There’s no lack of talent on display in Disney+’s latest original feature “Godmothered,” a film built around the charming duo of Isla Fisher and Jillian Bell (already solid casting) that also has the space to include gems like Jane Curtin and June Squibb in roles so supporting that one of them spends most of her screen time cosplaying as the face of a clock. Other supporting roles are kitted out by talented kiddos like Jillian Shea Spaeder and Willa Skye or consistent comedic stars like Utkarsh Ambudkar and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, and the whole thing was cooked up by rising screenwriters Melissa Stack (the underappreciated “The Other Woman”) and Kari Granlund. Even better, it’s all directed by Sharon Maguire, the genius behind the first (and best) “Bridget Jones” film (and yes, also the third, and worst, “Bridget Jones” film).
Built on a cute idea — hey, what about exploring the wide world of fairy godmothers? — that also builds in some nifty ideas about what fairy tales actually represent in this current day and age and then wraps all that up in a glittery holiday package, “Godmothered” has all the pieces for at least an amiable enough production. Instead, the result is a paradoxical combination of sweet messages and dull execution, good-hearted ideas and bizarre subplots, a dull affair that very clearly sprang from a good place. Plus, a lot of songs from “The Sound of Music,” because … why not?
Disney’s previous attempts to poke fun at its fairy tale mythos have yielded some hits, particularly Kevin Lima’s “Enchanted,” which similarly injected a fairy tale character into the real world and delighted in the results. And yet “Godmothered,” despite a smartly progressive take on what “happily ever after” means now and how that might look from the perspective of a youthful fairy godmother, can’t conjure up that same magic. That doesn’t mean that its talent doesn’t try to rustle up some wonder, somehow making the entire affair still more depressing.
Opening in “the Motherland,” Maguire’s film imagines a world in which fairy godmothering is just one career path a young fairy might choose, though it’s one that’s fallen very much out of style as human beings have become less susceptible to the idea that anything, especially life, can unfold happily. But the realm’s youngest godmother-in-training, the whimsical Eleanor (a charming Bell), is nothing if not an optimist, and she’s convinced that there is still room in the world for a) fairy godmothers and b) the wishes they can make come true.
Her roommate (Agnes) does away with a hefty amount of early voiceover exposition, piling on the complications and warnings — head godmother Moira (Curtin) is going to shut down the magic portal that lets godmothers go to Earth! No one has written a letter asking for godmotherly help in decades! They are all about to be rerouted into tooth fairy-ing! — that lay out pretty clearly how this is all going to go down. Undeterred and ever-hopeful, Eleanor scrounges up one last, forgotten letter, believing if she can grant the wishes of 10-year-old Mackenzie, it will convince everyone that godmothering remains a viable enterprise.
There is, of course, at least one major problem that Eleanor doesn’t even consider until long after she’s (literally) tumbled into the real world: Mackenzie hasn’t been a kid for a very long time. Instead, she’s a harried single mom trying to juggle a thankless production job at a failing local news station, two very sweet kids, and the barely buried pain left behind by the departure of her “one true love.” Through a series of misadventures and pleas for mercy — read: anything to get this plot moving — Mackenzie and her family (sort of) accept Eleanor into their world, where she good-naturedly tries to get them to believe in, uh, magic? happiness? joy? or something?
It is all, again, very good-natured and sweet and kind, but it also feels like something cobbled together from spare parts of a million other movies. Did you like “Morning Glory”? How about mixing that up with “Sing”? And then adding a dash of “August Rush”? Add a smidge of “Dr. Doolittle” level CGI animals, and we’re in business! If this sounds like madness, it is, and while Bell and Fisher are charming enough together to occasionally distract from the choppiness of the plot, by the time it works up to a big musical number (why, exactly?) and a screed on the insidiousness of television news, “Godmothered” has gone full-tilt wack-a-doo. You’d think that would be more exciting than what makes it to the screen, given the talent on offer and the smart concept that drives it, but the final product is dull and confusing.
Instead, “Godmothered” slowly chips away at its positive attributes, piling on more complications and subplots than any film could reasonably do justice to, from a winky possible romance to a co-worker whose last name is literally “Prince” to something about a “dismissive raccoon” to a through-line that seems to have been injected simply to give the film a musical bent. And it’s also the holidays because, surely, there is some joy to be had in watching said raccoon try to string up Christmas lights and even a handful of laughs when it’s time for Mackenzie to get silly at her company’s holiday party.
It’s all such a waste, making “Godmothered” one of the more flat-out disappointing films of the year. There’s no fairy godmother coming ’round to save it with some well-placed magic and a zippy spell involving pumpkins, and that might be the worst part: you can almost believe in the power of wishes coming true, before “Godmothered” yanks that all way, revealing the hollowness at the center of, well, believing.
“Godmothered” starts streaming on Disney+ on Friday, December 4.