If Godmothered — a Disney movie about a woman living in a fairy-tale world suddenly transported to our gritty reality where she attempts to infuse some magic into a jaded single parent’s life all while her whimsical demeanor clashes with the way modern-day people work — sounds familiar, that’s because 2007’s Enchanted did almost exactly the same thing.
But while Godmothered is a bit clunky and not nearly as magical, it has its own weird charm by being something of a foil to Amy Adams’ live-action princess movie. Instead of real life getting the fairy-tale treatment, fairy tales learn a little something from real life. The result is a movie that interrogates Disney tropes but actually delivers on dismantling them.
[Ed. note: This review contains minor spoilers for Godmothered]
The Disney Plus original, from Bridget Jones’ Diary director Sharon Maguire, follows a fairy godmother-in-training named Eleanor (Jillian Bell) who lives in a magical realm known as the Motherland. Godmothering has gone out of vogue, so in order to prove that the world still needs fairy godmothers, Eleanor journeys to Boston, following a letter penned by a little girl. She’s a little late though — Mackenzie, the girl who wrote the letter, is now a single mom (Isla Fisher), jaded by romance and her clickbait-churning local news job. Eleanor, however, is determined to bring magic into Mackenzie’s life, so that she can find her “happily ever after” and prove that fairy godmothers are still valuable.
In the beginning, Godmothered plays like a straight-up reboot of Enchanted. Eleanor is a blithe spirit fish-out-of-water who wanders Boston in a poofy ball gown, making similar observations as Amy Adams’ Giselle. Eleanor thinks all cars are pumpkins turned into carriages, that mice should be the ones driving, and that strange men on the street are secretly princes. At first, every zinger out of Eleanor’s mouth sounds like a rehashed joke about the Disney fairy-tale canon — haha, isn’t it so funny that real life isn’t like fairy tales?
Godmothered eventually finds its own spin on the jokes by speaking to a fresher theme. Unlike Enchanted’s Giselle, whose magical singing voice and command over adorable city creatures charmed even the most cold-hearted of would-be divorcees, Eleanor isn’t as charismatic; she’s awkward and overwhelming. Even when she does try her hand at a little magic, it falls flat. She tries to conjure up a ball gown for Mackenzie, but it ends up being a giant sleeping bag. When she magically redecorates Mackenzie’s house, it looks like the garish interior of a Medieval Times. It’s not just that Eleanor isn’t that great at being a fairy godmother; it’s also that her ideas of what Mackenzie needs — ie, shacking up with a hot man will lead to her happily ever after — are a bit antiquated.
Still, Eleanor finds a way to bring happiness into the real world, and Maguire captures this by focusing on moments where Eleanor elevates real life instead of coming up with a magical solution. One of the most endearing sequences of the movie happens when Eleanor takes Mackenzie’s daughters to the park. The oldest, Jane (Jillian Shea Spaeder), has a chance to perform in her school’s show choir, but her crippling stage fright prevents her from taking a solo. So Eleanor thinks a little public performance is the solution. She starts to sing in the park, which might immediately conjure the scene from Enchanted where Giselle beautifully serenades the entirety of Central Park with an original composition, and everyone joins in. (Cue Patrick Dempsey’s character making a sassy comment about why everyone somehow knows this song).
But Eleanor’s rendition of “My Favorite Things” is ... not good. She’s so bad, in fact, that she draws the booing of some unruly teenage boys, but her spunky attitude manages to charm a few passerbyers into joining. Jane manages to hold the song, but the chorus of people joining in doesn’t become a magically melodic ensemble. Instead it’s clunky and out of tune — but feels charmingly real. It’s a heartwarming moment as Jane finds her confidence, made particularly special because of the lack of magic involved (well, aside from dousing the booing boys with snow).
While Enchanted focused on bringing fairy-tale magic to everyday life, Godmothered finds its originality in doing the opposite: By the end, it’s about how fairy tales could learn a thing or two from real life. Remembering what brings happiness in the day-to-day is more important than fixating on a nebulous happily ever after. The delivery isn’t that smooth; the conflict of fairy godmothering going out of style takes a backseat for most of the movie, before getting revved up at the end for an 11th-hour showdown, the narration done by some random old fairy back in the Motherland jolts out of the rest of the movie, and Mackenzie’s shift from seeing Eleanor as a nuisance to a blessing is absurdly swift. But the final fairytale subversion is crafted with a steady hand.
Lovingly flipping fairy-tale tropes is a recurring theme for Disney — be it the true love in Frozen being the sisters or Emma in Once Upon a Time saving her son with a kiss — so it’s not so much that it’s a surprise plot twist as it is a satisfying resolution. In Godmothered, it’s the very notion of “happily ever after” that gets interrogated. Enchanted, for all its whimsy, charm, and self-awareness about fairy tales in the real world, still very much played into fairy-tale tropes as Giselle gets saved with a traditional true love’s kiss. Godmothered takes that to another level, actually dismantling fairy tale expectations and elevating the magic of real life.
Godmothered arrives to Disney Plus on Dec. 4.