Disney cannot resist cannibalizing itself, even after it’s had a good helping. The existence of Disney+ allows the larger company to continue remaking its animated films in live-action form, or rebooting them, or re-imagining them, or re-whatever-ing them. The new Disney+ film Godmothered would fall into the “re-imagining” camp; it’s not officially a remake of Cinderella, the 1950 film that made the concept of the fairy godmother feel like an iconic Disney creation. Instead, Godmothered is merely inspired by that film. But this movie is just as inspired by fish-out-of-water high-concept family comedies like Enchanted and Elf, both of which are a) not streaming on Disney+ and b) much, much, much funnier, smarter, and more heartwarming.
Godmothered stars Jillian Bell as Eleanor, a young, up-and-coming fairy godmother who is horrified to learn that the entire race of fairy godmothers in her home of The Motherland are about to transition into new roles as tooth fairies. It’s for one simple reason: no one has been making requests or wishes of their fairy godmothers on Earth. As a desperate last move, Eleanor sees a letter from a Bostonian girl named Mackenzie, and endeavors to secretly travel to Earth to make her dreams come true. Once in Boston, Eleanor is shocked to learn that Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) has grown up, had two kids, gotten divorced, and found herself in a TV-producing job that’s slowly killing her from the inside. So now it’s up to Eleanor to figure out how to make Mackenzie’s happily ever after come true decades later than expected.
Relative to the other Disney+ original movies you can stream right now, Godmothered is…fine. That barometer is arguably the baseline of the streamer’s original movies, few of which have been genuinely good. (Not coincidentally, the best films Disney+ has premiered so far have been films that were supposed to go to theaters first, such as their summer release of Hamilton.) Most of what Disney+ has released among its live-action fare is the kind of mid-budget movie that served as the Disney studio’s bread and butter in the 1990s. Godmothered, even with its connection to the Disney fairy-tale universe, is very much in line with those watchable, wholly unremarkable films. It helps that Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher do their best in predictable roles, but the roles being so predictable is hard to look past.
Bell is particularly committed to playing the hopeful, very sincere, and mostly clueless Eleanor, a far cry from her roles in more adult fare like 22 Jump Street, Eastbound and Down, and Brittany Runs A Marathon. The problem with Godmothered isn’t Bell at all – for a character like Eleanor, you need an actor who so fully throws themselves into a part that they convince you out of sheer will. Bell does that, following in the footsteps of…well, Amy Adams in Enchanted or Will Ferrell in Elf.
On one hand, there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by those two films – they’re quite good, and they’re bolstered by remarkable lead performances. (Please note that, for all the awards talk surrounding Amy Adams, she should’ve won an Oscar for Enchanted. Look into your hearts. You know this to be true.) The problem is that Godmothered, written by Kari Granlund and Melissa Stack, is so obviously inspired by Enchanted and Elf that each plot twist seems to serve as a reminder of those films. There is the idealistic, innocent-to-the-point-of-insanity lead character; there is the hard-bitten straight-man character who must be won over; there’s at least one charming, kewpie-doll-style kid who’s won over instantly; there’s a not-at-all-fun workplace whose denizens will change just a bit after being inspired by our hero. And so on.
Unfortunately, most of the humor in Godmothered fails to rise to a funny enough level to make it easy to forget about Enchanted or Elf. (At one point on Earth, Eleanor communicates with a fellow godmother played by June Squibb. For…reasons, Squibb’s face appears in an old grandfather clock, which she explains by snapping, “What, you’ve never heard of Face Time?”) Some movies can coast on the charms of its performers. Certainly, Bell and Fisher have charm to spare, but the material is lifeless enough that it takes these two and the rest of the ensemble to elevate the movie to being just tolerable.
Godmothered being so similar to Enchanted and Elf is no problem for Disney+, because it’s not like you can stream either of those films on the service. (For anyone asking, “But isn’t Enchanted…y’know, a Disney movie?” It sure is! I don’t know why you can’t stream it on Disney+ right now either!) For now, you can simply watch this high-concept comedy, which tries very hard to reclaim the concept of the fairy godmother and a happily-ever-after ending. By the end, Godmothered suffers from the same problems many of Disney’s live-action and computer-animated remakes have stumbled across. (Considering that Granlund wrote the 2019 remake of Lady and the Tramp, maybe this isn’t shocking.) Repeating the past in the 21st century feels antiquated unless you do things differently…but only somewhat differently. Godmothered tries to be modern, but only at the end, and only after serving as a reminder that you could be watching a much better version of the same kind of story. If only.
/Film Rating: 4 out of 10
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