The princess diary

'Enchanted,' Disney's 21st-century fairy tale, manages to transform New York into a magical kingdom.

"Enchanted" is Disney's not-so-subtle attempt to coin a new franchise. It's about Giselle (Amy Adams), a would-be princess, who is dispatched against her will from the fairy-tale kingdom of Andalasia to modern-day, car-horn-blaring New York City. She emerges through a manhole cover in Times Square, but a more appropriate site would have been the basement of a theater playing "The Lion King."

Soon to launch are Princess Giselle product tie-ins for everything from sippy cups to dress-up costumes.

Through reenactors, she will become a fixture in Disney theme parks – I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up in the same animatronic arena as Abe Lincoln.

All of which is not to say that "Enchanted" is a bad movie. I rather liked it, as a matter of fact. These days especially, one must make one's peace with the vanishing line between movie and marketeering. Only when "Enchanted" occasionally oversteps its bounds and becomes cloying are we reminded of the fact that it's a merchandiser's dream project as much as it is a movie.

It begins as an animated movie – an old-fashioned, hand-drawn animated movie. This is good news for those of us who aren't sold on CGI as the genre's exclusive province. Fairly quickly, though, the film shifts to live-action when Giselle emerges in Times Square after being banished by the witchy queen (Susan Sarandon) whose son, Prince Edward (James Marsden), she was set to marry.

Temporarily without a savior, she falls into the reluctant good graces of Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a cynical divorce lawyer and single father with an 8-year-old daughter (Rachel Covey) who, being a child, naturally believes Giselle's line about being a fairy-tale princess. Director Kevin Lima and screenwriter Bill Kelly set a very simple agenda: As Giselle becomes less starry-eyed, Robert falls for her. He learns that sometimes there is such as thing as "happily ever after."

The whole trick here is creating a universe so magical that our own cynicism, along with Robert's, is dispelled. The filmmakers are somewhat successful, mainly whenever Adams is onscreen. As anyone who saw her in "Junebug" can attest, Adams is one of those rare actresses who projects a sweetness that seems entirely genuine. Lima overdoes the close-ups of her, but it doesn't matter since her presence is continually entrancing.

There is probably nothing more difficult for a performer than to play absolute goodness without becoming a great big sugary bore – which is one reason most of the successful pure-in-heart Disney creations have been animated rather than flesh-and-blood characters. Adams is one of the few actors who can bring off the entrancements of an animated character without seeming stunted or cutesey.

The film overall is well performed. Dempsey's Robert is believably smitten by Giselle, which is to say, he is smitten in small, telling increments.

With his square-cut jaw and megahandsomeness, Marsden already looks like a comic-book prince. He has a funny, faintly deprecating air, similar to what Christopher Reeve had in "Superman." Although Sarandon doesn't have enough screen time, her emissary and servant Nathaniel, played by roly-poly Timothy Spall, might have stepped right out of "The Wind and the Willows."

I was less taken with the film's attempts to be all things to all people – stage show, animated feature, musical, romance. The big numbers by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are hummable all right, but in that strenuously show-biz way that ensures you'll be hearing them again on Oscar night as part of some spangly production number.

It may sound like faint praise to say that "Enchanted" is the movie of the year for smart and spirited 11-year-old girls. But a movie that genuinely respects that audience is not to be belittled. Grade: B+

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