~Overall Review: 3/4 Stars (see bottom for details)~
Enchanted is one of my favorite movies ever. For a full list of just reasons I like it, go here. (some points will be incorporated into this blog, when they are relevant) I love that it is irreverent, but not disrespectful. It pokes fun of a lot of the rather tired Disney themes/unrealistic set-ups etc., without being mean. Even though Giselle is completely weird, she’s also really lovable. And they really give the Prince Charming trope a run for its money, but without making him seem… bad. He’s not very bright, but it’s clear that he means well.
Giselle: Oh, it’s you.
Prince Edward: Yes, it’s me. And you are?
Prince Edward: Oh, Giselle! We shall be married in the morning!
To give a very quick plot summary: in order to prevent their upcoming marriage, Edward’s evil stepmother sends Giselle to “reality,” aka NYC, where “there are no happily ever afters… muahaha!” Giselle then meets/is rescued by Robert and his daughter, Morgan. Giselle and Robert’s blossoming romance is at the heart of the movie, and like many movies, it tends to overfocus on heterosexual romance (tv/magazines/movies’ zealous creation of hetero romance plotlines creates/feeds into a social desire for everyone to pair up/a lot of pressure for everyone to pair up, or be seen as/feel abnormal). At the same time though, there’s meaningful dialogue taking place regarding the true imperfection of a perfect relationship. There is a lot of great discussion focused around the difference between fairytale romance and the reality of most romances- and how it can still be special even if it isn’t always forever, immediately felt, or involves magical animals, etc.
Robert: [regarding Morgan] I know she’s shy. I know she doesn’t have very many friends. I just want her to be strong, you know? To be able to face the world for what it is. That’s why I don’t encourage the fairy tales. I don’t want to set her up to believe in this “dreams come true” nonsense.
Giselle: But dreams do come true. And maybe something wonderful will happen.
Robert: Yeah, well, I forgot who I was talking to.
Giselle: Well, I hope you don’t forget. I like talking to you. [imdb]
I like how they worked out the ending; both Giselle and Nancy got their happily ever after, even though it was in completely different ways and what worked for one didn’t work for the other. I really appreciated in this movie that Nancy was never made to be “the bad one” even though her motives were, for most of the movie, at odds with Giselle’s. The movie’s lack of antagonism between them- even though they didn’t end up being really friends, sadly- was, to me, a breath of fresh-ish air. Again though, the focus on hetero romance is in line with, rather than breaking any stereotypes, of all earlier movies Enchanted otherwise lampoons- Happily Ever After is about these ladies finding true love and [implied, for Giselle] marriage with a man. If Nancy hadn’t found love with the Prince, it doesn’t seem like she would have ended with a Happily Ever After- and that’s a little sad.
Wheresmystory on blogspot notes that,
Enchanted has a rare opportunity to present a unique picture of true/real love. But in the end, the film fails to do this. Giselle champions commitment, yet throws it out the window. Robert emphasizes the importance of getting to know your partner, yet contradicts himself by choosing Giselle over his girlfriend of five years.
Fair enough! Sarah Seltzer in an Enchanted review for the Huffington Post remarks:
Enchanted’s glib espousal of both feminist pragmatism and feminine romanticism suggests that the balancing act facing modern women is as simple as, well, as a song and dance routine might be for a cartoon heroine. That idea is a fairytale in and of itself: balancing society’s expectations is extremely difficult in a world where women are supposed to have it all and do it all. But as myths go, the film sends girls a better message than falling into a hundred-year swoon.
I agree that Giselle’s emotional roller coaster transformation from naive Disney princess to real, complicated woman perhaps in its conclusion underestimates the difficulty of juggling all the different roles. However, I thought the pacing of her character’s development was very well done and really allowed us to see her as a dynamic, complex individual. She was able to grow in a way that allowed her to begin to critically examine the things that happened to her rather than just believing in them, yet was still able to retain that joy in life and inner spirit that really is at the heart of what makes “Disney magic.” To me, the conclusion of the changes Giselle undergoes serves as a metaphor for Disney at large; it is possible to craft interesting, modern, magical, and memorable characters without necessarily backstepping into a lot of sexism, underdevelopment, gender roles, stereotypes et cetera. Giselle goes from literally falling into the saving arms of Prince Edward and not questing her fate, to being a sword wielding, shoe losing, dragon battling, decision making real woman, ready to risk her life to save the man she loves. And she is still a princess at heart.
In her review, Seltzer also mentions that,
Of course, the whole stepmother-as-dragon thing is a holdout from fairyland’s misogynist tradition, but that’s another story.
Which I think sums up my feelings on that rather well- yes, this characterization trope is a problem and a stayover from earlier tales, but I’ve talked about it so much beforethat I think it’s enough just to note that it’s here too. And while Narissa is definitely an underdeveloped character, it’s interesting to note that Nancy’s last name (Tremaine) links to the original evil stepmother in Cinderella. Yet Nancy in this movie is not shown to be a “evil” [potential] stepmother to Morgan- I think their relationship is portrayed fairly realistically even though it is only seen in bits and pieces/ and through Morgan’s conversations with her father and Giselle. Morgan is hesitant to accept this woman as her “new mother,” and Nancy for her part is not completely comfortable yet with the role either. Through Nancy, the role of the “evil stepmother” in fairytales seems to have evolved into something more honest, more nuanced, and less… shaming.
There are some nice little “feminist” moments in Enchanted, like when Robert thinks a great gift to give his daughter is a hefty book of important women in history. He clearly doesn’t understand the desires of a 6 year old and it’s supposed to be funny so that diminishes the point a bit, but I think it’s still a really good moment for little girls to just… visualize. Like right there in the beginning of the movie there’s this real message that You, Little Girl, can one day change the entire world. And going back to the Nancy/Giselle/Robert/Edward thing, the movie overall doesn’t seem to say that it’s bad to want to be a “princess,” or that having a successful career is the only way to be happy; but it seems to do a much better job than many earlier films of saying either can be perfect, for different people; that there is no universal definition of Happily Ever After. And it’s worth noting that Giselle does transform her “princess esque” happiness into a career (she ends up heading a business where she makes princess dresses for little girls). As a note, this movie does pass the Bechdel Test.
Race in this movie was not portrayed especially well. All the main, and all the secondary characters, are white actors and actresses. There are a few POC in this movie- which is better than Tangled can say for itself- but they operate always as background characters and are only there for Giselle and others to interact with. Both of the black women in the film- the almost divorcee and the bus driver- also more or less fit the trope of the Angry Black Woman. (For anyone unfamiliar with the trope, the point isn’t that it’s “wrong” or “unnatural” for black women to be angry, but that they are portrayed overwhelmingly in media as constantly, sometimes irrationally angry).
The almost-divorcee, Phoebe Banks, is a more developed character than the busdriver (and is, at one point, calm, although this is only AFTER Giselle changes her), but the scene where Giselle touches her hair and says she/her hair is “just beautiful” felt a little off. I realize part of Giselle’s character/charm is that she doesn’t understand personal (physical, and emotional) boundaries like “real world” people do, but it just felt weird that they turned “touch the black woman’s hair without asking” into something positive/excusable because it is a compliment, considering that- feeling entitled to feel up a black person’s hair because it seems “different”- is a big issue in the way white people tend to interact with (and otherize/make to feel “different”) black people.
And even though it was, I think, cool that Giselle the Disney Princess actually makes a point to vocalize that a black woman with dredded hair is beautiful, it felt a little forced, and like another “aha, Giselle is so naive” cue-the-laugh moment, which didn’t seem completely appropriate given the context of black women rarely being shown as “the beautiful one” in film. Also a little off beat was that the black couple couldn’t fix their marriage without the help of Giselle
the white woman savior, although maybe the aftermath of all the “The Help” discussions are too prominent in my mind right now.
Another off moment with race is when Nathaniel is pretending to be a taxi driver and seems to be dressed up as a Sikh (turban etc)? He also pretends to be German (I think? It doesn’t sound like a German accent to me but.) when selling the candy apples, and Italian while selling the pizza. On the one hand, I think part of the point is recognizing that his portrayals are stereotypes, and part of the humor is realizing how unbelievable he is as an “italian” when he’s relying only on these stereotypes to craft his character. On the other hand… I’m not sure how clear this point really is, especially to younger audiences. The line between making fun of a stereotype, and reinforcing it by playing into it, is often a very thin one to walk.
Although I sort of hate to mention it, Dana Stevens at Slate Magazine makes a good point about one thing Disney does not make fun of:
…Giselle needs an outfit only a fairy godmother can provide. So Morgan, Robert’s 6-year-old daughter, proposes a solution: “I know something better than a fairy godmother,” she trills, reaching into a drawer for her daddy’s credit card. There follows a shopping montage in which the two dash in and out of a series of Manhattan boutiques…
Finally, we see them getting makeovers at a salon, surrounded by a mountain of shopping bags. Smiling shyly at the lovely young woman who’s just entered her divorced father’s life, Morgan asks, “Is this what it’s like to go shopping with your mother?”
Of course, “shopping with your mother,” specifically for femininity-enhancing, wallet-reducing princess clothes, is precisely the activity that propels the global Disney empire forward. The scene between Morgan and Giselle in the spa isn’t played for irony; these two are truly bonding over the manicure counter, and Morgan’s mission to save the day via retail proves successful…
Disney can afford to poke fun at a lot of things about itself, and in Enchanted, it does exactly that, to largely charming effect. But the marketing of princesshood? That’s serious business.
Do I think this is enough to make Enchanted a terrible movie? Of course not. But it’s definitely worth examining the way Disney is using the film to subtly market their Princess Lifestyle, since a large part of selling their (highly successful line of) merchandise is first convincing young girls and their parents that it is something that will make them happy- that will make them feel complete. All of the above, combined with Giselle’s eventual career creating princess dresses at her business “Andalasia Designs,” make this an interesting peek into the ways in which Disney has worked to combine their merchandise with a deeper sense of meaning for potential consumers.
Overall, Enchanted is still one of my favorites, and although it is not perfect, I think it carries far fewer troubling messages than older Disney films. Disney took a mild gamble in creating a movie that makes fun of their own empire, and they were rewarded with the quality payoff that is Enchanted.
Promotion/Equal Voice given to women: ****
Representation of Women present (are they more than typecasts of female stereotypes etc): **~
Racism/Classism: ** (mostly white, upper-class people shown)
LGBTQ representation: ** (no one really present, but no queer villain coding)
Gender Binary adherence: ***