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Disney should be the perfect place to make a movie about Fairy Godmothers. After all, the same corporation introduced many of us to the concept for the first time – from the nameless supporting character in Cinderella, to the trio of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty – and that background suggests they would have the ability to produce a story that could perform a deeper dive into their particular world, and make it shine.
As a result, Sharon Maguire’s Godmothered feels like a film filled to the brim with potential as you prepare to click play on Disney+. Unfortunately, none of it is actually capitalized on in the actual feature. Rather than being interesting, creative, or even charming, the movie is instead a generic mess that not only fails to do anything clever with its core concept, but also, in a big picture way, has the potential to damage the growing reputation of the streaming service’s original titles.
Similar to what Coco did for the world of the dead, Wreck-It Ralph did for the world of video games, and Inside Out did for the world of the human mind, Godmothered is a movie that attempts to lift the veil on the experience of being a Fairy Godmother, but one thing that this movie lacks in comparison to those other titles is the development of intricate detail. You may think there’s a whole lot of wonderment going on in the Motherland – the home of the Fairy Godmothers – but the film doesn’t exactly exert itself telling you about any of it.
The movie unfolds its story through the perspective of Eleanor (Jillian Bell), who is a novice Fairy Godmother whose ambitions are illustrated as pure trope when she is in class and eagerly raises her hand to answer questions, only to be purposefully passed over by the teacher (Jane Curtain). She has an unquenchable desire to prove herself, and with the threat of the entire operation being shut down she seizes her moment by surreptitiously investigating the records department for somebody she can help. She finds a letter from a 10-year-old girl named Mackenzie Walsh requesting assistance, and decides to leave the Motherland for Earth without permission or approval.
What Eleanor doesn’t realize until too late is that the letter was actually sent decades ago, and the girl she is trying to help is an adult woman (Isla Fisher) trying to keep her life together balancing her job as a local news producer and being a mother of two daughters (Jillian Shea Spaeder, Willa Skye). Despite this set back, her determination cannot be stopped, and she uses her Fairy Godmother powers to try and make Mackzenie’s life better – specifically by trying to help her find true love.
Godmothered is generic and clichéd throughout, and lacks any real magic.
A premise like the one in Godmothered creates endless possibilities for creativity, as there is the chance to explore the whole legacy of Fairy Godmothers (Disney’s history included) and design a vast background for their abilities, but it’s actually kind of shocking to see just how disengaged the movie is with that idea. The story is equipped with a narrator (June Squibb) who should make the delivery of exposition exceptionally easy, but an effort is barely made. Based solely on what’s explained in the film, the vast Motherland is occupied by about 10-12 Fairy Godmothers, all of whom are totally checked out, and their days are spent in a classroom where the three step plan to “Happily Ever After” is repeatedly drilled into their brains.
Part of this uninspired simplicity is explained by the plot line involving a lack of Fairy Godmother requests in the world and a pending operation that will see them all become Tooth Fairies, but there remain innumerable questions that the film seems to have no interest in answering – such as how a fairy gets on the path to becoming a godmother, how requests from children are sent in, and how the tradition started. These are all things that could add real depth to the characters and the storytelling, but Godmothered is intent on being incredibly shallow.
Godmothered actually feels cheap and lacking in resources, and hopefully isn’t setting a standard for Disney+ originals.
It’s admittedly possible that this macro problem isn’t strictly linked to a lack of imagination from the filmmakers, as what also stands out about Godmothered is that it clearly wasn’t provided with the same kind of resources that we typically see on full display in Disney theatrical releases. With a bigger budget the same film could have potentially worked more magic in the Motherland, but instead the story works to leave that setting as quickly as possible and move things to contemporary Boston (and it even cheaps out at the end when the story moved back by abandoning live action and instead featuring a 2D animated sequence to wrap up the plot).
The negative effect on the film is blatant, as it actively looks cheap, but what’s far more disturbing is what it could mean for the future of original features on Disney+. Unlike, for example, Noelle or Togo from last year, which were both originally developed for big screen releases, Godmothered was always designed to be direct-to-streaming, and it has a kind of 1990s direct-to-video pall as a result. If such a massive resource gap continues to be present in theatrical vs. streaming content, it could ultimately spell really terrible things for the future of Disney+ exclusives that aren’t Star Wars or Marvel connected. Given that the platform is expected to be the place where the studio starts producing more original, non-franchise material, that’s sincerely troubling.
As great as Jillian Bell is, she can’t save the disappointing material.
Deserving far more than the movie has to offer is Jillian Bell, who does what she can with the material by playing Eleanor as a font of sunshine and rainbows, but she just doesn’t have the capacity to make the bigger issues of the film disappear. In recent years she has proven herself able to both deliver as hilarious supporting roles (22 Jump Street) and as a fantastic lead (Brittany Runs A Marathon), and it’s easy to see why Godmothered was an appealing project on the surface. It’s a fun character, and Bell puts on a spritely performance, but it’s overshadowed by the overwhelming blandness of everything else.
Based on everything we know about Disney+, Godmothered should be a kind of bread-and-butter title for the streaming service, and it’s a really bad sign that it is as disappointing as it is. Hopefully it’s just a sign of growing pains, or just some wrong calls made at the wrong time, and we’ll see some course correction in the future – but for now this is a title that you can skip over while you are browsing around and looking for something to watch.