The big irony of new DVD Enchanted isn’t that naively idealistic romantics from a cartoon fairy tale wind up in hard-living, world-weary, modern-day New York. It’s that Disney’s animation-becoming-live action sendup of such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs owes much to an outside creation with which the studio has queasy familiarity and documented distrust.
We’re talking long-running San Francisco musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon, a delightful romp in which a starry-eyed Snow White hits the sinful Bohemian rhapsody of San Francisco to declare she’s “looking for my prince,” then has crazed adventures with its well-meaning though decadent denizens, many of whom wear fanciful, sky-high headdresses.
Sound familiar? It should if you’ve seen Enchanted, where Amy Adams’ cartoon princess is zapped to Manhattan and goes looking for her prince (James Marsden), who’s also there, looking for her. Fish-out-of-magic-kingdom-backwater comedy ensues, amid some solid songs and by-the-numbers romance.
But here’s the tricky part: It’s also familiar if you saw 1989’s 61st annual Oscar telecast, a memorable show in that it just may have been Oscar’s worst ever (though I’d argue this year’s was the dullest).
Producing was Allan Carr, a guy who’d had a big hit with Grease — and a big miss with Can’t Stop the Music. Danger! Danger!
Carr, it seems, was a huge fan of Beach Blanket. So he hired its creator, Steve Silver, to stage a gall-to-the-walls opening musical number whose out of control excesses — and 12-minute length — made it feel like Can’t Stop the Music meets Apocalypse Now on the road to Babylon. (Speaking of Carr’s Can’t, you can catch star Steve Guttenberg in comeback mode on Dancing With the Stars.)
While Oscar night is known for labored, time-killing, wrong-headed stabs at musical fantabulousness, this one took the cake: It was overdone, overwrought, overlong — over-everything. Yet its source was good: the Beach Blanket revue which had run 15 years at that point (and is still going).
Carr wanted Silver to deliver the ultimate Oscar number — full of stars, story and busy showmanship, while informed by Beach Blanket’s premise of an innocent Snow White exploring a new world. But with an ill-cast Rob Lowe opposite Snow, the number tanked — big-time. Even a lawsuit followed by an outraged Disney. The studio was steamed that its animation icon had been used without permission — not to mention subverted. Silver’s little song-and-dance show with silly hats in tiny SF theaters was one thing. This was the Oscars. Disney got an apology, and the suit was dropped.
Almost two decades later, Enchanted shows that in entertainment, as in anything, what goes around comes around.
Years after the studio’s outrage at Snow White with a Beach Blanket bent on Oscar night, it’s Disney that does the co-opting. Enchanted clearly adapts Silver’s core premise of a sheltered fairy-tale princess finding herself in a mecca for worldly urban indulgence. Now who’s copying whom?
Then again, Enchanted has no sky-high headware, nor does it show Manhattan with the wry hedonism of Beach Blanket. No, this is the Manhattan of too many movies, which glamourize it like a magical kingdom of scenic serenity, ample privacy and warm comfort. (Clamor, clutter, crowds, dirt, wintry chills — begone!) Exceptions are a derelict who steals Adams’ tiarra and her own tuneful but appalling recruitment of vile rats and cockroaches to help her clean new friend Patrick Dempsey’s apartment. (What is it with Disney and rats, anyway?)
So forget about a sweet princess meeting hell-raisers galore, as in Beach Blanket. Instead, Adams spends much of her time with natty, stuffy, blandly woo-ready lawyer Dempsey and his cute little girl. She also leads sunny Central Park revelers in boisterous, absurdly preposterous choreography that turns Manhattan into an Up With People summer-stock camp.
In short, NY’s true culture shock is wasted, since much of what amazes Adams and Marsden (buses, aquariums, TV remotes) could have been found in Toledo, Ohio.
The problem is, by evoking a beloved show, Enchanted disappoints by not following through on its promising high-concept. If it had gone full-bore into Beach Blanket’s “lovable innocence meets lovable hedonism,” it might have been adorable. Instead, it’s pat, polite and predictable, and you know everyone will live happily ever after — at least by this film’s safe definitions, where everyone behaves like cartoon characters. But that’s just Disney doing its job for its audience, making a movie to please parents and, in this case, ‘tween girls. Fair enough. Different strokes.
Thus, the film’s biggest irony remains a subtle one: Disney has borrowed from the same folks who’d miffed the studio with their Snow White subversions years ago, then subverted their concept into sanitized family fare.
I know, I know. Enchanted made money — but it’s still a long way from the decades-long durability of Silver’s beloved little show. Give me Beach Blanket’s winking awareness, zestful spirit and stronger rings of truth any day. Real people need love, too.