Kids' Movies IV

film 3 of 4


Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

What a sweet movie this is! Yes, the Institution of the Princess has a lot to answer for, and it’s gotten decidedly and dangerously out of hand. And yes, Disney, even as it packages and markets this very movie, is at least half of the problem. But if we move beyond franchising and ideological entrapment—a considerable move, but let’s make the attempt—we’ll also find cultural and literary tradition, cultural and literary substance. In the Princess there’s sociological complexity (youth and age, wealth and work, etc.), as well as simple, optimistic impulses that deserve to be honoured and even defended.

Enchanted successfully has it both ways, and does both things. For one thing it’s very knowing, successfully satirical. It has fun with its 2-D animated characters and their fairy tale world. It lampoons the preposterousness of that world, scoring some real zingers when its conventions run into reality. Reality, as represented by the Patrick Dempsey family, is a difficult place, but a reasonable one as well. A kind of happiness is definitely available there. But is that all there is?  Think of Nightmare Before Christmas—the status quo is decent and acceptable. But it’s still grey, muted, fallen. We need redemption!

Enter happily-ever-after to save the day. It does so, but in an honourable and plausible manner: it evolves from childlike simplicity and childish oversimplification (you can’t separate ‘em), to the challenges and satisfactions of aesthetic self-awareness and adulthood.

That aesthetic self-awareness is most evident in the modernist/not post-modernist musical numbers. So much better than Get Over It, or Baz Luhrmann even! These numbers go beyond princess critique to commenting on the delicate loveliness of the musical genre, and of film fantasy generally. It might seem dumb, but the resonances!

The adult part of all this is found in the woman who becomes wiser and the man who becomes gentler. (It’s Disney’s version of Knocked Up, for children!) Giselle is a Disney princess, but with more than a sprinkling of Huck Finn, of Darryl Hannah in Splash! and even Bruno Ganz in Wings of DesireFelix culpa (“O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer”): she learns that there’s no salvation without crossing through the valley of the shadow. “That’s How You Know” appears to be self-referential and tongue-in-cheek. But when the number ends, the dancers and the audience cheer for a reason. Musical cadences seem impossible too, but they are acoustically true, and so satisfying. Terrific!

It is also admirable how generous Enchanted is to its secondary characters, to the Ralph Bellamy-like figures who aren’t romantically right, but still so deserving of our sympathy and regard. This is a real advance from the standard and often very recent (cf. Gaston, Scar) melodramatic conventions that tend to prevail, still.

Small addendum: we are let down somewhat by the noisy ending, its Disney heritage quotes notwithstanding.