Sunday, April 13, 2008


Enchanted (2007) is a Disney film that makes fun of other Disney films and that itself remains a Disney film. For me the big question in the opening animated sequence is whether it's being played tongue in cheek. The answer is probably yes—the opening scenes are parodies of other animated Disney films, but they are so close to what they are making fun of that one could miss the point. The basic premise of Enchanted concerns a animated fantasy world in which a wicked step-mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), fears her step-son will fall in love with a beautiful young girl, Giselle, and that if they marry she will lose her kingdom as a result. To prevent this, she casts Giselle into the real world, the world of reality, New York City. When her step-son Prince Edward finds out what his step-mother has done, he follows the girl to New York City to rescue her. The lawyer Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey) who befriends Giselle inserts a complicating turn into the plot. Much of the humor and fun in the film focuses on the similarities and differences between the real and animated worlds, the worlds (supposedly) of hard and cynical reality and of romantic fantasy.

The film parallels reality and fantasy in a number of ways. The lawyer is a practical man who buys his young daughter a book about famous women of the twentieth century rather than the book of fairy tales she wants. He also does not recognize the strong romantic streak in the woman he hopes to marry. And he cannot fathom Giselle at all. Giselle is played by Amy Adams (Junebug, 2005). Her over-the-top enthusiasm carries the film. Giselle, who is much like the leading female characters in the Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991), begins to enjoy the real world. One can begin to guess where this is all headed.

Here is an example of satire in Enchanted: as Giselle wanders in a confused state down a New York sidewalk, she bumps into a little man: that is, a dwarf. She is overjoyed to see him, she addresses him as "Grumpy" (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937). Other connections between the real and fantastic words are not so satirical. The wicked stepmother in the film (Giselle is careful to explain that not all stepmothers are wicked), is an exact replica of the evil queen in Snow White. Like the evil queen, she can transform from her beautiful regal form into an old gap-toothed hag, complete with poisonous apple. When her defeat seems likely, she transforms into a giant dragon, just like the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Whatever satiric moments Enchanted may have, it ultimately does not fail to honor the Disney formula which usually involves a hero and heroine who live happily ever after. Indeed, Giselle believes in life happily ever after. The satire in the film is broad and general and not more than skin deep. The film doesn't seek to subvert the Disney formula nor the insistence on stereotypical characters and plots. Instead it affirms them.

Critics have attacked the Disney formula for the stereotypes it uses and for its portrayal of marriage as the ultimate aim of every beautiful young girl's dreams. Although I agree with the critics that there is much more to life than marriage, I think there is ample room for additional points of view. However schmaltzy Enchanted and other romantic Disney fantasies may be, let us allow for a range of choices and possibilities. This is in fact one of the points Enchanted is making.

The film includes several entertaining songs. As with the animated sequences, it is difficult to tell whether we are to take the songs seriously, satirically, or both. I favor the third option.

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