Enchanted is a strange movie for me. I really didn’t get it at first, but after a while it started to grow on me until it finally won me over.
I should explain my relationship with Disney movies to give this discussion a little context. I like them. I neither hold them sacred nor openly disparage them – I just think they’re usually good movies. There are several standouts, of course, such as Beauty and the Beast, The Emperor’s New Groove and Mulan, but for the most part I look at Disney movies as good, old cotton candy. They’re sweet, but not particularly lasting.
My First Impression
With this in mind, let’s delve into Disney’s self-parody film Enchanted. I first watched this movie a year after it was released in theaters. I saw it at the behest of my parents, who said it was awesome. From the opening scene, I thought I was in for a treat. The visuals were gorgeous, the atmosphere had just the right balance of fun, humor and danger, and the characters were blissfully ignorant of how silly they were.
But then the movie got weird. If you don’t already know, Enchanted tells the tale of a Disney almost-princess who is transported to the all-too-familiar world of New York City. I think there have been a million fish-out-of-the-water movies set in New York. So I felt like everything this film was trying to do had already been done in Crocodile Dundee, Elf, Home Alone 2 and other similar movies.
I was especially disappointed by the comic relief characters, Pip the chipmunk and Nathaniel. Where was the humor? Pip kept being brushed aside or nearly killed, so he had no chance to be funny or helpful. Nathaniel, on the other hand, was treated way too seriously. The film actually took the time to probe his feelings, most notably when he’s watching the soap opera. The scenes with him were sometimes amusing but mostly they were uncomfortable and certainly not light-hearted.
Giselle is likable enough, but I found it hollow that she began to “change for the better” when she realized she was angry at Robert. It’s true that you rarely see the classic Disney princesses get angry, but I didn’t feel like there was any weight behind Giselle’s sudden outburst. I also thought it was a little contrived that Robert kept trying to get rid of Giselle, but he failed every time because he’s just a nice guy at heart. Prince Edward, however, was absolutely perfect in every scene he’s in.
Cartoon vs. Reality
I can accept cartoony things happening in a cartoon, but when they come into the real world, those same things are jarring. The big musical number in Central Park was certainly a treat for the ears and the eyes, but it left the mind utterly confused. Didn’t Giselle struggle to get people to give her the time of day when she first arrived in New York? Why are these New Yorkers so willing to spontaneously perform stunts, sing with her, break out into choreographed dances and do other insane things for no reason? I thought the whole thing would be worth it if there was some moment at the end of it where people looked around confused or did something else to show they understood how absurd their actions had been. But no, there was nothing.
And then there’s the climax. Everyone seemed to take a witch strolling through the city with lightning coming from her hands far too nonchalantly. Shouldn’t they be panicking a little more? People did scream and run away at the ball when the witch turned into a dragon, but even that seemed fairly subdued. Maybe they all realized they’re in a Disney movie, so they’re not really in too much danger. Also, it just seemed way too easy to kill the dragon.
The Second Viewing
Basically, I thought Enchanted was overrated and poorly executed. I liked the premise, but the end result left something to be desired. But then I watched it again sometime later, and this time I started to notice subtle things I hadn’t seen before. I saw many Disney clichés and setups subtly placed throughout the story, from Snow White to Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty. Also, I loved spotting the actresses who played Ariel and Belle in new minor roles.
I started to see the supporting characters in a new light. Pip is the only character with any brains, so it makes sense that he would be only one who would be left voiceless in the real world. Plus, he’s a chipmunk! This is a case of a cartoon actually trying to be realistic. The more I thought about it, the more I thought Pip’s predicament was really funny.
And Nathaniel. Poor Nathaniel. How many times have we seen villains’ comic foils get beat upon and just keep coming back for more? Lex Luthor’s Otis, Brain’s Pinky, Gaston’s LeFou, and the list goes on and on. But when have we seen so many sides of those put-upon second bananas? Nathaniel wasn’t there for comic relief. If the movie were played straight then he would be, but when the movie veered into the real world, he suddenly realized what a tragic life he was leading and he refused to continue the charade. What a clever idea!
Giselle and Robert aren’t exactly the most complex characters in the world, but I could appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do with them. Robert was hurt because his wife left him for seemingly no reason. Of course he couldn’t bring himself to do the same thing to Giselle. When he did hurt her, it hurt him, too. They realized how connected they’d become because of their shared pain at the thought of losing each other. It’s actually a fairly compelling romance. The prince is still one of my favorite parts of the movie. He steals just about every scene he’s in because he is so funny.
It still doesn’t make sense to me why Giselle was able to get everyone in Central Park to follow her and perform with her when there was absolutely nothing in it for them. But maybe that’s the point. In cartoons, musical numbers are often entirely absurd if you ever stop to think about them. For instance, “Be Our Guest” is a rousing musical number, but have you ever stopped to think that it’s focused on a living candlestick and teapot singing about how they love being servants while numerous dishes and utensils dance on an astonishingly huge dinner table? It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just fun.
And perhaps with the climax the filmmakers were making a statement about how easy it is to defeat Disney villains after the films build them up so much as being practically indestructible. I don’t know, but at least now I have questions and possible interpretations, rather than just believing it was lazy writing.
It Just Keeps Getting Better
I now realize that Enchanted is much richer and more challenging a film than I originally thought. The characters are complex, there are many subtle Disney references, and the movie bends reality in ways I haven’t seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s not the best movie Disney has ever produced, but it’s definitely in the top 10. If you didn’t like this movie the first time you saw it, give it another shot. You might just find that this is a movie that keeps getting better each time you see it.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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