Here is a delightful film from the Disney Studios which really lives up to its title. Kevin Lima and screenwriter Bill Kelly have taken a simple idea and delivered it so cleverly that it holds your attention from the opening of the storybook right up to its fairytale ending.

The film begins in an animated fairyland where we see the beautiful young Giselle surrounded by forest creatures reminiscent of classics such as Bambi. She sings about her true love, the prince who will come to marry her and give her “true love’s kiss”. Meanwhile the prince’s wicked stepmother, who wants to stop him from marrying anyone, plans to do away with her. Giselle meets her prince while he is out hunting trolls and, in traditional storybook fashion, they decide to wed the next day. But the stepmother appears, disguised as an ugly old hag, and pushes Giselle down the wishing well to the land “where dreams never come true”.

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Now the film opens up into CinemaScope and live action as Giselle emerges from a manhole into Times Square in modern day New York. Bewildered, and still in her fairytale wedding dress, she is swept along by the crowds into the subway and finds herself wandering in the Bowery in a rainstorm. As she desperately tries to find her way home she is rescued by Robert, a handsome lawyer, and his young daughter Morgan, who happen to be passing in a taxi cab.

Robert takes pity on Giselle, who is behaving very strangely, and allows her to stay overnight in his apartment. The next morning Giselle awakes and, seeing the untidy state of the place, calls up all the local creatures as girls in fairytales do. Along come rats, pigeons and even cockroaches who proceed to clean up, accompanied of course by song.

From then on Robert falls increasingly under the spell of this unusual young woman, as more characters follow her into the real world, including the prince (James Marsden), one of the stepmother’s henchmen (Timothy Spall) and a very comical chipmunk.

If all this sounds impossibly schmaltzy, it isn’t. The film works because it is played absolutely straight. The two leads, Amy Adams as Giselle and Patrick Dempsey as Robert, hit just the right note of innocence and charm. This is a film which refreshingly entertains without needing to resort to irony. Rachel Covey, playing the little girl Morgan, is a real find. At one point she takes Giselle shopping. (Little girls of all ages will love it.) Morgan warns Giselle that boys only want one thing. “What’s that?” asks Giselle. “I don’t know,” Morgan replies, “No one will tell me.” She delivers this without any hint of mawkishness, just one of many charming episodes.

The film is packed with comic detail and rolls along at a pace which will suit even the youngest viewers. We are reminded how much modern cities have become playgrounds for grown ups. Residents and tourists alike seeing, for instance, a fairytale princess running round the streets or strangely garbed figures emerging from a manhole will just assume that there are film cameras rolling. (In fact, most of the passers-by in the first Times Square scene apparently were actual tourists.) It makes use of fairytale imagery, such as the billboard with a palace which Giselle tries to enter and people walking around in costume to advertise everything from concerts to fast food. Small girls routinely walk around wearing fairy wings, adults stage events like the “Kings and Queens“ ball, and in New York even the buildings emulate castles and palaces in their grandiose style.

The story actually packs in several feelgood endings, including a reference to King Kong, though with a clever twist. By the time it is over you will feel you really have been enchanted. This deserves to become a new classic. And Giselle will definitely be on next year’s lunchbox.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2007
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Exiled to modern New York City, a fairytale princess collides with the real world.
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Director: Kevin Lima

Writer: Bill Kelly

Starring: Amy Adams, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Dempsey, Timothy Spall, Rachel Covey

Year: 2007

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2007

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If you like this, try:

A Fairy Story