independent women, falls hard for a dippy fairy princess) rests equally on Patrick Dempsey’s casual charms. And though Enchanted’s final sequence neatly reverses entrenched fairy-tale gender roles, the rest of the film does little more than reiterate them—a pretty egregious throwaway gay joke, in which a grotesque leather daddy makes a come-hither smile to James Marsden’s Prince Charming, serves as proof of where the film’s straight-and-narrow politics lie.
I Am Legend
A refreshing rejoinder to the increasing comic-book aesthetic taking over fantasy and horror filmmaking, Francis Lawrence’s impressively serious adaptation of Richard Matheson’s beloved sci-fi novel I Am Legend is both a surprisingly sober end-of-the-world scenario and an expertly crafted movie-star vehicle. Lawrence is superb at heightening tension through perfectly calibrated visuals and also allowing nearly every shot to register as though truly experienced by leading man Will Smith, as a scientist voluntarily left behind in a dead New York City to work on a cure for the plague that has wiped out most of humanity and then turned the survivors into rabid, cannibal “dark seekers.” So thoroughly aligned are we to Smith’s perspective that at times I Am Legend feels like the blockbuster equivalent to Diving Bell and the Butterfly; though the images are memorably grandiose (Manhattan streets emptied of life, untended and overgrown with weeds, bombed out Brooklyn Bridge), the overall feeling is lonely and intimate. So persuasive is Lawrence’s evocation of doomsday and so fully inhabited is Smith’s alternately tender and gruff performance that the apperance of the zombies half-hour into the film came as a shock; with such dramatic heft who needs CGI flesh-eaters?
If I Am Legend has one serious drawback it’s those awkwardly designed monsters, who look like elasticized Lord of the Rings hold-overs. Why Lawrence decided to go the animation route rather than use effects make-up could only be money-related, and it’s a major compromise (the creatures are only frightening when initally glimpsed in a shadowy huddle early in the film). Yet it’s a testament to how well Lawrence handles the material that the CGI botch ultimately matters little. The impressions left by I Am Legend are of very serious, human matters, whether it’s Smith’s wrenching heartbreak upon losing his beloved dog or the way in which he interacts with mannequins he has populated throughout the city. Smith is a truly magnetic movie star; if anything, he may live up to the film’s title.