Even if it had nothing else to recommend it, I would have to stand in respectful awe of the way that Enchanted manages to have it both ways: on the one hand, it's a post-modern reduction of the prototypical Disney fairy tale that cuts into its target with a merciless precision that the increasingly glum Shrek films haven't even dreamt of; then again, in all its heteronormative, gender-role-reinforcing bliss, it is exactly the same as those very films, dressed up a little bit with a feint in the direction of vague, squishy feminism on the ground that (gasp!) the princess saves the boy. I should probably be a bit offended by all of this, but damn me if the film doesn't have such a charming vibe - and such an incandescent central performance - that it would seem positively mirthless of me to harp on the film's self-negating thematic conservatism, as well as a few other odds and ends here and there - the odd ill-conceived joke, some dodgy bits of narrative structure, unlikable romantic foils - that don't particularly work. On the whole, the sweetness is what sticks after the credits roll, not the flaws, and it would take someone more coolly cynical than I to resist one of the pleasantest films of 2007.

The film opens in short sequence that's a positive boon to a rampant Disneyphiles, such as myself: one of those old, illuminated, leather-bound storybooks opens up (under the exact same font used for the titles in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I might add) and a silken-voiced narrator (Julie Andrews, and I'll return to that) introduces us to the animated kingdom of Andalasia, where the noble and bland Prince Eric falls in love with Giselle, a girl who lives in the forest and speaks with all of the chirpy-voiced woodland creatures. Eric's stepmother Narissa fears that if he marries, it will spell the end of her only semi-legitimate reign, and she disguises herself as an old hag to push Giselle into a magic well that leads to the very live-action New York City, c. 2006.

I'm not ready to leave that opening, yet. First things first, it's traditionally animated by the very artists that Disney seemed set to abandon after prematurely declaring 2D animation dead after the release of Home on the Range in 2004.* If the mere notion of Disney returning to their roots doesn't at least bring a tiny bit of a smile to your face, then you are, I'm sorry, completely dead inside.

More importantly, the animation knows its roots. The opening is a wholly effective mash-up of the classic Disney princess films both visually and narratively: the story owes an obvious debt to Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty and only a slightly less obvious debt to Snow White, and the opening scene, in which Giselle sings an ear-splittingly happy song about how nice dreams are, while her bedroom-full of animal friends harmonises, is a carbon-copy of the opening of Cinderella. The woodland cottage where Giselle lives is a dead-ringer for Aurora's hiding place in Sleeping Beauty, and the rest of the design freely blends elements of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. The character design, meanwhile, takes the distinctive colors and costumes of the older films and re-renders them in the distinctive Disney house style developed in the '70s and perfected in The Little Mermaid: slightly angular faces, just-too-large eyes and little crinkly noses.

Forgive me if I indulge myself, but I so rarely get to discuss traditional animation these days.

Anyway, the precision with which Enchanted's team, led by director Kevin Lima (of a spotty career including Tarzan and the live-action 102 Dalmatians) is not for its own sake; it is a rather savage parody of the form, and it sets us up nicely for the actual plot of the film, in which we see what happens when a Disney heroine, with all the random singing and devotion to the idea of True Love at First Sight, ends up lost on the mean streets, although not too terribly mean, for this is still a family movie.

Not to discount the many fine actresses who might have been able to carry it off, but Enchanted would not be one fraction of the film it is without Amy Adams in the role of Giselle, both as voice and in the flesh. Adams received a great deal of wholly deserved attention for the film Junebug in 2005, but that film simply didn't have the impact necessary to make her any kind of star. Enchanted has already made that kind of impact, and if anything it's a better showcase for her talents - Giselle is a deceptively unplayable sort of character, literally a cartoon, and it's easy to imagine her being turned into some sort of cheerful monster, grotesquely lurching through New York with a plastered grin and slimy charm. It is to Adams's great credit that she finds what is essentially human about an essentially inhuman figure, and makes her sympathetic and lovable, even as her behavior is almost constantly (and by design) at odds with anything resembling human reality.

'tis pity then, that as is typical with Disney stories, the men in her life are complete wastes. We'd expect that of Eric, of course - played by the professionally bland James Marsden, he's every bit the caricature of cardboard Disney princedom that the film needs.

The "real" romantic lead, unfortunately, isn't much of a contrast. The plot - as though you couldn't guess! - involves Giselle dropping into the lives of cynical people, and reminding them of childlike joy - giving them a spoonful of sugar if you will, and this is where we realize that Julie Andrews's cameo wasn't an accident - and this chiefly means that she has to bring romance back to the life of the pragmatic divorce attorney Robert Philip. Robert is played by Patrick Dempsey, unquestionably best-known as the vanilla hunk Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd from Grey's Anatomy (full disclosure: never seen an episode all the way through. But I think I've seen enough fragments to know that I don't want to). His entire career, in other words, is based on being a conventionally pretty face who is easy to lust after without having to worry about his actual personality. That's why he was cast here, at any rate, and that pretty much tosses the entire arc into the shitter. It's a role begging for a slightly dowdier, meaner actor, if there's going to be any actual dramatic contrast.

He's the only false note in a mostly fine supporting cast: the standouts are Susan Sarandon having a great deal of fun in a typical Disney wicked lady role (their best villains having always been wicked ladies), and Timothy Spall as her addled henchman Nathaniel, and either you know who Spall is, and know that he's always wonderful, or you don't know who he is, or you know him and claim to dislike him because YOU ARE A GODDAMN LIAR.

The flaws, like I said, are minor, but they are annoyingly numerous. The subplot, consisting of Eric, Nathaniel and a CGI chipmunk searching New York for Giselle takes a few too many trips to the Island of Cheap & Obvious Jokes (including a throwaway poop gag that is about 180º from anything in classic Disney), and the third act jettisons anything like satirical commentary for an effective straight-up fantasy action setpiece and a much less effective denouement that reinforces all of the stereotypes that the rest of the film has exploded with such good cheer (while additionally feeling more than a little like a subliminal ad for Disney's ever-growing line of overpriced "make your daughter look like a princess!" paraphernalia). The songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz (the team behind Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Menken's much better writing partner Howard Ashman stubbornly remaining long-dead) are effective enough in the moment - and lead to the film's most transcendent scene, a Freed-style musical extravaganza in Central Park - but they're not all that memorable. "Someday My Prince Will Come" or "Be Our Guest" these are not. Hell, they're not even "Colors of the Wind."

These are more than quibbles, but I am not an unjust man and I don't mean to imply that these flaws are enough to overcome Adams's extreme personal charm or the general level of genial good humor that washes through most of the film. If nothing else, I think that Enchanted is very good at achieving something that Disney films used to do almost reflexively: it is extremely solid craftsmanship without being at all challenging, and that is precisely why it is so enjoyable.

8/10