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It had to have been hard resisting the urge to wink at Enchanted. These days, fairy tale characters know perfectly well that they're in a fairy tale, right? After Shrek taught our children three lessons in post-modernism, Enchanted should only follow suit. Instead, director Kevin Lima plays the material straightforwardly and with great sincerity, giving us a new fairy tale that's still knowing but that restores magic -- and innocence -- to the genre.

The animated Giselle (Amy Adams) does seem to be aware of fairy tale conventions. Alone in a woodland cottage, she sings merry tunes and enlists her forest friends to help her build a model of the handsome prince she saw once upon a dream.

Of course, he can't be too far away, and Lima packs all the standard elements of happily ever after into a wild fun six or seven minutes. One neat twist in writer Bill Kelly's script: Prince Edward (James Marsden) has the evil step-mother, the magnificent maleficent Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon).

Borrowing elements from many past Disney villains, Narissa settles on the first and best of wicked queens by becoming an old crone. At first, though, a poison apple seems too much effort, and she coaxes the about-to-be-married Giselle to a wishing well. (Any bets on whether Disneyland's wishing well will get a re-theming this year?)

With one push, Giselle falls into New York City. Times Square can almost compete with the magic of her homeland of Andalasia, at least for a moment. Then reality sets in, and if you let them, Giselle's travails might remind you of how simple and powerful a kind word can be.

That kind word involves meeting divorce attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). While he tries to accept that Giselle has stepped out of a fairy tale, she tries to convince him that love can be more wonderful than his broken heart believes.

As one teen audience member said after the screening, "it was so cheesy and …and …it was great!" Lima isn't afraid of cheese, but he also doesn't pile it on. Subtly weaving in references to other Disney movies, he's about recapturing that childlike belief that dreams do come true, while tempering it with the realization that life has to have its pain, too.

It wouldn't work, though, without Adams. This woman becomes a star in Enchanted. Sincere and luminous, she never lets us think she thinks there's a joke here. From Giselle bursting into tears when she discovers the concept of divorce to the moment she realizes her true love may not be who she thought, Adams makes a simple character into a living, breathing complex human being.

And then, under Lima's direction, she leads New Yorkers into the most magnificent musical number in a Disney movie since The Little Mermaid's Sebastian extolled life "Under the Sea." For four minutes, even the most die-hard anti-musical person has to get swept up in it, pure joy captured on screen.

Some might complain about the Disneyfication of New York, but Enchanted makes a great case for it.

Let me be fair, though, because it's not all about Adams. If, like Woody Allen, you've always found yourself more attracted to the evil stepmothers, then you will find your apotheosis in Sarandon. Likewise, Marsden seems born to play a handsome prince - though the plot follows the predictable path for Marsden; there's always some more interesting "other guy" competing with him, whether mutant, super or just simply "real."

Two real flaws, too, though not enough to burst the shiny bubble of this film. Lima and Kelly rush the ending, with Lima awkwardly staging a final confrontation with Narissa that promises a lot and delivers very little. Though the director pays amazing tribute to past Disney princesses - Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O'Hara (Belle) and Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas) all have cameos - he wastes the great Idina Menzel as the woman who would become stepmother. She gets a few scenes to really act, conveying dawning heartbreak in the world's only 4/4 waltz, but she starred in Wicked and RENT, for gosh sakes. Let this woman sing!

(Oddly enough, she sings the closing song to Beowulf, but not even a snatch of a song here.)

A great movie carries you past the flaws, and so does Enchanted. There's a new princess in town, and she's going to make it safe for us to be kids again.

Derek McCaw

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