Godmothered, the latest feature-length offering from Disney+, exists in a “sort of” situation. It’s sort of a comedy deconstructing fairy tale tropes, it’s sort of a romantic drama, it’s sort of a spiritual sequel to Enchanted on a much more limited budget, and it’s sort of a Christmas-is-magic family film. It seems to exist to appeal to as many people as possible by sort of throwing a bit of everything into its mix and seeing if it works. And for the most part, it actually does.
Godmother-in-training Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is desperate to prove that the world still needs fairy godmothers in order to save her profession. She finds a letter from a 10-year-old named Mackenzie asking for a fairy godmother and tracks her down. Only it turns out that Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) is an adult now with children of her own and has grown very disillusioned about the idea of “happily ever after.” Eleanor makes it her mission to bring more magic into Mackenzie’s life whether she wants it or not.
The first keyword for Godmothered is light, both in the sense of being bright and being gentle. The film never takes itself too seriously, and even though it does touch on some heavier topics like grief and loss, it handles them deftly and with finesse. It’s easy breezy, wafting from scene to scene in vivid colors and good humor, but it rarely comes off as disposable or slight.
The second keyword is surprise, because this film is more for entertaining than it has any right to be. A straight-to-streaming, holiday-adjacent throwback to The Wonderful World of Disney really has no business being this enjoyable. While it does occasionally threaten to become the cheesy, fluffy mess that implies (especially during the final act), it’s buoyed by a genuine sense of spectacle and a good-natured vibe that inspires empathy. Its humor is far more sharp and pointed than expected, even flirting with the subversive. Who would have expected a Midnight Cowboy reference in the first act of a PG-rated Disney film? It manages to point out the absurdity of the tropes surrounding fairy godmothers without ever coming off like it’s mocking them.
A lot of why this movie works boils down to its cast, especially and most importantly Jillian Bell as Eleanor. Bell is perfectly cast, embodying Eleanor’s relentless positivity and utter lack of guile. Eleanor is like the Rose Nylund of Godmothered, honest and cheerful often to a fault, desperate to make people’s lives better even without their consent. In less capable hands, Eleanor’s sincerity and brightness might have come off as practiced or staged and annoying, but Bell makes Eleanor both genuine and appealing.
There’s a great deal of fish-out-of-water comedy surrounding Eleanor in the script, as she’s unfamiliar with how the modern world works and seems a bit trapped in the 1700s. A major theme throughout the film is how to reconcile Eleanor’s romantic views with Mackenzie’s more pragmatic and grounded reality. Eleanor’s attempts to bring magic into Mackenzie’s life lead to all manor of wacky hijinks, thanks both to Eleanor’s shaky grasp on her own powers and her romantic, out-of-focus expectations for the result. It’s Jillian Bell’s innate likability and charm that helps keep a lot of these moments from coming off as predictable or hackneyed.
Of course, Bell has a great co-lead to bounce her energy off of. Isla Fisher is a good counterpoint to Bell, her Mackenzie being as cynical as Eleanor is hopeful. It’s honestly very rewarding to see the slow shift in Mackenzie’s character as Eleanor’s magical worldview starts to open her mind and heart. Fisher comes off quite well in the role, imbuing what could have been a relatively generic character with spice and wit.
The closest thing the film has to an antagonist of any kind is Moira, head of the godmother academy, played by Jane Curtin. Even then, Moira doesn’t want to stop Eleanor as much as she wants to rein her in because her strict, traditional approach to godmothering doesn’t jive with Eleanor’s looser, “whatever works” practice. Curtin doesn’t get to do much but be authoritarian and wear elaborate gowns, but that’s honestly enough to make her time on screen welcome. She’s fierce, and that’s fabulous.
Adding Moira into the final act seems like a last-minute choice to add extra drama to a climax that’s already unfocused and rushed. If Godmothered has any sin, it’s a decided lack of pacing that threatens to undo the film. The cast is appealing enough to keep things in balance, but the first two acts seem to stroll in andante, and the third act seems like it’s rushing to beat the clock. The first half of the film needs to be tighter, while the second half needs to be looser, and even though the climax is as emotionally rewarding as it should be, it’s an obvious scramble to get the pieces in place.
There are also a number of special effect fails, especially in the early parts of the film, that threaten to snap the viewer out of the film’s flow. A scene of Eleanor flying around the godmothers’ library looks like something out of Shrek 2 (not a compliment), and a lot of the CGI has a too-glossy sheen to it that doesn’t fit well into the frame. It gives the film the feel of a TV movie from 20 years ago, which could have been an interesting spin on things if it were intentional and not neglectful.
Even despite all this, Godmothered is imminently charming, a winning blend of humor, emotion, and spark that’s hard to dislike. The cast is right, the mood is right, and the script is far sharper than expected. It’s a heaping slice of angel food cake, all lightness and sweet even though it has zero nutritional value. But who eats angel food cake for nutrition? If ever a film was made to satisfy a sweet tooth, it’s this one.
FBOTU Score: 7 out of 10 / B
Godmothered can be streamed exclusively on Disney+.