Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More on Enchanted

Tricia pointed me to Mitali Perkins' great post on Enchanted (read the comments, too). I began to write a long comment but instead of highjacking the thread I thought I'd just post it here.

(Caution: Many, many spoilers ahead...)

It's absolutely true, as I think I noted, that Enchanted has its cake and eats it, too. It deconstructs the love-at-first-sight motif only to reconstruct it in the end, for example. It also deploys the damsel-in-distress motif but then reverses it, putting the hero (briefly and not very seriously) at risk while the heroine struggles to save him. From a feminist viewpoint, I thought, well, meh. Giselle does end up with a job (while her rival, Nancy, who's apparently been a successful businesswoman, gives hers up). The Marie Curie story is shown to be just as much of a fairy tale as Little Red Riding Hood. Giselle even speaks up for stepmothers--a good thing, since by the end she will become one. But apparently shopping is the most significant form of female bonding, and a credit card is better than a fairy godmother (or, apparently, than remarkable skill with drapes, scissors, and thread). Disney will never, ever deconstruct its consumerist fantasies.

Perkins notes that the film deploys some noxious stereotypes (both racist and ageist) as well--in a way, again, fairly typical of Disney films. I think, though, that those stereotypes are somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are deployed by someone evil: that is, both the Narcissa (evil stepmother) character and Nathaniel (her henchman) are so tied up in their version of a fairy tale world that they can't think beyond deploying those stereotypes. Narcissa transforms herself into a crone because she thinks crones are evil; Nathaniel (badly) impersonates various immigrant types because that's who he imagines would do Narcissa's dirty work. They both fail. So while Perkins is right that there are images of bad first-generation immigrants in the film, the really bad characters are only impersonating immigrants. The "real" working class and/or immigrants depicted in the film are for the most part "good" people (the bus driver, the steel drum band, etc.). Now, true, they are only in minor, supporting roles, so there's still that problem, but they're not evil--far from it. And Giselle, for what it's worth, engages with everyone on equal terms: homeless people, shopkeepers, and high-powered lawyers.

I have to confess, I didn't like Nancy--not because she wasn't awesome (I didn't see enough of her to decide) but because she hung around for five years with a pig! She was obviously McDreamy's rebound girlfriend (his wife left him and his daughter when she was one year old or younger, right, if she was six in the movie and he'd been dating Nancy for five years?), she'd been the only adult female in Morgan's life all that time and still didn't know her well enough to know the whole "girlfriend" routine wasn't gong to work, and she was still mooning around for him after finding him with a towel-clad babe in his apartment? If I'd believed for one second in their relationship I might have felt bad for her--but the whole thing was a setup from the start. The one I was curious about was Morgan's mother--but then, I'm always curious about the mom (maybe those are my bifocals?), especially when she's not on screen at all. Frankly, I was surprised and a bit heartened to discover that she wasn't dead--that would have been the usual Disney move.

I've probably spent way more time on this than it deserves--the movie is entertaining, the production numbers are a hoot, and it doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as I just have. On the scale of Disney movies, it seems better to me (wearing my feminist, mom-ist lenses) than most. But is it either great art or ideologically pure? Well, in a word, no.

I have to confess that It's a Wonderful Life actually made me feel more uncomfortable, on many of these grounds, than Enchanted: the comic African-American maid! The Italian immigrants referred to as "garlic-eaters," and depicted with uncountable children--and a goat! Of course it was made in less "enlightened" times...and it still made me cry to watch it...but at the same time this other little voice was reminding me of its failings. And so it goes.

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