How Does Disney’s Enchanted Compare to its Predecessors?

One of the newest Disney princess movies1 that has been released is Enchanted, which has probably one of the most original premises for a Disney princess movie so far. Giselle is a girl who dreams of “true love’s kiss” and the man who will come with it, but when she meets the Prince Edward and they fall in love, the prince’s evil stepmother, the queen, doesn’t like the idea of giving up her throne. On Giselle’s wedding day to the prince, the queen sends Giselle to a place where “there are no happy endings,” which happens to be New York City, our world. Giselle is forced to leave the animated realm she has always known and is thrown into a live-action world. She befriends lawyer Robert and his daughter, and as she waits for Prince Edward to rescue her and take her back to Andalasia, she tries to understand the strange and different place she’s now living in. She and Robert are very much opposites—Giselle believes in true love and happily ever after, but Robert is very realistic and systematic about love. Over the course of a few days, they butt heads because of their very different ideas about love, but soon it’s apparent that they’ve fallen in love with each other. Prince Edward comes to rescue Giselle, but now she doesn’t want to go back. Before she tells Edward this, the evil queen appears and convinces Giselle to bite a poison apple. She is awoken by true love’s kiss, not given by Prince Edward but by Robert, which shows that he and Giselle are meant to be together. Giselle, Robert and his daughter become a happy family, Prince Edward marries Robert’s fiancée, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Enchanted is full of references to and themes from past Disney movies, both princess movies and other varieties, and is definitely an homage to them. The movie starts off the same as the other Disney princess movies with all the same problematic messages, such as a woman’s happiness is dependent on love and marriage, women are helpless without men to help them and save them from dangerous situations, and that people fall in love and marry way too quickly to be realistic. Then Enchanted starts to steer away from the standard way a fairytale would unfold. Because the former-animated characters are now in the real world, they become to act a little more realistically. I think this was the film makers’ intentions. However, in the end, the audience still winds up with the main messages and themes that the other Disney princess movies have, for example, that true love exists, that you can fall in love within a few days, and that fairytales do happen.

In order to keep this essay concise and within the limitations given for the assignment, I won’t be able to fully analyze Enchanted. Instead, I will examine a few of the main ways the movie has made improvements on the typical Disney princess story and also a couple of ways the movie tries to make improvements but fails.

Amy Adams, who plays Giselle, is a real-life Disney princess. She has the unbelievably tall and thin figure that other princesses have been drawn to have (e.g. Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas). Not only that, but she’s a professional dancer in real life and has a beautiful singing voice. However, there are several times within the movie that she stops to admire how beautiful another woman is, even though the woman may not have the traditional “fairytale princess” beauty. For example, Giselle stops and marvels at a Venus-of-Willendorf–esque statue of a woman and whispers, “She’s beautiful.” I think Disney staff decided to act on the common criticism that Disney princesses are too unnaturally shaped and had Giselle appreciate different types of feminine beauty to show that perfect princesses aren’t the only kind of beauty. Although a better way to reach that goal would have been better to make a more realistic-looking Disney princess, at least it seems Disney did try to make an effort, however little. Also, it can’t be denied that Amy Adams is a real person with a real body, so Giselle’s figure can’t be called unnatural.

Similar to Giselle’s ability to appreciate the beauty of anything feminine, she also values the ugly animals of the real world as much as she does her cute animated animal friends, even though the real-world animals are vermin you would normally find in New York City. When she calls for help to clean and sees the animals that have turned up to help her, she says, “Well, it’s always nice to make new friends.” The message is that it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as your heart and intentions are good.

Another improvement is the image of stepmothers. The evil stepmother is a typical character in Disney fairytale movies, and Enchanted is no different. When Robert’s daughter expresses that she’s unsure about gaining a stepmother (because Robert is engaged to be married to another a woman), Giselle tells the little girl that she knows many stepmothers that are very nice. She then goes on to say that Prince Edward has a stepmother who Giselle hasn’t met but has heard is lovely. We see the opposite is true because the stepmother is the villain in this story, but the final message regarding stepmothers is that they are generally very nice. I think this is true because Giselle, we assume, becomes the little girl’s stepmother in the end, and we see the three of them playing and dancing happily in the apartment together.

The last main improvement is possibly the biggest one in the film. While other Disney princess movies declare the girl’s happiness depends on whether she gets married, Enchanted places less emphasis on marriage as the key to Giselle’s happiness. In the beginning of the movie, Giselle sings about “true loves kiss” and how getting it would give her a “life of endless bliss” and that it is “what makes ever-aftering so happy.” However, by the end of the film, this is less true. Even though Robert and Giselle know they are meant for each other after they share true love’s kiss, which is unrealistic by our real-world standards, Giselle is shown as being rather career-orientated and has started her own business. Her wedding with Robert isn’t even shown, if it happened. This is a major improvement to the standard princess tale, but it could be a little better. Even though Giselle is running her own business, her career is still heavily related to family life because the business makes princess dresses for little girls. The ending still seems to show that a woman needs to be a motherly figure in some way of another.

Now I’d like to discuss two ways that Enchanted seems to make an improvement on the traditional Disney fairytale but, in reality, it doesn’t. The first is that Giselle and Prince Edward eventually go on a date before they get married. This an improvement to the standard fairytale outline, but only a small one. The act of going on a date is to show that Giselle has been affected positively by the real world and wants to test the waters with a guy before she gets married to him. This much more realistic than knowing someone is your true love the second after seeing them, which is what happened in The Little Mermaid. However, the audience can see that Giselle already thinks she and Edward are not meant to be. She doesn’t want to go on a date to see if she wants to marry him, she is just stalling instead of telling Edward what she really thinks. Also, Giselle and Robert wind up together in the end after knowing each other only for a few days anyway, so the seemingly positive effect the real world doesn’t hold in this story.

The second one I’ll be discussing is the façade that Giselle becomes a strong woman who rescues the prince in the end, but really she’s only braver than she was before. At the climax of the film, Robert gets captured by the evil stepmother in dragon form and taken to the top of a skyscraper. When Giselle comes after Robert and the dragon, the dragon says, “It’s the little princess coming to the rescue. I guess that makes you the damsel in distress, huh, handsome?” Giselle is portrayed as saving Robert in the end, but if the audience pays attention to what happens, Giselle doesn’t do very much. Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip is actually the one that defeats the dragon. The only thing Giselle does is try to keep Robert from falling, which he winds up doing anyway. Not only that, Giselle falls with him and holds onto him. Just as it looks like the two are going to slide off the side of the slanted roof, Robert puts out his foot and stops the two from going over the edge. It’s possible Giselle is braver than she was before, but she is still just as helpless as she was in the beginning of the movie when she always got herself into dangerous situations that would have turned out badly had a man not been there to save her.

Enchanted is a very interesting movie to study after having learned how to critically look at the previous Disney princess movies. It is so much more than just a children’s movie. If I have the chance to write another paper on Enchanted in the future, I would like to discuss the message the filmmakers intended about whether there’s a place for fairytales in the real world. It would also be enjoyable to talk about all the references to previous Disney works I found while watching the film, including the cameo appearances by three voice actresses that portrayed Disney princesses.

1 In this essay, “Disney princess movies” refers to the following animated Disney movies: Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty & the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and Mulan (1998).

This essay was written by Jeannette Anderson for a class entitled “Disney as a Cultural Teacher” at Nagoya University in Nagoya, Japan. July 31, 2010.

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