Disney has a giant marketing machine set up to sell their Princesses to little girls. There, I’ve said it. Now, can we move on? Raising a kid in this country and keeping them from marketing is like raising a kid in India and shielding them from mangoes. It’s not just nearly impossible and foolish to attempt, but is detaching the child from a major part of the culture.
From nearly the moment that I knew I was having a girl, people were pushing the Paper Bag Princess on me as a way to counteract any vapid princess dreams on the part of my daughter. I couldn’t stand the message of the book. The prince is an idiot? It’s like one of those Dr. Mom cold medicine ads.
Still, when my daughter did first discover the Disney Princesses, I was prepared to be really mad about it. I expected that her interest in them would inspire a feminist rage within me, an anger about the manipulation of my daughter’s mind. Instead, I found that I liked what they were making her think about, and the conversations we were led into. When she first learned the Cinderella story, we first discussed meanness. Why did the step-sisters tear her dress apart? Why were they being mean? My daughter even tried being mean for an afternoon, upsetting her friends at the playground. They let her know that they weren’t going to want to be her friend if she was mean. My daughter thought that through. We looked at Princess Diana together, and models on the front of magazines, and she realized that sometimes women were sad even though they were wearing a tiara. We talked a lot about people falling in love and getting married, and what that was about. We’ve dressed up in our fancy clothes, and her Daddy, our prince, accompanied us to a fancy dinner at Chef Chow’s. All of this has come from her love of the Princesses, in particular Cinderella, and I have loved nearly every minute.
The primary complaint against the Princess marketing juggernaut is that it divorces the princesses from their stories, reducing them to ladies who dress up in fancy clothes and kiss princes. Fair enough, although this problem can be easily remedied by parents and their story-telling abilities, or viewings of the movies themselves. Nonetheless, Disney is clearly attempting to address this complaint head on with Enchanted. It opens with Giselle as a feminist’s nightmare, vapidly singing about the most important thing in the world: a true love’s kiss. The crux of her problem summed up nicely in the first stanza: “I am dreaming of a true love's kiss/And a prince I'm hoping comes with this.” The prince would be nice, but is not required. She’s a classic girl in love with the idea of being in love and getting married.
When she ends up a real person in New York City, there are the required scenes of innocent-girl-meets-mean-city - although not that mean: this is a kids’ movie. The scene where she cleans the apartment with her help of her animal friends will remind you of the cute but genuine creepiness of the rats in the kitchen in Ratatouille (which has just been released on DVD: damn, Disney is good at marketing!).
And we kind of think we know where this is all going. She meets the cranky, no-nonsense New York divorce lawyer, played by Patrick Dempsey, and the expected transformations take place. And yet, the script allows for natural progressions, and the actors do a fantastic job of letting things become more complex. There’s a very sophisticated exploration of the romance/love confusion that adults go through. Don’t get me wrong: it’s no Bergman film. But I was so happy that it really addressed the deep questions that the princesses bring up in little girls.
Amy Adams is brilliant in this. With a lesser actor, this could have been a pretty shallow movie. But Adams really made me believe the whole kit and kaboodle. Her initial cluelessness is sweet, and as she woke up to things, I really could see the transformation happening. And I love that she doesn’t lose her magic. When the giant, silly musical number in Central Park started out, I was as uncomfortable and embarrassed as Patrick Dempsey’s character, and then I got swept up in it just like he does, along with everyone else in Central Park. And it’s all because of Adams. I lived in New York for nine years, and I could actually believe that she got people engaged in the fun of the dance.
Most importantly, my daughter was weeping during the big romantic ball scene, and, I won’t lie to you, I shed a few tears. Susan Sarandon is fabulously Susan Sarandon as the Queen, and she turns into this great dragon that my girl loved. She told everyone about it the next day. The biggest emotional hook for my little girl was the relationship between the lawyer’s daughter and Giselle. When I asked what her favorite part was, she said “when the princess comes back to the girl,” and that Giselle becomes a non-wicked step-mother at the end of the movie is another sweet nod to the fears that princess movies stir up.
Bottom line: If you hate musicals, you won’t like this, but if you’ve ever had even a secret spot in your heart for musicals, you’ll appreciate how well this one works. For kids, this should be a fun movie unless they don’t care about princesses at all, in which case it might not mean that much to them. I was skeptical going in, but Disney impressed me. Those crazy Mouseketeers know how to make a Princess movie.