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Movie Review: Enchanted

When my family was about to buy its first VCR, my mom hyped the technology by asking me if I'd like watching "Snow White" whenever I wanted. I was 5 so the day rated as one of the best in my life. And I couldn't help but think maybe this wonder-machine would portal me into Snow's animated existence. I hoped to be dressed for the occasion.

Disney's "Enchanted" riffs on my childhood notions by asking the question, "What if one of Disney's animated princesses made her way to our real world?"

In Andalasia, a 2-D animated paradise, we meet Giselle (Amy Adams), a beautiful, saucer-eyed girl with friends of the helpful woodland animal variety. Giselle spends her days singing about a longed-for prince she's never seen. She waits mere moments before Prince Edward (James Marsden), a chisel-jawed troll-slayer rescues and proposes to her in one puffy-sleeved swoop. If it sounds more pat than a Disney princess flick, it is. Giselle's story is just getting started.

A new princess needs a new villain. We get her in Queen Narissa. Played with verve and sexiness by Susan Sarandon, Narissa gets rid of Giselle — her competition for the throne — by pushing her down a magical well. Landing below a manhole cover in New York's Times Square — not the place to wear a 45-pound couture gown — Giselle turns from pen-and-ink to flesh-and-blood.

In New York, 6-year-old Morgan Phillip (Rachel Covey) spots Giselle wandering the city and begs her dad Robert (Patrick Dempsey) to let her come home with them. Against his better judgement, he succumbs to his daughter's pleading and they take Giselle home, like a stray dog in tulle.

Robert is practical and unromantic, not engaging his daughter in fairy tales. Morgan might be enamored of Giselle but to Robert — a divorce attorney and single father — Giselle's essentially an overdressed gal with unrealistic notions of love and life. Still, Dempsey deserves credit for not making Robert a stick in the mud. Even when he's coolly assessing Giselle's mental state, you get the sense that he might not mind falling head over heels in love if he believed such a thing were even possible.

As Robert's houseguest, Giselle could just try to hit it big on the Great White Way but this isn't that kind of tale. Enter Prince Edward again, arriving in New York not only to save his fair maiden but also to put the poor dear in a quandary between two handsome men.

As Edward — accompanied by Narissa's henchman (Timothy Spall) and Pip, a chipmunk — searches Manhattan for her, Giselle and Robert begin to bond. Watching Dempsey and Adams in these scenes, it's clear Amy Adams is the only girl who could play Giselle this well. She infuses Giselle with as much against-all-odds (but believable) optimism as her character in "Junebug," prompting Robert to ask if "she escaped from a Hallmark card."

Eventually Narissa takes New York by storm, almost literally, as she crosses over to ensure that Giselle meets a more efficient end — and not a happy one at that. From the musical numbers penned by acclaimed songwriting duo Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz to the climatic battle, "Enchanted" has all the elements of Disney's best films with some wholly new ideas thrown in.

It's been a while since Disney released a new princess movie. Whatever the reason for the wait, it paid off. Though recent princesses like Ariel ("The Little Mermaid") and Jasmine ("Aladdin") have been strong-willed, Giselle has pluck and thoughtfulness to spare. You believe she eventually could deal with Manhattan just fine on her own. As a Princess 2.0, the character send a great message to aspiring ballgown wearers everywhere.

"Enchanted" is a tongue-in-cheek homage to all things Disney and should delight old and young. The movie is so packed with nods to Disney movies past (here's a gimme: a featured restaurant is called "Bella Notte," the title song from "Lady & the Tramp") that director Kevin Lima (the skilled, loving hand that created several characters for "Beauty and the Beast" and directed "Tarzan") promises the DVD will include a game to spot the 100s of references.

Even my VCR couldn't do that.

Will My Kids Like It? Will I Like It? "Enchanted" isn't just for the tea-party set. To a 5-year-old it's a princess movie with a hyper, animated chipmunk to boot. To moms and dads, it's a charming romantic comedy. Kids might get antsy during some of the exchanges between Dempsey and Adams about the nature of love but for the most part should be thoroughly entertained from start to finish. Adults will like to see the "throwback" to 2-D animation for 15 minutes of the film. To kids raised with CGI films like "Shrek," seeing hand-drawn art on the big screen will be a novelty in itself.

Parents Take Note: "Enchanted" isn't overly violent but some children might be scared by customary Disney villain behavior. Sarandon's evil witch is menacing and cruel, her hag is played "like a really creepy babysitter" (Sarandon's words) and an ending battle between Giselle and Narissa in dragon form is suspenseful. Pip the chipmunk is also frequently in life-endangering situations, though most are played for comic effect.

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