Disney’s Enchanted made a huge splash in 2007 because it did what we’ve all been wanting to do: ridicule classic Disney princesses.
F and I watched the film together one Saturday night recently, a happy little indulgence over takeout. The last time I watched it I was still in the dewey-eyed “This is SO COOL” phase, but this time I was able to see into it a bit more.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Enchanted is the movie about a cartoon fairy tale princess whose evil step-mother-in-law-to-be throws her through a magic portal into modern New York City, the real one. Giselle (Amy Adams) is sweetness and light, she sings to animals who do her bidding, and she’s totally in love with that prince she’s known for less than 24 hours who will surely rescue her in no time. Patrick Dempsey‘s Robert is her less than enthusiastic handler here in the real world, a man who looks on the dark side of life and discourages fantasy in his six year old daughter. Of course, little Morgan is thrilled to meet a real princess, and wouldn’t you know it? They end up a happy family at the end of the film.
Enchanted is both a loving tribute tipping its hat to the classic films of the past, and a sorely needed parody poking holes in all those standards. Giselle washes the bathroom floor with the exact same motions and bubbles as Cinderella, and when she breaks into song with half of Central Park following along, poor Robert cries, “He knows the song, too? I’ve never heard this song! How does everyone know this? Were there rehearsals?!”
Yes, all those stupid princess tropes get a jolly whack upside the head. Giselle can sing the creatures of her forest home out to help her, but in New York she gets rats, pigeons, and cockroaches. She doesn’t know how to be angry, she’s only heard of it. True love is the best thing in the world and cures all ills.
While Enchanted makes one feel justified in all your complaints about the classics, and nostalgic for a time when you thought those tropes were the be-all and end-all, its own story doesn’t quite measure up–except in one way.
Believe in Fairy Tales, And You Shall Be Rewarded
Robert’s daughter Morgan is the character most young girls are going to latch onto. Her character’s role in the film is completely believable, but it isn’t role model-worthy.
Morgan’s father is a divorce lawyer who was left by her mother. Consequently, he doesn’t believe in true love or fantasy, and he discourages her from these things… although her room is covered in pink, fairies, and princess toys. We first meet the two of them on a rainy night while coming home from Morgan’s martial arts lesson (we know this only because she’s wearing her uniform; it is never mentioned, the skills are never used). She spots Giselle playing damsel in distress and jumps out of a taxi onto a dark (and somehow empty?) NY street. Her poor father nearly has a heart attack, but forgets to scold her because there’s this crazy woman in a ballgown trying to talk to a billboard.
Morgan’s faith in Giselle never wavers. She never makes any attempt toward being the sort of mature person her father wants her to be. A kid in her position could understandably try to do something like clean up the house for him, sit quietly, do extra studying, etc.–even at six. She never does, she’s just wide-eyed wonder from start to finish.
Like I said, that’s completely believable for a kid her age (though I also wonder if she’s a tad dim-witted). But if this movie were really about subverting tropes, it could have tried a little harder.
In the end, Morgan gets her fairy tale ending. Faith rewarded.
Being A Smart Woman Will Get You Killed
Robert gives Morgan a gift of a book – Important Women Of Our Time or something. All she has to say is, “A book?” Robert starts naming names of impressive women, reminding her that he wants her to be an independent, accomplished young women when she’s an adult. Like Marie Curie! “…who died of radiation poisoning.” End of specifics.
What’s the takeaway? Smart woman died because of what she did. Lesson? Don’t be smart. Like princesses, who get fairy tale endings, not death by radiation.
Romantic Gestures Solve Everything
Robert’s fiancee walks in on him and Giselle, who’s just come from the shower. She is, of course, furious. Robert is busy trying to keep Giselle out of trouble so he’s fretting about what will happen to his planned marriage. Giselle asks if he’s done anything to show her that he cares. Well, uh, they don’t say it, but, like, she knows. “How? How does she know?” (Cue song.) During the song, Giselle somehow gets two white doves to fly a heart-shaped garland of flowers to Robert’s fiancee.
All is forgiven! These are totally awesome, Robert! Sure, you brought the redhead, but come on! Where do you find DOVES in New York!? (Hint: White pigeons.)
Giselle’s argument that couples need to demonstrate their love to each other is a good one, and she does include things like leaving a little note, etc. But the doves erase all of the fiancee’s fears and displeasure in seconds.
That sends a dangerous message: If he pisses you off, he should make it up with flowers. And if they’re pretty enough, he’s forgiven.
It’s Ok For Your Lifemate to Have the Emotional and Mental Development of a Six-Year-Old
The scenes where Giselle and Morgan interact one-to-one are disturbing, because these females are so damn alike. And it dawns on you that Giselle isn’t acting this way just for Morgan, she’s like this through the entire film. They both have faith in a good outcome (Giselle, that her prince is on his way), they both don’t think through the consequences of their actions, they both looove animals, and they’re both delighted by the new things they discover.
Robert is very much aware at the beginning that Giselle is doolally. But through spending more and more time with her he learns to love her. And it never seems to occur to him after that that his new girlfriend and his daughter could switch brains and no one would notice.
It’s concerning, to say the least. Does he feel safe with a woman who is his intellectual inferior? Has he grown so used to Morgan that he can no longer envisage himself with someone more challenging? Or is there some latent desire for a helpless little girl-bride?
Thanks for being SUPER CREEPY, Disney!!!!
Fairy Tale Princesses Brainwash People
This is the only explanation I can come up with for all the silly things that go on here. It seems that Giselle’s sheer force of goodwill changes the minds of otherwise rational people.
Robert is a divorce lawyer, natch, and Giselle is there to witness one couple formally ending their relationship. She is devastated by the very idea. Surely they must still love each other? It would be terrible to be separated from the one you love! They are both greatly offended and hurt by her volatile display, but the next day, sure enough, they’re holding hands and calling off the divorce. (Robert’s going to lose a lot of business to Giselle.)
Robert’s affections turn from his fiancee to Giselle in less than a week–although he criticizes her for falling in love with a man she’s known for less than a day. Any good, conflicted romance novel hero would spare some time to say, “My god, I am a hypocrite! This cannot be!” but all soulsearching is lost in the Final Battle.
At the climax, Giselle has bitten into a poisoned apple and fallen into a drugged sleep/death that only True Love’s Kiss will awaken her from. Her Official Prince(tm)’s kiss doesn’t work. But, the prince himself cheerfully urges Robert to try. Nonono, he can’t… then ROBERT’S OWN fiancee tells him he should, it’s all right. (I should mention that they’ve put five years into their relationship.) She gives her blessing with a genuine smile. And seems genuinely happy when Giselle wakes up, etc. The Prince is also very happy. How does that happen?
In the End, It’s OK to Marry Within 24 Hours — As Long As Your Feet Are the Same Size
At the very end, the fiancee is merely a bit wistful and sad, seemingly buying into the romantic story. She sees that Giselle lost a shoe, and the prince does the Cinderella bit for her. What luck, their feet match! And it’s off to the cartoon fairy tale kingdom for a wedding! All signs indicate that they will be happy forever after, of course. (Although she may be the one wearing the pants…)
That all sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? Despite it, I still love what Enchanted does right. Which includes something really, really important, something I consider a deciding factor in these movies.
Giselle (kind of) Saves Herself–And the Hero
The Evil Queen has tried to kill Giselle, and now she’s going to kill Robert while Giselle watches. In dragon form, queenie (Susan Sarandon, MARVELOUS) climbs to the top of the Woolworth Building, beau clutched in talons. Rather than sit by and weep, Giselle grabs the prince’s sword and goes after them, clearly terrified but determined. She is climbing the outside of the building on a wet night, in a ballgown, barefoot (YES! She kicked off the impractical shoes!), sword in hand. She makes a few swipes when the dragon gets too near.
Her chipmunk friend is the one who actually gets the dragon falling (sigh) but when Robert goes into freefall, Giselle flings the sword at just the right angle to pin his jacket to something. She tries to catch him when he slides from there, and then they’re both sliding to the edge of the roof, arm in arm, stopping just in time.
It’s the bravest, most useful thing a princess has done since Mulan.
When the battle lines are drawn, Giselle gets practical (sword, shoes), she shoves down her fears, and she does what she knows is right, for the person she loves.
That’s a message I can live with.