It’s December again, and with this month comes the annual crop of feel-good holiday movies, each hoping to become the next classic tradition, the next “Elf” or “Love, Actually.” While many of these offerings are lightweights that we may only watch once, this year’s lot brings us a film that actually has what it takes to become a new perennial fave. It’s “Godmothered,” and it debuts exclusively on Disney+ this Friday, December 4.
The story starts with the premise that no one in this jaded modern world of ours believes any more in fairies, magic or happy endings of the sort most Disney viewers grew up with. But Eleanor, a fairy godmother-in-training, disagrees with that notion, and is determined to keep the fairies and their school, known as Motherland and run by head godmother Moira (TV veteran Jane Curtin), in business.
Played by Jillian Bell, the unassuming heroine who stole our heart in 2019’s “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” Eleanor rummages around old files and finds a forgotten letter from a young girl begging for a fairy godmother intervention. Although not yet fully trained in all the godmotherly arts, Eleanor decides to head out into the Real World to show that everyone, even those of us stuck firmly in the grasp of 2020, need to believe in “Happily Ever After.”
Eleanor’s journey begins with a comical introduction to the present day, as she literally slams head-first into rural Massachusetts and a pumpkin patch shortly before Christmas. Thinking she might just turn one of the orange squashes into a mode of transportation, a la Cinderella, Eleanor experiences the first of many magical mishaps that endear her to us, as we secretly begin to root for her success.
Once Eleanor finally locates the little girl she’s been searching for, however, she discovers to her dismay that time has marched on. The child, Mackenzie, is now a 40-year-old single mother of two, played by Isla Fisher (“Wedding Crashers,” “Arrested Development”). Widowed and stuck in an unfulfilling job at a Boston news station, Mackenzie has lost all hope for any kind of happiness in her life, and is in danger of passing her quiet desperation on to her children. This is precisely why she still needs Eleanor, with her pretty pink gown and her positive, never-say-die attitude, not to mention her magic wand.
Now, at this point we all KNOW how this story is going to end, don’t we? The world-weary Mackenzie, after a rocky start with the eternal optimist Eleanor, will eventually realize that magic IS real and a happy ending is possible, right? After all, we’re told right up front that this film is about Happily Ever Afters, and it can’t be a coincidence that the lead male character’s last name is PRINCE, as in Prince Charming. We can see what’s coming from a mile away.
Or can we?
Maybe not. You just might be surprised at how Eleanor gets Mackenzie to her “happy ending” by redefining what’s important, and, spoiler alert, it’s without a Prince Charming and an elegant ball gown.
And as a bonus, we’re treated to an animated closing sequence back in Motherland that neatly ties up many loose ends. We even get to see a new and diverse crop of fairy godmother recruits being schooled along with the “old-timers” as Motherland itself gets its own Happily Ever After.
As directed by Sharon Maguire, who cleverly helmed both “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Bridget Jones’s Baby”, “Godmothered” is light and engaging without the saccharine-sweetness that is typical of many holiday movies. There’s an emotional depth that resonates in much of the dialogue, such as when Mackenzie speaks to her daughter Jane about overcoming her stage fright, or when Mackenzie confronts Eleanor about her true motives. The film is atypical in other ways, also — for example, the soundtrack steers clear of pounding the viewer with endless carols that scream, “THIS IS A CHRISTMAS MOVIE!” True, we do get a bit of “My Favorite Things” but we also get a healthy dose of the Village People’s “YMCA” and Earth Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy.”
There’s also the sense that the cast, led by Bell and Fisher and supported by Santiago Cabrera (“Big Little Lies,” “Star Trek: Picard”) as Hugh Prince, are as comfortable with the film’s numerous magical special effects (including an enchanted raccoon named Gary) as they are with the script’s plot twists. There are moments of wonder when Eleanor wields her magic wand to cast some spells, but there’s no awkwardness or artificiality to the scenes. The two daughters, played by Jillian Spaeder (“Jane”) and Willa Skye (“Mia”), are charming and credible as siblings slightly damaged by the sadness Fate has dealt them, while comic relief is ably provided by news anchor Stephnie Weir and dithering June Squibb (“Nebraska”) as godmother Agnes.
At the outset, I had feared the story of “Godmothered” would end rather predictably. The fact that it didn’t was a very pleasant surprise. And I’m not gonna lie – I teared up at some of the final moments. I’m willing to bet many of you will, too. “Godmothered” just may be that new classic feel-good holiday movie that you’ll want to add to your annual must-watch list… because we all do need a shot of magic these days, don’t we?
You can see the official prailer for “Godmothered” here: