Enchanted (* * * out of four) is the very definition of charming.
The film, anchored by an entrancing performance by Amy Adams (Junebug) and a strong ensemble cast, is cleverly written. The situations are funny, and the story feels effortlessly entertaining.
While not seamless in its blend of cartoon and live action, it melds traditional hand-drawn animation with real-life actors in a modern-day setting and affectionately satirizes such Disney icons as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, the Little Mermaid and Cinderella.
The first 15 minutes re-imagines the classic Disney formula, after which the movie segues from an idyllic make-believe world to the tough and bustling streets of New York. Picture-book characters are transformed, without warning, into real-life versions. That's when the fun begins.
Though it's a fairly predictable fish-out-of-water tale (actually a princess-out-of-storybook saga), the casting is so perfect that it takes what could have been a ho-hum idea and renders it magical.
With her delicate features and piles of golden curls, Adams is the very embodiment of a Disney princess. She plays Giselle, a fairy-tale character from the distant land of Andalasia who is hexed and sent to modern-day New York.
James Marsden winningly plays her intended, Prince Edward. Meanwhile, a divorce lawyer (an appealing Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter (Rachel Covey) rescue and befriend Giselle. His cynicism clashes with Giselle's simple romantic notions. You can see where this is going early on, but that doesn't detract from the endearing spell it casts. Adams is spot-on in portraying the pure-hearted Giselle without resorting to caricature.
One running gag involves Giselle's earnest singing, whether frolicking in Central Park or summoning woodland creatures. The score features original songs from Stephen Schwartz and Alan Mencken (Pocahontas).
Things look promising for Giselle and her handsome prince until the Big Apple is poisoned by the arrival of Queen Narissa, Prince Edward's evil stepmother (a hilarious Susan Sarandon).
The travails of this maiden in Manhattan will prove irresistible to audiences hungry for fanciful holiday entertainment. (Running time 1 hour, 47 minutes. Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo. Opens Wednesday nationwide.)