It’s good to see that despite opening its theme parks to homosexuals and the like, Disney can still be counted on for some old-fashioned, club-to-the-head, retrograde misogyny; the kind that retained a faint, musty odor even during its heyday in the 1950s. For while the Mouse et al have made efforts to solidify their hip roots by associating with Miramax and increasingly “edgy” animated works in recent years, the evil, authoritarian spirit of Uncle Walt still haunts the corporate headquarters, insisting that above all, women — young girls especially — are to be fed only a steady diet of reactionary imagery lest they ever believe life involves more than finding a square jaw to pay your exorbitant credit card bills. Take your cries of, “It’s only a kid’s movie” and stick them in the orifice of your choosing; this disastrous enterprise is objectionable precisely because it makes its pitch to the wee ones.
It’s bad enough our adult women consistently bore us, tire us, and exhaust our souls with endless twaddle and trivia; must they reach deep into the fresh-faced naiveté of childhood to steal away future generations as well? And now we have Enchanted, a fantasy of the old school with modern sensibilities that still, despite nods to the irony-soaked pop culture, cannot escape the clutches of hysterical sexism. Above all, the film yields to the triumph of romance, an insidious notion in its own right, and one made worse by the belief that men and women are ill-suited for each other unless overwhelmed by a desire to act like utter buffoons. Jobs, education, dignified conversation — anathema, all. We must dance!
At the core of this hellfire is Giselle (Amy Adams), a bubble headed young woman found throughout the fairy tale world, who begins the movie as a cartoon and, after threatening the evil queen of the piece, is tossed down a hole only to end up in present day (and non-animated) Manhattan. Needless to say, she is followed by her Prince Edward (James Marsden), his disloyal companion Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), and Pip, the cute chipmunk. None of these details matter one bit to the reasonable adult, as they are standards of the genre. Still, they help establish the plot by placing Giselle in a situation where she must inadvertently change the life of a stuffy lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), the sort of man raising a daughter on his own because the kid’s mother walked out of the marriage. Though no explanation is given, we can safely assume that she was a vile sort who wanted her own career or had the cheek to take night classes at NYU.
Currently, Robert is dating a woman he plans on making his wife, and while she is far from the personification of evil, Nancy (Idina Menzel) is unsuitable to his daughter Morgan because she’s not girly enough. Good god, she’s classy and may like a night at the theater! And I’ll be damned if she’d ever stoop to read the brat a bedtime story. Though Robert is, by all appearances, in love and ready for marriage, he must put his own joy aside and cater to his daughter’s obviously superior whims. She wants fun and laughs and conga lines in her pajamas, not books for her birthday or elevated chats with stepmom. To hammer this home, Morgan actually rejects a tome about important women in history. Despite dad showing her pictures of Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, and other females who didn’t believe singing and cleaning house were the only real virtues, she rolls her eyes and snorts as if presented a rotting fish.
Giselle is a colossal idiot, of course, because she knows only the values and virtues of the fairy tale universe, and is thereby unfamiliar with the real world. She knows only happiness and love, and is dumbfounded by concepts such as anger and divorce. Such a character might have been a perfect opportunity to send up a host of topics and subvert the form, but instead of a full-scale commitment, it remains satisfied to wink only on rare occasions. There’s a self-awareness in spots, but it never carries it far enough to make waves. So much of animation these days tries to include adult sensibilities, whether by using in-jokes or knowing allusions, but for Enchanted, a few wisecracks are only a slight delay in reaching the decidedly square finale. We know Robert and Giselle will end up together, despite his initial confusion, but even in throwaway claptrap, we have to believe in the turnaround. Here, the two are in love within the space of a single day, not because she’s so damn wonderful, or he’s such a pleasing alternative to the prince, but solely out of an obligation to reinforce Disney’s definition of love.
Epic love, the stuff of legends, need not involve communication of any sort, even if Robert at first pays lip service to the idea. Hell, he just about moves in for a kiss the next morning, even though from his standpoint, she’s likely an escaped lunatic from Bellevue. What about her caught his attention? That she invited the neighborhood’s rats, cockroaches, and pigeons in for a song-filled housecleaning? Why, yes! He’s appalled at first, but doesn’t that place sparkle! Still, not even Disney would rest with the idea that the babes are maids alone, so they acknowledge that they’ve also got to be cute and perky and sweet around the clock. Giselle is always agreeable, never expresses an opinion, and would likely walk into traffic if you asked her. This is what Robert falls in love with, and what young Morgan — a stand-in for the millions of girls in the audience who would jump at the chance to replace mom with a for real princess — needs to be transformed from a shy wallflower to a fulfilled young woman.
And while the big ball at the end is just an excuse to bring in a hammy Susan Sarandon and spend the remaining budget on a CGI dragon, it is also where our two lovebirds share a dance and look into each other’s eyes with utter longing. Okay, so Robert dumps Nancy to be with Giselle. Where does that leave Nancy? Not to worry, as she ends up marrying Prince Edward, though not in this world, but the cartoon fantasy. Sure, she’s hitched and all, but she’s exchanged even fewer words with her man, being taken in solely by a few poetic lines and sugary compliments. You see, Robert never spoke to her like this, and it seems that being told she’s a vision of loveliness was enough to say goodbye forever to a New York apartment that would easily fetch $10 million. Always and forever, chicks just want to hear how pretty they are, a flow of golden words interrupted only for the occasional shopping trip.
Oh yes, and speaking of such things, Morgan is most taken with Giselle when they spend the day running up a huge tab on daddy’s credit card. Those crazy girls! Will they ever learn? Morgan’s role model is a person who can provide hair care tips and recite shoe brands, not some lame bitty who’d rather be at MOMA or something. But as Giselle has a gift for fashion — what with her ability to turn dusty curtains into a dress in less than an hour — she too must have her dreams come true, above and beyond roping her man. Alas, it’s nothing more than her own clothing line and factory, though it happens to be the lone such enterprise in all the United States that doesn’t employ a single illegal alien. Not only do white faces man the sewing machines, they apparently sell enough of these god awful creations to pay rent on a spot deep in the heart of the world’s most expensive real estate market. I imagine the coda — one in which we see the destinies of all the story’s characters — was meant to defuse criticism of the dubious message, but it only adds insult to an already grievous injury.
The film ends much as it began, with our new family dancing around the apartment as if in a trance. Mom is acting like a rabid squirrel, dad is kicking up his heels, and daughter is convulsing along, lost in a sea of uninhibited expression. As they do so, a song plays on the soundtrack, its lyrics speaking to the virtue of wearing your heart on your sleeve, believing in the first blush of love, and much else that sends all the wrong ideas to our kids. No movie exists in a vacuum, and this one, for all of its alleged innocence and sense of play, is no less menacing than Triumph of the Will. Only instead of Hitler descending from the clouds to a throng of meticulous followers below, we have the chirpy, chatty, dumb as a shit storm Amy Adams, now making a career out of portraying virtuous retards, shooting up from a manhole to a civilization in dire need of salvation. Again and again, we lower our expectations, tuck away our dignity, and embrace the child within. As always, ladies first.