I have certainly not seen every single movie released in 2020, but I have an extremely hard time imagining any of them beginning with a more profoundly horrible bit of screenwriting than Godmothered, a Disney thing that clearly hoped to capture some of that old Enchanted magic, and had to settle for being shit out onto Disney+ right at the time of year when parents just need to put literally anything on that will be bright and noisy enough to distract their children for an hour or so.  I am so entirely repulsed by this voiceover narration, and by June Squibb's "if you don't sound happy on the phone, we'll shoot a hostage" delivery thereof, that I feel obliged to do a thing I never do, and just share it with you:

[Open the way all Disney attempts to be cutely postmodern with their fantasy tropes open, on an illustrated storybook. This one is titled The Joy of Fairy Godmothering.]

"Once upon a time there was a magical place called the Motherland, where fairy godmothers lived and learned all they needed to know about godmothering. Oh blah blah blah. we all know how this bit goes. This is not your usual fairy tale. Fairy tales end with happily ever after. And that's where we begin!"

[voiceover ends, dialogue begins]

"Good morning, Motherland! It's almost the weekend, and you know what that means. Grab a pumpkin - raise your wands - break out the glass slippers - it's time to party like it's 1699! I'm gonna kick things off with everyone's favorite pop hit!

[she starts playing "Der Hölle Rache" from The Magic Flute, in the middle, right before the first coloratura passage]

[back to voiceover]

"I'm Agnes. I'm 172 years old, at least, and I'm too cool for school. It's why they made me the resident DJ. And I don't have to go to lessons!"

Reader, by this point, I was ready to shut off the movie, abandon reviewing, renounce cinema as an artform, and retire to the country to do something useful, like beet farming. Fortunately, things get better after this - since I am neither raising beets now, nor dead of an aneurysm, they'd pretty much have to - though Godmothered at no point rises above "pretty fucking bad" except in its performances, and those are more of an act of triage, saving whatever tiny parts of the film might be salvageable. There are a still a lot of dead and dying bodies.

Anyway, let's just dig into some of that, why not? So right off, "Motherland" - that's what you're going to name your fantasy kingdom? But that's a failure of imagination, not anything worse. The first sentence can stay, though I'm glaring at it impatiently over the rim of my glasses.

"Oh blah blah blah. we all know how this bit goes. This is not your usual fairy tale." Point of fact, in the year of our Lord 2020, this is the usual fairy tale, this aggressively casual ("blah" my ass), hyper self-aware, "subversive"-in-scare-quotes nonsense. Godmothered even has the big swinging balls to play the "what if 'true love' was ACTUALLY between female blood relatives, not heterosexual couple formation?" card as if it's something shocking and wholly unexpected to shake up Disney's moribund shtick, rather than something quickly calcifying into its own shtick. This is especially galling because the heterosexual couple that thus does not form is the only interpersonal relationship in the film with any kind of genuine chemistry.

"Fairy tales end with happily ever after. And that's where we begin!" What? That's not even remotely where we begin. What the fuck does this mean.

""Good morning, Motherland!" Incredibly, Squibb does not do an impression of Robin Williams doing an impression of Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam. I would credit this as a rare spark of originality, but I suspect the reason is that Squibb has, somehow, never seen Good Morning, Vietnam.

"Grab a pumpkin - raise your wands - break out the glass slippers - it's time to party like it's 1699!" Well, that just speaks for itself, I hope. As does the "irony" of calling an operatic aria from 1791 a "pop hit". Because fairies like to listen to songs sung by magical women who are the symbolic embodiment of evil and destruction, for some reason?

"I'm 172 years old, at least." Then you should be aware that The Magic Flute is 229 years old and not pop music, dipshit.

"I'm too cool for school. It's why they made me the resident DJ. And I don't have to go to lessons!" Haha because it is in fact not cool to be extremely old and think that opera is hip and use archaic formulations like "too cool for school". But what actually gets sand up in my ass here is that "I don't have to go to lessons" - like, DJ lessons? Yeah, I mean, I think most people don't.

In Godmothered, we will spend most of our time with Eleanor (Jillian Bell), the youngest (by decades) godmother-in-training at Motherland's fairy godmother school, where she earns Agnes's friendship and irritates the hell out of godmother instructor Moira, played by the great Jane Curtin in a very game, very doomed performance that I presume had her daydreaming of Harry Potter-sized paychecks. Eleanor is two things: 1) enthusiastic; 2) stupid. And this combination makes her decide to prove not just her worth, but the worth of all fairy godmothers, on the eve of the school being repurposed to train them all as tooth fairies, given how much the demand for fairy godmothers has dried up these days. So she swipes the last outstanding letter written by a child to a fairy godmother - this is 100% not a thing that children have ever done - and sets off to help 10-year-old Mackenzie Walsh realise her dream of finding a magic prince. Unfortunately, Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) is now a grown adult with two children of her own, and her dreams have evolved beyond fairy tales, to things like getting out of her miserable job producing junky puff pieces for a failing local TV news program. Eleanor has only been trained to follow the traditional fairy godmother script - generate ballgowns out of rags, coaches out of pumpkins, transmogrify animals - and this makes her much worse than useless. But Mackenzie keeps dragging her around, perhaps afraid that she will otherwise burn something down, and somehow, Eleanor fucks up in just the right ways that it can be misinterpreted as endearing and inspiring, and we all learn the true meaning of Christmas. Because it's set at Christmas time, and in Boston, though they have endeavored to make actual Boston look like an unconvincing set.

Jillian Bell is the only reason to watch this film. Among the many sins perpetrated by Kari Granlund and Melissa Stack's script, the major characters are all incoherent: they respond to things solely at the level of "what will facilitate the rest of this scene?"; really, just "what will facilitate the next gag?", and the real problem is that the gags are almost all horrible. Not "party like it's 1699" horrible, but that's not the last time a joke dies with the same sepulchral clang that greets that one. In the case of Eleanor, she is a fish out of water, first, and this means that she doesn't understand modern technology, or social cues, or people telling her in no uncertain terms to please do this specific thing because this is the bad thing that will happen if you don't. But also, she understands slang and makes pop culture references. Except when she doesn't. She's the aggressive kind of dumb, misinterpreting things that cannot possibly be misinterpreted, that make you suspect that she's actually clever, and simply malicious. So the point is, it's an insipid, awful part, but Bell pours absolutely everything she's got into it. She steamrolls over all of the lumps in the part as written, using sheer dumb-puppy-dog glee and warmth to stitch together Eleanor into something that more or less works as a protagonist.

Fisher tries basically the same approach, but her character has bigger problems to cope with: we have here a character who pretty much immediately believes that Eleanor is indeed a magic creature, and then persists anyway in behaving as though nobody sane could believe that magic exists, as though it is sheer stubbornness and pleasure in being disagreeable that drives her. She also exists, more than anybody else, as a mechanism in the plot, to act and make choices and express feelings solely as a function of what will drive the story forward next, particularly concerning how much she does or does not have romantic yearnings for fellow hack newsman Hugh Prince (Santiago Cabrera), whose surname is made the subject of many profoundly unfunny bits of comic business for Bell to execute with a maniacal grin. Fisher, like Bell, latches onto a single emotional register, and just rides it out, though in her case it's less a matter of flattening all of the contradictions into a single shape, more a matter of figuring that if she just keeps making the same choice, it will be right sometime. So she plays Mackenzie as a humorless, impatient scold, and sure enough: it is right sometime. That's more than Godmothered as a whole can claim, anyway.

Everything that works in the entire film hangs one of these two women. Literally nothing else lands, from the jokes, to the fantasy world-building, to the music cues, to the why-the-hell-not satire of sensationalist news personalities. Eventually, the film hauls out the bloody body of the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music, displaying it like an imprisoned king being dragged by a chariot in a Roman triumph, just to remind us that Disney owns everything now. It's all very dispiriting and miserable, but at least the film has the decency to end on its strongest note, an animated epilogue stylised to look like moving picture book illustrations, a pleasant little reminder of a time when the Disney name still had some last thready scraps of aesthetic dignity clinging to its bones.