Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

Enchanted is a comedy-fantasy-musical film by Walt Disney Pictures. It tells the story of Giselle, an animated maiden who falls in love with a handsome prince with puffy sleeves and plans to get married the next day. Happily ever after was supposed to follow, until the wicked step mother of the prince (of course, there is one -- what did you expect?) shoved Giselle into a magical well. This is basically the condensed version of every Disney classic, and the film propels from here.

The queen planned to send Giselle to 'a land where no happily ever after exists' -- so she promptly arrives on 21st century New York City. She emerged from a manhole near Times Square -- and immediately almost gets squished by oncoming traffic.

If watching Enchanted reminds you of earlier Disney classics, don't be surprised -- that's fully intentional. Most of the movie's props, dialog, music, action, and
references are in tribute to earlier Disney hits. While spoofs of Disney's formula movies have been in vogue for quite some time now (Ella Enchanted/Shrek), Enchanted's approach is to keep things light that will make you laugh with the movie instead of at it. The jokes rarely miss, and we are left with a refreshing and funny tale.

You have to check logic and the need for suspense at the door -- Enchanted makes no excuses for itself, and that is the wellspring of its enjoyability. There is no question to whom the lady ends up, and everyone who read fairy tales while growing up knows what will happen on the succeeding scenes. Enchanted embraces the whole genre with open arms -- complete with impromptu musicals, the all-important ball near the end, animal friends, witches, charming princes, and princesses we all love.

At the same time, Disney pokes fun at the stereotypes that has been its cash cow for the longest time. The musical number with 'animal friends' (translated into Manhattan, the local fauna means cockroaches, rats, flies, bugs, and pigeons) is both funny and disgusting (even the lyrics included words like 'scum' and 'filth'); Prince Charming is a self-centered, dim-witted 'hero' -- eager to slay trolls and dragons for his love, but will run away from an irate woman bus driver; the lady's true love turns out to be this reluctant romantic who has a hard time accepting the possibility of happiness because he's too fearful of the possibility of pain. More importantly, while other kiddie movies tend to sugarcoat reality and foster faulty expectations, Enchanted "
maintains a delicate balance between wish-fulfillment fantasy and a recognition that the world inhabited by its audience is filled with disappointment as well as with joy."

The two things most enjoyable in this movie are the music and the acting. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz weaves magic into the movie with their tunes.
That's How You Know is a delight to watch -- an infectious smile spread like an epidemic at the cinema while this was playing. A personal favorite is So Close -- the longing expressed in that song stays in the heart.

The real gem is the acting of the stars in this film. Susan Sarandon -- like all evil stepmothers are wont to do -- steals the scene from the main characters. James Marsden plays the self-centered Prince Charming perfectly... down to the puffed up sleeves and shiny sword. Amy Adams is the amalgam of every Disney princess. Naive, strong, innocent, pure, and loving, she plays Giselle with full abandon that she's the one who enables the audience to jump from the 2D classic cartoon into real life. I suspect Enchanted would be
the movie to Adams as The Sound of Music was to Julie Andrews. Patrick Dempsey's (Robert) performance seems subdued and underplayed... but maybe that's deliberate because he's the one from the 'mundane' real world.

In terms of message, this is where the movie stumbles. Enchanted basically says that happiness can only be found in the person you love (even Giselle's animated form was concerned only with finding her 'true love'). From a man who plans to raise a kid or two of his own one day, I take serious issues with this. Our notions of 'love' have been corrupted enough by all that Hollywood crap that we don't even know its true form (for a guide, read the bible, or even C.S. Lewis' essays). Love isn't the i-can't-help-it, head-over-heels, this-is-beyond-me lie that Hollywood perpetuates. But I guess that's the one that helps fuel capitalism.

Even disregarding my disgust to Hollywood's definition of love, the movie stumbles over its own thesis. By presenting a maiden straight out of the fairy tale pop-up books and pairing her with a disillusioned, hardcore Manhattan lawyer (a 'shark'), 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. It was as if the writers of the movie teased us into believing they will offer something new and insightful, and real (what's the point of traveling to real-life New York, after all?) with all the hopes and dreams that power fairy tales, but ends up too timidly to challenge the tried and tested formula of Disney's earlier films.

In the end, Enchanted is much like Julia Roberts'
Pretty Woman. If analyzed under the feminist perspective, that movie bombs -- everyone should hate it. But the truth is, feminism notwithstanding, I enjoyed watching that film too. I give Enchanted the same allowances. I'll just have to keep my critical analysis under wraps -- after all, whoever said I can find answers to life's questions inside a fairy tale? -- and just enjoy the show.

* Disney owns the images used in this review


Anonymous said...

I completly agree. I had to write a research paper anylyzing the stereotypes enforced in Enchanted and there are soo many, even thought I still enjoyed the movie, Disney is still sending out wrong messages.

nic gibson said...

I think your point on the film stumbling over its own thesis is solid. I felt the same way. Concerning Feminism, I thought that although the film failed in portraying Giselle as an autonomous feminist figure, it tried hard to portray her as a complimentary feminist figure. She supplied the needs of the relationship in a uniquely feminine way, and in the area of of 'saving' instead of autonomously saving herself, Robert and Giselle were mutual saviors instead of self saviors (each saved each other instead of each saving him/erself). So if you see Feminism as a triumph of feminine complimentarity than the movie does ok. If you see it as female gender autonomy, then it doesn't do much either way.