Charming is a relic, an archive rediscovery from a box marked ‘early noughties’. It is alike a film taking advantage of the universal amnesiac response to some long forgotten original release, fifteen years ago, with a second punt at success. While the cast is peppered with noughties names – High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale, My Big Fat Greek Wedding star Nia Vardalos and ‘Sk8ter Boi’ singer Avril Lavigne among it – the plot is retrogressively stuck in a pre-Shrek whirl of conservatism. He was a boy, she was a girl. Can they make it any more obvious?
The songs don’t help. Two penned by Sia and Demi Lovato – who each star here also – threaten nausea, whilst a third by Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump is the stuff of nightmares. Even strong vocals by Tisdale, Lavigne and G.E.M. can’t save ‘I like him for his smile, I like him for his hair; I like him for his style, I like him cos he’s so debonair.’ These are the words of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty respectively, here a trio of dim, air-headed Valley girls, and concern the titular Prince (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama).
Written and directed by Ross Venokur, Charming imagines a world in which the Prince Charming (Wilmer Valderrama) of all those fairytales you once took to your hearts is the same man. The one who kissed Snow White, pecked Aurora and slippered Cinders. What’s more, here he is subject to a curse. Since childhood, this Prince has been inflicted with the ability to instantly charm every woman in the land. Come his twenty-first birthday, however, the curse will break and all the love in the world will disappear…unless he can find his true love, of course. Ugh.
Helpfully, just around the corner awaits jewel thief Lenore (Lovato), a beauty with a curse of her own: the incapacity to love. Lenore alone is immune to Charming’s wiles and, so, she alone has capacity to genuinely fall in love with him. No prizes for spotting the plot hole. When Charming is sent off by his father on a quest known as ‘the Gauntlet’, Lenore – disguised as a man – is his companion and blah, blah, blah. Seen Shrek? Yeah, just give it a rewatch. Distracting episodes along the way include a run in with some floaty branch things in a misty forest, a fight with a rock creature straight from Moana and, worst of all, a more than slightly racist dalliance with a tribe of black, man-eating tribal women. Praise be they have a white leader to translate.
It’s that dumb note that truly wastes the film. The artless Princesses are poor and Charming himself bland but they at least don’t offend – not meaningfully. For the most part, the film is merely content to languish in hand me down ideas and mishandled conceits. Sia’s one eyed Oracle’s is as original as Charming gets – she’s only fifty percent sure of the future – but even she feels mishandled. In an era where Disney have finally accepted the need for marketable wokeness, peddling old hat tosh doesn’t cut it. A princess isn’t feminist, simply because she’s marginally less vapid than those around her. By the close, she’s still gaga for the guy.
Indeed, the reek of imitation is incessantly strong with this one and there’s precious little by way of redemption for the fact. Sure, the animation is solid but that’s no longer enough. Family films demand far more originality these days to pass muster than they did in the decade that Disney could only manage Home on the Range. If you want post-modern fairytales, Shrek remains top of the pile. For strong depictions of reinvented princesses of old, Walt’s Wreck-It-Ralph 2 did infinitely better. Avoid.