Only in a magical place called Motherland can aspiring fairy godmothers learn to plow their trade. And only in Motherland will you find June Squibb as the resident DJ proclaiming “It’s time to party like it’s 1699.” Actually there are a lot of amusing touches like that all through Disney’s upcoming family film “Godmothered”.
From director Sharon Maguire and co-writers Kari Granlund and Melissa Stack, “Godmothered” is a light, warm, and big-hearted fantasy comedy with just enough seasonal cheer to please Christmas movie fans. Its playful spirit and some charming performances carry it most of the way. But a very specific lack of originality and a bludgeoning final scene make it fall a little short of being perennial holiday viewing.
Within minutes you can’t help but see the film’s biggest inspiration/problem. I don’t know how else to say it, but so much of “Godmothered” seems copied straight from 2003’s “Elf”. First is the concept, a kind-hearted outcast soul leaving a magical land to impart happiness and cheer to people who have lost it. A fish-out-of-water lead character visits a big American city for the first time. Sound familiar? Well it gets even more obvious than that. We even get specific gags and plot points shamelessly plucked right out of the Jon Favreau Christmas classic. There’s even a racoon!
Yet despite all that, “Godmothered” has an almost infectious charm much of which comes from it star Jillian Bell. She plays Eleanor, Motherland’s youngest fairy godmother trainee and the school’s only new applicant for decades. Turns out the world has stopped believing in “Happily Ever After” meaning fewer assignments for the godmothers. Because of this Moira (Jane Curtain), the head mistress and a strict enforcer of the outdated godmothering ‘formula’, is prepared to shut down the school and reassign the godmothers to dreaded tooth fairy duty.
Having none of it, Eleanor finds an old letter from 10-year-old McKenzie Walsh that fell through the cracks. Determined to prove the world still needs fairy godmothers, she secretly sets out to find McKenzie and grant her ‘happily ever after’ wish. The trail takes her to Boston where she quickly discovers McKenzie (played by Isla Fisher) is no longer 10-years-old. Instead she’s a cynical single mother of two who lost her husband years earlier and has given up on any chance at true happiness.
If you’ve seen “Elf” you know exactly where this story goes almost beat for beat. But the movie does bring a few laughs of its own and moments of genuine feeling. Fisher and Bell turn out to be real assets with surprisingly good comic chemistry. Both bring a sense of sincerity ￼to their characters that offer emotional connections amid all of the silly fun. A smattering of good supporting performances fill out the story including the quirky Squib, Santiago Cabrera as McKenzie’s Clark Kent-ish co-worker, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis as McKenzie’s down-to-earth sister.
Still it’s hard to get past the lingering feelings of “I’ve seen this before”. And the film’s message, while handled well most of the way, is slammed home in a cringy, heavy-handed final speech that throws any hint of subtlety and nuance out the window. It’s hard not to like the film’s characters and the team of Fisher and Bell add sparkle and heart to an otherwise wacky premise. If only its lack of originality wasn’t so hard to overlook. “Godmothered” premieres December 4th exclusively on Disney+.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS